On November 25th, 2020, the European Commission (EC), the executive body of the European Union (EU), presented its first regulation proposal: the EU ‘Data Governance Act’ to foster data-sharing mechanisms across the EU. If the proposal will get the approval of both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, the two legislative branches of the bloc, it will become the first piece of legislation that underpins a real European data strategy.
EU policy envisions the creation of a single market for the handling of data,
where both public and private organisations can share and make use of
trustworthy information. More specifically, the EC regulation wants to make
sure of the full exploitation of the data that is generated within the EU and
that nonetheless is not used widely due to national (Member States) data
protection regulations of intellectual property, or sensitive information.
to concretely facilitate information sharing, the EC will launch several ‘data
spaces’ (with a total investment of €2 billion), which will include health,
environment, energy, agriculture, mobility, finance, manufacturing, public
administration, and skills. These, as argued by the Commission, will guarantee
an improved flow of information amongst EU Member States.
With this premise, particular attention needs to be put on universities, which must take an increasingly predominant role as knowledge generators within our societies. Universities indeed have the potential to be the leaders of innovation in our cities through their research activities, and by further connecting their research to local issues.
In addition, the EU has also created an economically favourable environment both for universities and businesses to cooperate. Firstly, the EC has recently launched its ‘Recovery plan for Europe’, which, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will allow unprecedented investments of over € 1.8 trillion in the EU for the years to come. Interesting to notice that the Commission and its Member States have agreed to invest a substantial part of this capital in research for innovation – which will be mostly directed to universities – and for climate and digital transition – which will be mostly aimed at businesses.
the EU has also agreed on a plan to make its economy greener and more
sustainable, namely the EU Green Deal, that entails another package of over €
100 billion for the period 2021-2027, mainly intended for the industry and
those businesses that want to undergo a transition to environmentally-friendly
It is needless to say, that the EU has put a solid basis for universities and city stakeholders to cooperate, both through the regulation proposal of a ‘Data Governance Act’ to create a single market for data and the EC’s investments in research, digital and green transition for the European economy. This will give the opportunity both to businesses and universities to gain momentum in their activities, and cooperation between the two can lead to unprecedented outcomes. Now, it is up to them to live up to the challenge of making our cities greener, more liveable, and technological, and to take advantage of the favourable legal and economic environment. Times could not be better!
20Creathon is managed by the University of Twente, and offers students
the opportunity to combine the skills gained in their course with the expertise
provided by representatives of academia, industry and government bodies. This
creative exchange is created around the social implications of digital
technology, encouraging students to become responsible innovators and embrace
the principles of sustainability and social justice.
As well as an economic prize for the winning team, 20Creathon offers the
opportunity for the most robust ideas to be integrated in the entrepreneurial
ecosystem. The combination of lectures, creative workshops and collaborative
activities creates an experience that aims to maximize students’ ingenuity, and
to introduce experts from industry and governance to fresh ideas to resolve
current urban challenges.
20Creathon focuses on how the digitalization of society, innovation in
IT services and the development of data collection and management solutions can
help public authorities deliver sustainable growth. The organization highlights
the social component of the creative process, encouraging students and other
stakeholders to reflect on the impact that their creations can have not only on
the municipality but on the society that they represent.
The project is structured around weekend challenges celebrated at the
university premises. Prior to the event, members of 20Creathon propose a series
of questions to representatives of ‘Challenge providers’ i.e. local or regional
authorities and/or businesses. These initial ideas are discussed based on
existing priorities for public bodies, and potential impact that might arise
from the event. A variety of groups from different universities attend the
weekend event. With the assistance of researchers, representatives of the
municipality and the business community, the proposal of digital solutions is
shaped on the basis of potential applicability and societal benefit.
The main objective is to explore the application of open data and
digitalization to modern issues, and the potential to establish clear
collaboration and enhance synergy between business, education and government.
The concept of 20Creathon is a reflection of the commitment of UTwente
to the delivery of programmes that encourage entrepreneurial and creative
skills within its community. It aims to redefine the role of students within
the educational community, engaging in collaborative events designed around the
application of digital solutions for existing societal challenges.
