Urban & Societal Challenges papers


Prof. Dr. Pieter Ballon & Carina Veeckman

This track presents Living Lab research and practices that specifically deal with urban or societal innovation. This includes research & cases on Urban Living Labs & Smart Cities, but also broader regional and (inter-)national approaches & issues such as sustainability, resilience, behavioural change, environment justice, inclusion, …

Piloting an autonomous shuttle in the Brussels Capital Region

by Wim Vanobberghen, Evy Rombaut, Manon Feys

Category:  Full Research Paper


  • autonomous shuttles
  • user acceptance
  • urban living lab
  • urban mobility
  • co-design
  • shared public transport

Abstract: Pilots with autonomous shuttles are expanding in Europe and worldwide. They most
of the time are either connecting the first or last mile to a public transport station or are serving
different stops in a dedicated area like a university campus or a business park. Despite an
emerging literature on user acceptance of autonomous shuttles, not much insights are publicly
available about how end user tests have been undertaken in practice. By providing insights
gathered by applying a Living Lab approach to an autonomous shuttle pilot in the Brussels
Capital Region, this paper aims first to inform living lab practitioners and city authorities about
eight insights learned with involving end users and stakeholders in the service design and in the
testing of the autonomous shuttle. Especially a need for doing research that has an holistic view
on all road users to research human interactions is necessary. Secondly the paper investigates
the user acceptance of the autonomous shuttle in the Brussels Capital Region by students and
other road users. In this way the paper contributes to ongoing research on general worldwide
trends while highligting particular local context. Although the pilot is modest in relation to other
current European projects, the paper finally argues that such pilots are especially relevant in
cities such as Brussels where tests with autonomous vehicles are only emerging. Besides
providing a concrete area where actors get experience with the new mobile technology, such a
place is an excellent demonstration and awareness raising site that can trigger local reflections
on autonomous shuttles in the future shared electric and autonomous urban mobility landscape.

Urban Living Labs, Circular Economy and Nature-based solutions. 'New Soil' as common ground

by Federico Cuomo, Grazia Sveva Ascione, Nicole Mariotti

Category:  Full Research Paper


  • Circular Economy
  • Urban Living Lab
  • Nature-based solutions
  • New Soil
  • sustainable
  • Turin

Abstract. In the attempt to foster circular practices, cities are increasingly adopting Urban Living Labs (ULLs) as tools of co-production to host alternative solutions based on reuse of products, reduction of consumption and recycling of materials. Looking up to this approach, the Municipality of Turin joined proGIreg, a European project aiming to regenerate former industrial neighborhoods through ULLs of Nature-based solutions (NBS). From aquaponics culture to green roofs, NBS rely on the use of natural sources to tackle with social, economic and environmental challenges in an efficient and sustainable way. Among the seven NBS experimented in Turin, the most promising is related to the production and use of the ‘New Soil’, a blend obtained mixing earth materials coming from construction sites with compost, zeolites and mycorrhizae. Nonetheless, the unique governance configuration which enabled it as well as its actual potentialities on the market are hardly problematized, hence losing the possibility to reproduce the results in other cities. Our contribution aims to fill this gap by: (I) tracing back how the ULL in Turin created the governance conditions to experiment new soil and (II) providing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the new soil. Thorough these, we offer a practical case study of how ULL can lead to find out new promising products to transition towards Circular Economy

Higher education institutions in living lab networks to tackle grand challenges. A systematic literature review and directions for future research

by Hacer Tercanli

Category:  Research-in-progress


  •  Living labs
  • higher education
  • community engagement
  • organisational change
  • grand challenges

Abstract. Higher education institutions (HEIs) are considered to play a crucial role in contributing to transformational change in society. The “grand challenges” the world has been grappled with further emphasize this role, and steer universities to engage with stakeholders to address the challenges positioned high in the political agendas (Benneworth et al., 2009). In this context, living labs are seen as a promising interface for the HEIs to jointly frame issues with societal partners, define needs and produce knowledge for a concerted action (König & Evans, 2013). Despite the increasing prevalence of the living lab initiatives and growing literature on experiences, there is limited synthesis on their overall organisation and governance in the higher education context. To close this gap, this work-in-progress paper employs a systematic review of literature to capture how the living lab phenomenon is interpreted, integrated and carried out in the HEIs across 25 countries. Preliminary findings from descriptive and thematic analysis indicate presence of a diverse range of coordinating structures, and reported outputs and impact on the core missions of the HEIs as well as on the wider society. Among others, transdisciplinarity and linked methodological challenges, recruitment of citizens and stakeholder alignment emerged to be some of the most prominent challenges in the adoption of living labs.

Living labs for the urban commons

by Joachim Meerkerk, Julie Ferguson, John Grin

Category:  Research-in-progress


  • experimental learning
  • collaborative governance
  • urban commons

Abstract. This paper describes how an urban commons is established on the Amsterdam market square Plein ’40-’45, to explain how an experimental learning environment can be a living lab for improving collaborative governance arrangements. We detail how this improvement is facilitated by an experimental learning environment that engages stakeholders in a process where practical solutions are developed and systemic obstacles are addressed and redesigned simultaneously. Our study is guided by the research question: How can an experimental learning environment develop practical solutions as a means to address systemic obstacles and improve collaborative governance arrangements?

Urban consumption spaces as living labs

by Julie Ferguson, Karoline Wiegerink, Stan Majoor

Category: Research-in-progress


  • city hospitality
  • urban consumption spaces
  • connectedness 
  • value pyramid
  • urban commons

Abstract. Many cities are facing challenges in finding an equilibrium in the use of urban consumption spaces. Urban consumption spaces comprise different sociospatial relationships, bringing together work, consumption, recreation and habitation in a delimited area within the city. This mixed character is a potential source of creative urban quality, but this quality is not always realized, leading to on the one hand ‘overheating’ in some urban consumption spaces faced with excessive, imbalanced usage, and on the other ‘undercooling’, with declining visitors and vacant lots. We focus on Amsterdam as our living lab, in our aim to developing a new perspective toward reinstating the sociospatial relationships between local community stakeholders and to restore the equilibrium of Amsterdam city center as an urban consumption space. In doing so, we address the research question How do residents, entrepreneurs and visitors perceive ‘hospitality’ in their lived-in experience of Amsterdam as urban consumption space, and how does this contribute to community connectedness? 

Urban Living Labs Problematising the Lab-City-Interface

by Birk Diener

Category:  Research-in-progress


  • urban living labs
  • laboratory studies
  • action research
  • urban sustainability transition

Abstract. Urban living labs are based on a distinction between inside and outside. Outside is the unsustainable, complex and unique city. Inside is the controlled laboratory that ensures the validity of experiments and the absence of consequences. This article draws on laboratory studies to argue that the success of urban living labs depends on whether the laboratory actors manage to overcome the boundary between the inside and outside of the lab and deploys an action research approach to study how urban living lab projects undertake this mediation between city and laboratory. Through this the article aims to introduce a perspective that connects micro and macro level studies of urban living labs.