JUAN A BERTOLIN
Chief Innovation and Project Officer
espaitec – Science and Technology Park in Castellón
William J Mitchell stated in the 1990s that Living Labs were interesting mechanisms “to study people and their interaction with new technologies in a living environment”. Indeed, what lies behind the Living Lab term is the concept of Open Space for Experimental Learning, that is to say user-driven open laboratories where knowledge spills over by collision among all the individuals involved.
On the one hand, universities act as small cities formed by a combination of students, researchers, and staff population that become a Liquid Network. They form part of an open network, where ideas flow in unregulated channels and where the connection is more valued than protection, where individuals are free to move around sharing, and their ideas are colliding with others generating new valuable knowledge.
On the other hand, the Science and Technology Park (STP) industry, as part of the Global Innovation Ecosystem, needs to evolve towards new citizen-centred innovation scenarios based on the knowledge economy, where cities become a more active agent in the process of socio-economic wealth generation within a given region, supported by SMEs linked to STPs.
Living Labs are becoming a strong mechanism for the SME to develop competitive products and services, supported by the cooperation of the customer. An SME linked to a Science and Technology Park located in the campus of a University will have an important advantage to get support from the University community to co-create and co-design their output deliverables.
This paper aims to define a new STP trend for the next future in which Living Labs will be playing a crucial role for innovation production and, therefore, some new reformulation of knowledge production functions should be taken into consideration.
LIVING LABS AS A DEMOCRATIC INNOVATION STREAMFLOW
The concept of the ‘Living Lab’ was first developed by William J Mitchell1 in the 1990s at the MIT Labs in Massachusetts (USA) in order “to study people and their interaction with new technologies in a living environment”. We can, therefore, state that Living Labs are user-driven open innovation ecosystems in real-life environments in which innovation is fully integrated in the co-creative co-design processes for new technologies, products, services, and societal infrastructures. This approach allows the emergence of new spaces for interaction and knowledge exchange that bring about a significant change of paradigm in the collaboration among innovation ecosystem agents (SMEs, society, institutions).
An interesting concept underlies the definition of Living Lab, i.e. that of Open Space for Experimental Learning, which needs some kind of analysis:
The Living Lab should run in open environments from the point of view of user interaction. In other words, we are talking about non-controlled environments in which users are engaged to behave freely in front of an experiment or prototype of a product or service and interact with them.
Given the openness of the interaction, the products and services included in the Living Lab are not final products, but undergo continuous improvement over time due to the involvement of end users.
What can be seen from these concepts is that the user is a fundamental element in open innovation methodologies (user-driven open innovation). In their current shape, Living Labs share the regional dimension of the economic perspective of innovation that is found in clusters or innovative milieus.
Living Labs becomes a philosophy with the aim of improving the socio-economic wealth of the territories, and this only can be done with the full involvement of their citizens.
BENEFITS OF LIVING LABS
A set of interesting benefits that the different stakeholders can gain from deploying user-driven open innovation under Living Lab methodologies can be summarized as follows:
– For the users in their role as citizens and community: to be empowered to influence the development of services and products which serve real needs, and to jointly contribute to savings and improved processes through active participation in the R&D and innovation life cycle.
– For the SMEs, including micro-entrepreneurs as providers: developing, validating and integrating new ideas and rapidly scaling up their local services and products to other markets.
– For the larger company: making the innovation process more effective by partnering with other companies as well as end-users, which are rooted in active user experiences, increasing “right the first time”.
– For research actors, the economy and society: stimulating business-citizens-government partnerships as flexible service and technology innovation ecosystems; integrating technological and social innovation in an innovative “beta culture”; increasing returns on investment in ICT R&D and innovation (what we prefer to call ROI2S: “Return on Investment to Society”).
UNIVERSITY: A PERFECT LIQUID NETWORK
Universities are constituted by a complete ecosystem of different elements: students, researchers, and staff that are constantly interacting. It is a very rich knowledge-based pool thanks to the constant colliding of citizens-thoughts. These collisions provoke knowledge spillovers that will generate new knowledge: hybridizing, by means of synergies or symbiotic processes among them.
