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Living Labbing the Rotterdam Way

In September 2012, Ingrid Mulder of the Technology Innovation Management Review published a report entitled “Living Labbing the Rotterdam Way: Co-Creation as an Enabler for the Urban Innovation”. The concept of a “living lab” is primarily focused upon user centric research and innovation, meaning communities can collaborate on projects alongside industry, thus creating a public-private partnership. Communities become involved in the co-creation, exploration and evaluation of a product at all of its many stages including, for example, early research, design and recycling stages. One key difference between this approach and traditional user centred research methods, is the emphasis the ‘living lab’ methodology places on empowering users to co-create into open development environments.As Mulder explains why Live Labbing is an important development in user-centric design;


“Living methodologies address the social dynamics of everyday life that are essential for understanding living labs, not only conceptually, but also as mature methodologies for fostering innovation, in real-life contexts.”


In the Rotterdam report Mulder suggests that city was a perfect choice for a study of this kind, taking into consideration the widely-recognised user driven, do-it-yourself, down-to-earth approach that in some sense is typical of the Rotterdam attitude. The report itself focuses on three living lab cases that were intended to enable the citizens of Rotterdam to co-develop their city.The first case introduces visual ethnography as a research methodology that was used to improve the life of elderly citizens. The second case depicts prototyping as a method that helped to increase engagement in art co-creation among festival participants. The third case illustrates how living labs were used in co-creating new public services for the citizens and townspeople.


Within the art installation project, for example, first piloted at Rotterdam Music Night, audience involvement was crucial as people visiting the event could shape the artwork together using a “magical cube” containing  a motion-sensing video game controller, through which sensory data was captured and then projected as a video. The aim of this particular art installation project was to enable those who interacted with to reflect upon their potential to impact their own products, services and living environments.  Mulder explains that;


“The public space is the city’s medium for communication with its citizens. Recent invasions of interactive media in the cityscape, however, are to a large extent commercial broadcasting systems that do not stimulate communication among citizen… (The use of) these emerging media can be interactive and used to enrich people’s lives in a meaningful way.”


In the third example, Mulder focused upon the accessibility of Public Sector Information (PSI) which belongs to the government, and is therefore sometimes quite difficult to publish. PSI can be useful for the creative industry to improve business decisions and to create new services, as PSI information is shared between the local government, city inhabitants, the creativity industry and academia. To explore the potential handling of PSI data, workshops were held to experiment with co-creation methods. Teams acted as seven separate city council services, considering goals or topics that needed to be addressed around Rotterdam city. 36 public service ideas were suggested and were presented at a national open data conference. From here, some concepts were taken in to development but the main aim of the workshop was to demonstrate the potential of sharing open data. The overall result of this project was to gain insights from a wide variety of city inhabitants who were then able to meet and discuss the developed projects. Additionally, the discussion and co-creation at the start of the project inspired partners to put the availability of open data on the Rotterdam council agenda. The accessibility of PSI will enable more public services to be co-created and will lead to further innovation projects.

Mulder says of this project;


“The case example demonstrates that co-creation can also lead to the development of better public services, with citizens and the private sector contributing data by means of crowdsourcing, and it paves the way for more co-creation through open service development.”


Overall, the report highlights how the use of a “living lab” enables organisations to gain honest and valuable insights, to create a truer user experience project, which in turn informs social innovation. Ultimately these particular ‘live labbing’ projects enabled the citizens of Rotterdam to shape their own surroundings, facilitating participation from inhabitants of the city. The ‘live labbing’ model is clearly a great development within the user experience industry.

(Source: Technology Innovation Management Review)


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