Some of these project impacts are:
Develop the entrepreneurial spirit of
Expose students and young professionals to
the benefits of knowledge transfer, creating opportunities for future
High level of engagement by students,
exposing them to high pressure environments and allowing them to create
solutions that can be further developed
Students improve their group working and
Bridging the gap between technology and
Public servants understand the potential
of digital solutions to achieve inclusive growth, improving performance and
reach within their daily activities
Businesses and academics identify specific
needs of the public sector, and enhance the potential applicability of their
solutions by government agencies and policy-makers
The structure, consistency, and multi-stakeholder collaboration demonstrated through the 20Creathon program allows for its success and transferability.
Remining-Lowex was a research, development and demonstration
project, co-funded by the European Union’s 6th Framework Programme (FP6) CONCERTO
II, which intended to use locally available, low-temperature geothermal energy
from abandoned mines as energy source for heating and cooling of buildings. The
project ran between June 2007 and June 2014, and involved two participating
communities and demonstration sites, Heerlen (the Netherlands) and Zagorje ob
Savi (Slovenia), and two associated communities with observer status, Czeladz
(Poland) and Bourgas (Bulgaria).
Remining-Lowex aimed to link new developments to degraded industry areas
by using abandoned mines as a renewable source of energy and revitalizing the
community – also by embracing their heritage. An innovative communication
strategy demonstrated that it is possible to take into account community
emotions, including past, forgotten hardships and other socio-economic issues
of the mine-workers’ communities, to envisage an increased quality of life and
social welfare. Here, we focus in more detail on the Slovenian demonstration
case of the otherwise large-scale project.
Zagorje ob Savi – Creating Alternative Energy Futures
Zagorje ob Savi is a town in the Central Sava Valley in central Slovenia and the seat of the municipality of the same name. Today, the Zagorje ob Savi municipality is home to about 17.000 residents, while its recent history, as well as everyday life and culture, were shaped by what was once the deepest brown coal mine in Europe (262 meters below sea level). The deposits of coal were discovered in 1755, boosting the region’s economic development and remaining the area’s main economic activity until 1995, when the last mines were closed. A renewed vision of Zagorje ob Savi’s future was needed to transform it from a former industrial mining city into a liveable and sustainable European city. Among other actions, this included switching to alternative and environmentally friendlier energy sources.
The Remining-Lowex project was part of that change. The three key
clusters of project activities included construction and energy refurbishment
of public and private buildings, training, and demonstration of advanced
technical solutions in practice. Within the project, a number of public
buildings were renovated, including the local kindergarten, municipal
headquarters, and the cultural centre. In addition, over 50 percent of
multi-apartment buildings in the town of Zagorje were refurbished and the
community energy systems were expanded and modernised. Training on low exergy
technologies and utilization of renewable energy sources (RES) was prepared and
carried out for businesses, students and pupils, with the aim of expanding the
understanding of RES, rational use of energy, and low exergy technologies. The
project team also designed a mobile research unit OELA – a low-energy
self-sufficient mobile unit for demonstration of new concepts of low exergy
technologies on the basis of renewable sources, and use of mine water for
heating and cooling of residential or public buildings. The unit serves to
carry out regular events related to renewable energy and energy efficiency, and
as a demonstration and training facility. The presented technological
innovations are associated with the culture of mining, at the same time
transcending it to show and promote sustainable energy systems. The interiors
as well as the envelope of the unit mimic a mining shaft and are adapted to
mining architecture, thereby integrating the local mining heritage into its
concept and design. OLEA also demonstrates the transition between a black,
carbon-based history and a green sustainable future in the municipality and
The Key to
Success: Multi-stakeholder and Multi-disciplinary R&D
of key stakeholders were directly engaged in the project activities, including
the students and academic staff of the University of Ljubljana (Faculty of
mechanical engineering, Laboratory for sustainable buildings and environmental
technologies), the district heating utility, housing company, Zagorje ob Savi
municipality council, industry representatives, NGOs, and of course the municipality
contributed with their specific expertise and context. Local council and public
services had access to local inhabitants and knowledge of specific local
challenges regarding, for instance, the environment, energy, or the existing building
fund. The council is also the local policy-maker with a level of authority,
which proved crucial in ensuring a smooth delivery of the project and creating
impact. Academic partners contributed with research, studies, and proposed
solutions to the identified challenges that were in the focus of the project,
such as sustainable energy and low exergy technologies. The University of
Ljubljana students were also involved in research and development activities:
they participated in all phases of the project, from planning, to research,
measurements, design of solutions, or acquiring offers from technology
providers. The students carried out field research as part of their lab
assignments and were regularly present at the demonstration site. Industry
partners, on the other hand, had the capacity to implement the developed
solutions in practice as innovative demonstration cases.
