What are living labs?

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Experimenting on the real world

The term ‘living labs’ encompasses a broad range of concepts, and has been in use for a number of decades. Generally, it is used to describe a collaborative approach to the development of innovations (e.g. new ideas, technologies, practices), that are applied in a real-world environment, typically within a specifically geographically bounded space, organizational jurisdiction or community (e.g. a university campus or specific city district).

At UBC, Campus as a Living Lab encompasses a broad range of activities. These include large-scale innovative capital projects with strong research programs, academic-industry partnerships advancing R&D for new technologies, specialized applied research programs within a variety of disciplines, real-world scale research infrastructure supporting broad range of academic research and operational benefits, and innovative student learning opportunities and programs connected to operational priorities.

Campus Living Labs are based on university properties and use academic/operational processes, infrastructure and natural assets to support applied research and innovation. They take advantage of the inherent characteristics of a university, especially the academic research expertise and the culture of experimentation. Campus Living Labs usually have explicit sustainability agendas or are closely connected with local or regional sustainable development goals, and emphasize serving the needs of the communities and societies in which they operate.


Living labs enable collaboration between diverse groups that all have a vested interest in the innovation and/or benefit in different ways from the living lab. These collaborating groups are considered equal partners, have a voice in the decision-making, contribute to the creation and implementation, and make use of the outcomes of the project. The specific structure of the collaborations and roles of the participants is determined within the context and based on the needs of a specific project.


Knowledge Exchange

Living labs emphasize learning and knowledge exchange. Research is a key part of the living lab process so that collaborators are able to participate in a cycle of learning and iterative improvements. Additionally, one of the important outcomes of living labs is the ability of collaborators to share their knowledge and experiences, both within and beyond their specific project.