Living Labs operate as intermediaries among cities, regions, firms, third sector and research organisations as well as citizens for joint value co-creation, rapid prototyping or validation to scale up and speed up innovation and businesses.

As the current President of European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL), I am delighted and honoured to make an attempt to shed more light on the role of the accredited Living Labs in the context of Open Innovation in Smart Cities.

On January 21st , during Connected Smart Cities conference, the  “Living Labs and Open Innovation” session explored different governance models for smart cities and how Living Labs principles could support urban development. As the mayor of Sipoo Mr. Grannas said in his closing remarks, it is both hard and fascinating to develop a smart city involving all actors and including all needed components.

Therefore, as help and support is needed by different stakeholders, it will also be offered by two networks complementing each other: Whilst the Open and Agile Smart Cities network makes a great contribution for all the Smart City stakeholders by lowering the technological barriers and improving the interoperability between and among cities and firms, it is the role of Living Labs to facilitate simultaneous processes creating user-centric products and services in the smart city field.

Based on their long expertise and strong connections, every Living Labs has either the needed capacity to operate as a facilitator or to create mediator rings providing the needed tacit knowledge, information and values from different actors such as the various city departments, SMEs, multinationals, universities and the 3rd sector organizations.

Some of the Living Labs might have only a minor role or little formal power in their cities and regions, However, they are all morally strong as they have an access to and an understanding of how to engage the citizens to the processes where the shared meanings and joint value are created. With the help of the trust and ethical codes they’ve created in the innovation interpretation, facilitation and mediation processes, they’ve also learned how, if needed, to adjust the level of innovation openness in accordance to the needs of different projects and stakeholders.  Apart from the traditional concept driven scientific or applied research, the Living lab community also promotes research based on its mission, i.e. to make Europe a human centric Lab empowering everyone to innovate and attracting intellectual and monetary capital to make the ecologically, economically and socially sustainable development possible.

Often the publically funded Living Labs operations relate to the fuzzy front end or the pre-commercial phase of Smart City innovation. However, as the open innovation and Living labs approach and related methods and tools have become more known over the past years, the cities and multinationals have also started to use Living Labs to validate their solutions or to facilitate their innovative procurement processes. In any case, there are clear indications pointing out the increasing need for cross-border innovation and validation services among European SMEs, therefore, to meet this need, ENoLL wants to help SMEs to make most out of the European Single Market by commercializing  its’ network’s know-how and services on open innovation, value co-creation and validation in a cross-border context.

The content of this opinion piece does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Responsibility for the information and views expressed therein lies entirely with the author.