The key result of the REMINING project is the demonstration of retrofitting buildings and building new urban areas within old mining communities, while climatizing these buildings with locally available low-valued energy resources by an integrated design approach, based on low energy principles. Derived specific results are the improvement of spatial planning, environmental effects, and economic performance of the area by providing affordable sustainable energy supply to the new development and integral approach of (urban) development, by using attractive design and low energy costs as magnets for new businesses, and to keep existing and attract new residents to the area.
This blog article is written with reference to a good practice case study report prepared as part of the Erasmus+ University City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) Project.
Demola is a co-creation programme between students and external
organizations to deliver challenge-oriented ideas. It was created in 2008
within the innovation ecosystem of Tampere, Finland, thanks to the
collaboration of municipality, local universities and the private sector.
Building on a question or concept brought forward by the organization,
Demola makes use of its extensive network of universities to select a
multidisciplinary team of students that will complement the company’s current
Demola offers the externalization of facilitation functions to access a
larger collaborative network. Present in 17 countries and with over 50
universities being part of the framework, it can benefit organizations by
delivering highly effective co-creative projects with multidisciplinary groups
that improve the quality of the research. For students, it allows them to
experience high pressured environments, with the added recognition in the form
of university credits.
Demola embraces the need for multidisciplinary approaches for the
educational community as well as public and private enterprises. Evolving
around the concept of global megatrends, Demola reckons no organization can
succeed without connected thinking. One of the priorities for Demola is to
provide a co-creative ecosystem that is fair and reasonable for students. In
order to achieve that, proposals from the challenges belong to the team, with
the possibility for organizations to invest in the development of those
concepts. The succession of feedback and internal assessment culminated in the
development of New Factory in 2012, which operates as a hub for open innovation
activity and Demola’s local co-creation centre.
OBJECTIVES AND IMPACTS
The structure designed by the Demola team presents clear roles of
students and organizations through the process. The nature of this framework
protects the engagement of students and enhances the impact of their input in
the project. By encouraging this equality in the dynamics within the group,
Demola creates an environment that optimizes outcome via lack of hierarchy.
For example, enterprises have the opportunity to purchase exclusive
usage rights to the results of the project. This distribution of ownership
reinforces the direct relationship between students and organizations, with
Demola providing a framework to regulate their negotiation for the usage of
The Demola program is a unique and innovative initiative connecting students
with organizations in order to find creative solutions through collaborative
partnerships. Some of the program objectives are:
Offer professional facilitation for
companies to participate in co-creative activities, encouraging existing
employees of public and private enterprises to experiment through co-creation
with university students.
Develop a wider understanding of complex
urban challenges, exposing the municipality to different perspectives and
diversifying their approach through innovative thinking.
Offer a structure for students to access
development opportunities outside the standard channels offered by their
institutions, including new work methods and a different range of professional
expertise, in order to cultivate skillsets that will equip them for their
Provide a platform that connects the
interests of companies and universities, allowing employees of enterprises to
grow their skills while enhancing the teaching activities of the HEI.
Demola’s approach to collaboration sets itself apart thanks to the priority given to the relationship between students and organizations. This direct communication facilitates a greater focus on the specific challenge proposed by the partner. The Demola Alliance and its international reach allows companies to access a much larger pool of talent. The externalization of facilitation services provides a homogeneous co-creative process, optimized to the expectations of municipalities and businesses. The multifaceted, supportive, and expansive ecosystem created can be a valuable reference point for similar initiatives in the future.