Steven Johnson5 points to this sort of environment as a “Liquid Networks” where ideas flow in unregulated channels, and where a connection is more valued than protection, where individuals are free to move around sharing, and their ideas are colliding with other generating new valuable knowledge. Universities are the best example of a “Liquid Network”. Indeed, sometimes new knowledge is not brought up in the classroom, but in common and shared areas such as Campus bars, sports areas, leisure spaces, etc.
Nevertheless, the university community is not aware of the potential knowledge that unintentionally flows around the campus. It can be reoriented in order to generate add value to society by interacting with other innovation ecosystem agents such as the SMEs.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PARKS: SME-DRIVEN
The Science and Technology Park (STP) industry, as part of the Global Innovation Ecosystem, needs to evolve towards new citizen-centred innovation scenarios based on the knowledge economy,
where cities become a more active agent in the process of socio-economic wealth generation within a given region. This means that the current STP business model, and in some way that of SMEs too, should be redefined, along with their innovative financing models, in order to make them more sustainable and effective entities.
SMEs are by far the most important category of companies – in the European Community alone there are more than 25 million SMEs. An SME is a highly diverse category, and includes advanced innovative companies that are often working internationally, as well as less innovative suppliers and jobbers for whom the region is their market.
The role of advanced SMEs in the regional and national innovation system as creators of new products, services, and markets, and as partners for larger companies is crucial, as is the strength of the regional innovation ecosystem that supports them.
Moreover, due to the globalization of markets, SMEs must take a more open and cross-border approach to business. As a result, they therefore need to constantly enhance their capabilities to innovate and get involved in international knowledge networks in order to survive.
STPs are currently playing a very important role in fostering the growth of SMEs by providing them with tools and an appropriate environment in order to facilitate the consolidation process. However, there are some elements that STPs should pay more attention to, and which are crucial to strengthen the innovation generation process. These include: continuous support for the expansion of networks from a long-term perspective, creating an environment that stimulates the development of the knowledge-base SMEs or increasing the degree of encouragement tenants are provided with in order to establish localized linkage among Higher Educational Institutes.
In STPs, SMEs frequently find innovative solutions by interacting among themselves. There is no specific methodology with which to induce the creation of new elements (products or services) by interplay and they mostly come about by serendipity. This sort of process is defined under the aforementioned concept of “Knowledge Spillover” (KS), where knowledge and innovation are generated by proximity between individuals as a result of the exchange of ideas and their continuous interaction.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PARK + UNIVERSITY WITH LIVING LAB PHILOSOPHY = AREA OF INNOVATION TRINOMIAL
At this point in time, Living Labs emerge as a keystone for highly value-added joint ventures between STPs and University environments that will enrich the capacity of a STP to act as an Innovation Engine for creating smart regions, and will be the cornerstone of the competitiveness strengthening in the regions.
HOW DO ALL THE ELEMENTS INTERACT TO BEHAVE AS A TRINOMIAL?
STPs and Living Labs are becoming the perfect combination and complementary as innovation entities providers. The STPs act as an ideal resource provider (innovation hub) to create the appropriate “good-luck” conditions for the Living Labs in order to successfully host any project. On the other hand, Living Labs are becoming an excellent Service to be provided to SMEs linked to the STP.
Some of the elements that we should consider inalienable and inherent to the STP are the companies (start-up, spin-off, spin-out, and consolidated) which need some support to be successful in the innovation market with new products or services. In general terms, companies develop their products or services and, just a few of them, lean on final users for test-bed processes in order to understand potential problems. However, at that point the product has already been developed and only allows, due to budget restrictions, a few small modifications.
When the Living Lab approach is included to the innovation generation equation, a change of perspective is required, for which a new vision of the collaboration between the companies as product or service provider, and the final user (or even co-opetiton9, a term re-coined several times since 1913 that describes the cooperative competition):
The co-opetition reached by all the agents involved in the innovation environment will produce a significative effect: “Symbiotic Synergy”, that is to say collaboration in the development of new innovative products and services (Synergy), where the final result will benefit all participates (Symbiotic). In addition to this, a particular derivative will be produced: the hybridization, that will spark extremely innovative and creative solutions with much more energy by means of the participation of agents from a different skills set.
