Dimitri Schuurman: "We Are Giving Society a Role in Innovation"

Winner of this year’s Best Paper Awards at the OpenLivingLab Days, Dimitri Schuurman has become a worldwide reference in the field of Living Labs. His latest, award-winning paper, “Living Labs: a systematic literature review”, shed light on the urgent need to clearly define the concept of what is a Living Lab and went forward with a possible solution.

Deconstructing the concept of Living Labs

"It’s sometimes a little difficult for people to understand each other and to really know what we are referring to, when talking about living labs." This was the alarming fact that led to Dimitri's systematic literature review on the concept of Living Labs – a part of his PhD thesis – whose results were presented in August, during the OpenLivingLab Days, hosted by the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL).

His thorough analysis on the various definitions of Living Labs resulted in a model consisting of three "different levels of analysis":

  • "First you have the macro level, the Living Lab as an organization of different actors" that come together to do innovation;
  • The bottom level of analysis (micro) is the methodological one, which comprises the methodology, as well as the skills and assets that each person to the "Living Lab environment";
  • All of those are used to work on the different Living Lab projects (the meso level), which make up the third level of this concept.
Living Labs

Towards a more harmonized way of doing innovation

The audience at OpenLivingLab Days was far from indifferent to Dimitri's presentation. "People were immediately triggered and there were a lot of questions".

The researcher's proposal was also praised by ENoLL, which will now use it in their official communications and website, an important milestone in his career - "accomplishing it with my PhD was a nice recognition of the work I have been doing" - but also for the Living Labs network, as it will allow to have "a more harmonized way of doing innovation," Dimitri says.

A bright future for Living Labs

When asked about the future of Living Labs, the researcher was prompt to admit "we are still in the evangelization process, convincing the different stakeholders - governments, companies, researchers, start-ups, among others - that this is really the way forward." However, "progress is being made".

According to Dimitri, the Living Lab community is starting to realize that "it's not the quantity that counts, but the quality". Thus, the number of active Living Labs has been decreasing worldwide, whilst ENoLL is taking measures to gradually increase the added value and the perceived benefits of this type of infrastructure. "The concept is being used in a more conscious way and I believe that my model can help accomplish it."

That perception has already begun to arise, as the idea starts to cross the European border, expanding to countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia or China. "It's not European anymore, it's worldwide."

Dimitri Schuurman believes that the near future of Living Labs entails exploring the full potential of this infrastructure in a city context. "Users can have an impact on innovation, because they have to live in these cities every day."

Are we talking about 'smart cities'? In a way, yes. In Dimitri's opinion, smart cities are still too "technology-driven" and "the human factor needs to come into place". In his words, "a smart city is only smart if you also involve its citizens". That is the premise behind Living Labs, "giving society a role in innovation."

The man behind the concept

Dimitri Schuurman is a senior researcher at iMinds Living Labs, where he has been working since 2009. Dimitri is currently responsible for the methodology and academic valorization of Living Lab projects. He also coordinates a dynamic team of living lab researchers from iMinds - MICT - Ghent University.

The 2015 Best Paper Award has granted him more responsibilities within ENoLL, where he is now part of the team in charge of developing a more international offer of the Living Labs services and implementing a new common methodology in every member of the network.