The Masters of Regional and Urban Strategy (Stratégies territoriales et
urbaines, STU) prepares students for professional practice in the field of
urban policy and governance. A key component of year 1 is the module ‘Projet
collectif’, in which students are exposed to real life scenarios. The module
runs from October until June and provides an opportunity for students to engage
with a variety of stakeholders in order to develop suitable proposals. Topics
focus on the implementation of sustainability principles, public participation
and social cohesion, in order to complement the theoretical content of the
The STU Masters programme is a combination of theoretical background and
exposure to professional practice. The group project module exemplifies that
plurality of inputs, and challenges students to complete a research project
that fulfils not only the academic requirements of their course, but also the
expectations of professional practitioners.
The programme puts students into groups of four based on their interests
and diverse backgrounds from their undergraduate studies. The topics of
interest are submitted by the local stakeholders and are then chosen after an
internal evaluation. A mentor is then chosen to overview each of the projects.
This individual can be a representative of the university, industry or
municipality, and the selection is based on their area of expertise and the
proposed methodologies. An example of topics treated during the 2018-2019 year
Use of numerical data for the optimization
of urban regeneration projects
Change of dynamics for municipalities and
regions within the renewable energy markets through the use of urban policy
State of public participation in
medium-to-large sized settlements
Students must attend scheduled sessions while also developing their line
of investigation, collecting and analysing data, and defining proposals.
Students must also allocate extra time in order to complete their in-depth
research. This includes the arrangement of interviews with specialist
practitioners, communication with stakeholders, field trips for data collection
and observation, and assessment sessions with members of the municipality. At
the end of their second semester, students must submit an extensive report that
summarises their findings, research methodology and proposals, as well as make
a public presentation of their concept.
DEVELOPED SKILLS AND COMPETENCES
This interdisciplinary approach gives students an opportunity to gain first-hand
experience, build a network, receive expert feedback, expand their research
skills, and pursue a Master’s degree. The design of the programme combines the
traditional research structure with guidance and methodology suggested by
representatives of the municipality and other practitioners. There were several
noted impacts from this programme, which varied based on the stakeholder
For the Urban School and Sciences Po University:
A more robust connection between the
theoretical background explained during the course and the reality of
For the students:
A set of soft skills that will facilitate
their transition into the professional career
Increased technical capabilities in the
use of professional software such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and
Potential employment opportunities for
For the local community:
A good quality document that can inform
future lines of investigation for municipalities
A new dimension for the municipality, with
up to date information and relevant use of the available data
Potential recruitment considerations to
strengthen the capabilities of the department
Innovative ideas and research paths instigating
a conversation within the government agencies to implement change within their
Consideration of the allocation of
resources to pursue solutions that were explored by student groups
The structure of the group project for their urban studies courses are
already being replicated by other universities. The basic framework is easy to
transfer to other contexts. However, the success of the project requires the
accumulation of an extensive network of practitioners and collaborators. This
one year module built into a larger Master’s programme can be a valuable
reference point for similar initiatives in the future.
the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) has been offering an experiential
interdisciplinary learning format that has become part of university core
curriculum that all undergraduates complete in order to graduate. The
Interprofessional Projects Program (IPRO) prepares IIT undergraduate students
for the practical challenges they will face in a changing workplace by
emulating a cross-functional team environment.
1890, IIT is a private, Ph.D.-granting research university that awards degrees
in engineering, the sciences, architecture, law, design, psychology,
humanities, and business. A strategic direction for IIT was established in 1994:
in the face of competitive and financial weaknesses, reinvestments in the
campus location and reinvention of the curriculum were initiated in order to
support the distinctiveness of the undergraduate curriculum and attract
students. The distinctiveness and resulting enhanced competitiveness of IIT
undergraduate programs were enhanced by introducing the IPRO course as a new university-business collaboration initiative. It began
as a pilot programme in 1995 and became a regular part of the undergraduate
curriculum in 1999. The IPRO concept was inspired by feedback from companies
like Boeing and from accreditation agencies who felt that engineering graduates
generally needed greater university experience in teamwork and communication in
order to be attractive candidates for corporate positions. In addition to the
emphasis on teamwork and communication, the introduction of user-centred design
thinking helped advance the program. With 20-200 students from various
disciplines involved in the program per semester in the pilot phase, IPROs grew
and developed to become an IIT general education requirement that now involves
on the order of 100 Teams and 600 students participating each semester.