Moreover, when the university community it is considered as a LivingLab itself, the strength to generate new innovations is unquestionable.
Indeed, Living Labs are considered convoy projects10 focused on two effects produced by the interaction between all the innovation eco-system agents (bearing in mind its MIMO – ‘Multi-Input, Multi-Output’ – nature):
– Cross-pollination among the agents and entities involved is inherited from the Porter’s cluster model.
– Social capital generation11, as a consequence of the exchange of knowledge and information among all the participants in the project.
Espaitec, as a connector with the global system of innovation and a transducer between academia and business, reinforces its mission by providing an ideal environment in the province of Castellon called the e’LivingLab, an instrument that will strengthen, whenever possible, the cooperative development of innovation across all the socioeconomic agents in Castellon. Living Labs are, per se, drivers of innovation that ensure the companies related to this initiative have a highly successful impact on the market through the end-user involvement at all stages of product development, i.e. co-design, co-creation and co-testing.
A Proof of Concept phase will extrapolate the methodology and several of the projects in the Living Lab to towns in the province of Castellon. Thus, Smart Cities and a Smart Province will be constituted through deployments such as Rural Labs initiatives, which are extensions of the Living Lab but implemented in rural areas, where there are already many success stories throughout Spain.
Espaitec is now directing the implementation of the e’LivingLab on the campus of the Universitat Jaume I in Castellon. This involves transforming the current campus into a so-called Smart Campus, in which products and advanced technology will be made available to the university community to improve the quality of life in the area. It will also get university members involved in the development of innovative products through their participation and feedback as end users (democratization of innovation). This is what might be called “Symbiotic Crowd-sourcing”, because all participants will benefit from the results and it is the results will be the consequence of the participation of the Campus citizens.
The most important capability of our LL (e’LivingLab) is the fact that it is created by an STP to foster hybridization among all the LL participants, and not only the interaction between companies and customers or users; this is the characteristic that makes our LL special. The creation of an environment where different companies and R&D groups (from the University and from companies) are designing and developing products with co-creation user support, sparks interaction among them to generate more extreme innovation at the time when new synergies are created.
A brief snapshot of the current landscape in innovation milieus has been taken, and three main active agents are identified: Science and Technology Parks, as high value-added service providers, Living Labs as the Customer Experience promoters to generate innovative products and services, and Universities to generate new valuable knowledge thanks to the interaction of its citizens.
We have clarified the main issues that the tandem STP + University Living Labs will face, however, it is clear that the combination of STP + Living Lab will be able to foster the economy in any region and its development will be citizen-centred, that is to say the citizen will return to their original position in the centre of the Global Innovation Eco-system.
From our point of view, it is necessary to establish the correspondent innovation bridges among all the Parks and Living Labs in order to create a value-added framework for the SME to link to the Parks in order to improve their internationalization market penetration.
Since 2007, Juan A Bertolin has been Chief Innovation and Project Officer of Espaitec, Science and Technology Park, providing mechanisms to companies to settle in the Science and Technology Park (start-ups, spin-off, tractors) to the Global Innovation Ecosystem, providing strategies of technology scouting, hybridization management and project management protocols (high impact-low cost projects). He leads the e’LivingLab, a Living Lab launched with the aim of providing a SmartCampus to the University of Castellon.
He is a Council member of ENoLL (European Network of Living Labs); Science and Technology Parks R&D+i expert; International Association of Science Technology Parks and Areas of Innovation Advisory Council member; Deputy Convener of the Thematic Research Group University-Industry Partnership of the Triple Helix Association.
He was previously Project Manager for twelve years at Accenture, where he developed his professional consulting career in international ICT projects, and three years at IT DEUSTO, as Account Manager in Mobility, Health and ICT projects.
At the University Jaume I of Castellon, he is an MBA teacher on Business Models and Strategy, as well as Innovation Management Professor in Master of Industrial Design.
He is a Physicist, University of Valencia; Master in Local Development Promotion Management at UJI (Universitat Jaume I Castellon), 2012; and is currently preparing his PhD in (“Science and Technology Parks as promoter agents of Territorial Development into Areas of Innovation ecosystem”). He has published papers at conferences on Advanced Management in Science and Technology Parks.