Semester-long projects based on contemporary
open-ended problem-solving opportunities
offers students experience in tackling a semester-long open-ended challenge as
part of an interdisciplinary team. Project topics reflect the diversity of the
workplace, offering a wide range of choices for students to apply knowledge
from their disciplines. An important aspect of the IPRO Program is the
involvement of workplace organizations that identify viable “real world”
complex topics, and provide financial support and professional advice to IPRO
teams throughout the semester. Approximately one-third of IPRO projects are
financially-sponsored, with additional projects benefitting from informal
collaboration with a range of business, non-profit, entrepreneurial and public
sector organizations. The current (Spring 2020) IPRO model allows students to
choose from two IPRO options.
In the IPRO
Themed Workshop, the sponsor organization offers a challenge and then 50 to
100 students (divided into small interdisciplinary teams of 3 to 5 students)
spend the semester developing either a working prototype or a rigorous research
paper based on the challenge. The Spring 2020 topic areas include: Energy &
Environmental Innovation, Frontiers of Technological Innovation, Public Safety
Innovation, Urban Livability Innovation with a focus on water, STEM Education
and Community, and Digital Service Design Workshop.
Projects follow the “classic” IPRO format that has a single problem to
explore through an integrated team approach with students organized in task
groups that work toward a common goal – a rigorous research and development
project. A small group of students (between 10 to 15) from various disciplines
appropriate to the topic work closely with the faculty on all aspects of the
project. In Spring 2020 semester, the projects include: Developing Remote
Telescope for Use with IBM Watson Technology, NASA+SAElectric Vehicle Design,
Designing for Nicaragua, Electrical & Energy Efficiency – Strategies for
Sustainability, Power Over Ethernet: Lighting Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities and
Capabilities Analysis, Engineering Life in the Service of Humanity: The IGEM
Competition, Plastic Waste Mitigation, and Consulting Unplugged.
To provide an example of the students’ projects, a collection of IPRO students’ posters is available on IPRO website that demonstrates the topics addressed by IPRO teams. As water is covering over 70% of the earth and being essential to life, water is a topic that continues to be of interest to many industries and disciplines – particularly in the realm of innovation and design. Over the years IPRO projects have focused on water through a variety of contemporary lenses: accessibility, quality, health, transport, farming, urban planning, disaster mitigation and sustainability. Other examples of IPRO projects include e.g. architecture, humanities and engineering students collaborating on low-cost shelter solutions; or chemistry, business and law students working together to develop best practices in CO2-reducing technologies.
IPRO Requirements that Satisfy Accreditation and
Develop Future Leaders
has several learning objectives that are addressed in the process of grappling
with a complex open-ended problem that requires collaboration by students from
• Teamwork: How to be an effective member of an interdisciplinary
team, adding the expertise of your discipline and working on topics broader
than your major field.
• Communication: How to effectively communicate the technical and
non-technical aspects of a project to key stakeholders.
• Logically correct reasoning: The ability to generate a
hypothesis using inductive logic (leveraging creativity and design methods),
and then prove/disprove it using deductive logic (leveraging prototyping and scientific
• Project management: Deliver a desired, planned outcome with
time and resource constraints.
• Ethics: How to act ethically when conducting research, working
in teams, and creating solutions.
activitiestypically progress through five phases, from project definition,
to research & analysis, concept development, prototyping
& testing, and conveying the work. The teaching and learning process
involves a number of activities and deliverables. For instance, IPRO teams are
strongly encouraged to create a basic project plan that captures a team’s
collective view about the organization and goals of the team, tasks and
assignments, schedule and deliverables for the project, and a forecast of
budget needs. IPRO teams are then required to present a midterm presentation
about their project with at least three external professionals knowledgeable
about the project topic to provide feedback to the students on their project. They
are also required to create an exhibit for the IPRO Day event. This generally
involves creating and printing posters as well as prototypes, videos and other
means of communicating the story of a project and its outcomes or results. The
teams give a final presentation about their projectandmay
create a final report or other document that captures a team’s project work in
a professional manner for distribution to sponsors, community partners and
other stakeholders. The students also participate in the course evaluation
process through a survey, which contributes to the assessment of the achievement
of the IPRO learning goals and provide feedback to the IPRO Program that can
lead to improvements in the experience. The students are graded on the quality
and level of effort each team member demonstrates, the participation and
functioning of the students as members of a team, and the overall performance
of the team, which includes its effectiveness in collaboration, and achieving
the project goals, deliverables and outcomes in a quality fashion.
At the end of
the semester, IPRO teams participate in the IPRO Day event by showcasing their
semester-long project. Professionals from the Chicago area, including a
consistently large proportion of IIT alumni, serve as judges or are invited as
guests to visit exhibits and offer IPRO teams an opportunity to share their
methods and project outcomes. IPRO teams are organized by themes, with the
top-ranked teams recognized at the IPRO Day closing ceremony.
establishment of the IPRO course and its evolution over nearly 25 years has
significantly improved the ability of IIT to attract students because it has
been a sustainable, distinctive approach to experiential education that
prepares students for the way that they will work in teams and on projects. The
IPRO course has also had a significant impact on how IIT alumni engage with the
university by offering topics for IPRO teams, sponsoring IPRO projects, serving
as mentors and IPRO instructors. Engaging alumni in a sustainable fashion is a
challenge all universities face, and the IPRO course offers a terrific way for
alumni to remain involved and become inspired to support the university
financially as well. IPRO has offered a significant platform for faculty to
crystallize their ideas for research projects that can lead to external
funding, as well as encourage students to participate in research in areas of
faculty interest. It has also offered opportunities to faculty members to
develop their coaching skills and to collaborate with faculty from other
IPRO has also created an impact on student employment and workplace validation,strengthening the resumes of IIT students seeking internships and career
positions, and provided strong “talking points” in interviews with recruiters
that underscore the practical IPRO experience they have gained and the unique
user-centred design methods they have learned, which sets them apart from the
competition for positions in industry and government. IIT students and
graduatesare differentiated by their readiness and ability to manoeuvre
in a complex work environment—skills that cannot be learned in a classroom
alone. IPRO offers an environment to help students develop the discipline,
leadership, and communication skills to succeed within a multidisciplinary
Since 1995, hundreds of organizations have participated in IPRO as sponsors and collaborators, including corporations of all sizes, entrepreneurs, non-profit organizations (museums, community organizations, etc.), government agencies, industry associations, philanthropic foundations, etc. Within IPRO, they become acquainted with students to identify recruiting prospects, they build relationships with research faculty, challenge a multidisciplinary team with a real and complex problem, and support the needs of non-profit community partners.
This blog article is written with reference to a good practice case study report prepared as part of the Erasmus+ University City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) Project.
ITS FACTORY COMMUNITY SEEKS SOLUTIONS FOR MOBILITY CHALLENGES THROUGH
CLOSE CO-OPERATION OF THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS
ITS Factory is a public-private
collaborative platform that aims to maximise synergies to develop innovative
solutions in the field of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). Reflecting the
complexity of modern urban challenges, the ecosystem facilitates communication
between the public sector, academia and businesses.
The development of solutions through the ITS structure creates a two-way
exchange, from which developers and researchers gain access to the available
data from public sources, and the region benefits from the production of the
latest concepts in urban mobility. For the student community, this
collaborative environment creates an opportunity to gain exposure to the
iterative process that informs technological creativity, and to become more
aware of the social component that is attached to the development of solutions
for the modern urban environment.
Modern mobility solutions, and the application of technology, relies
heavily in the collection, storage and distribution of data. There is an
increasing awareness of the potential for open data to unlock unlimited
solutions to deliver the promise of smart communities and sustainable urban
ecosystems. The main objective of the initiative is to generate a collaborative
community specialized in the delivery of intelligent transport solutions. By
attracting as many stakeholders as possible, ITS Factory aims to make Tampere
an international pole in the field of mobility innovation.
Together with the constantly expanding network of private actors, there
are several institutions within public governance and education that
participate in a more permanent role to provide infrastructure, data, and
financial support. The different
partners are allowed to develop their own ideas and execute specific projects
within the realm of ITS. Some of the core activities include:
and marketing activities
The integration of ITS Factory within the Business Tampere structure
allowed for a more streamlined co-creation process, resulting in the following impacts
from this collaboration:
Commercialization of products and services
Creation of new research and development
Development of industry standards for the
creation, exchange and management of data
Access to innovative transport solutions
for the City of Tampere, the Tampere Region, and the citizenship
Associated societal impacts, including a
more efficient transport network, reduction in emissions, optimization of
costs, road safety, accessibility and public health
In order to reach the highest levels of innovation and co-production,
ITS Factory aimed to create an ecosystem in which all stakeholders felt free to
engage in research, collaboration and development of concepts. The flexibility
of the creative model allows for extensive adaptability to the needs of
developers and researchers. Due to the wide range of projects that can be
integrated in the ITS ecosystem, the structure offers the possibility to
benefit from the platform, including access to public data and real-life
testing, to any type of venture. This perspective on stakeholder engagement, as
well as the model developed, can be a valuable reference point for similar
initiatives in the future.
CREATIVE DESIGN SEMESTER AND UNISTARTAPP GIVE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR
STUDENTS TO ACQUIRE THE FEATURES BY EMPLOYERS OF TODAY
The Warsaw Design Factory, located in the Warsaw University of
Technology, aims to build an innovative university in order to develop skills
in their students. With this initiative, the university aims to develop
professional skills that are missing in formal university curricula; improve
the interdisciplinarity achieved through multifaceted teams with students from
different areas; but also improve the competences of their academic staff.
The Creative Design Semester is an additional semester targeted to 1st
and 2nd degree students from various faculties of the Warsaw
University of Technology to prepared them to the business world. One of the
most important projects implemented jointly with the authorities of several
cities in Poland was UniStartApp. This project combined the academic education,
giving their participants ETCS points for this project, while remaining consistent
with the startup creation methodology.
The UniStartApp was run through some defined stages and milestones
assigned to each one of them: from the application idea, through competitor
analysis, identification of user requirements, creation of the final product
vision, together with supporting business model, requirement specification,
summary of business-system analysis and final programming workshop. This project begun in the early 2016 and was
concluded in November of the same year, with the Gala event at Warsaw
University of Technology, attended by all the project partners as well the
representatives from the Ministries of Development and of Digitization, the
Office of Electronic Communications, venture capital organizations, tech
companies and the Polish Agency for Entrepreneurship Development.
DEVELOPED SKILLS AND COMPETENCES
Interdisciplinary teams, composed of students from the faculties of
management, finance and IT worked on the concept and prototype of an
application in line with the idea of smart city. Qualified experts have
supervised the group’s activities, leading to the creation of applications aiming
at helping job seeking activities, organizing events, improving urban
infrastructure, among others.
The UniStartApp project was a unique and innovative initiative preparing students to be the entrepreneurs of the future. Some of these competencies were:
Interdisciplinary communication within
teams (particularly between programmers and not tech participants)
Learn how to work virtually with teams,
improving cooperation capacity in a virtual environment – competency highly
expected in a digitalized business environment
T-shape people, which means that each
student learned skills outside their training area
Traditional university structures are, yet, not ready for
interdisciplinary and interorganizational cooperation that are at the core of
future startup leaders’ formation process. Ecosystems like the one tested
within UniStartApp project, can be a valuable reference point for similar initiatives
in the future.
The design process of an open, collaborative and innovation lab is not just a methodological issue. On the contrary, the design process in itself can set a relevant precedent for future collaborative practices in the lab. The stakeholders that will be involved, the kind of relationships established among them, or the topics opened to public debate may have an impact on how the labs will function in the future. In the following article, we expose how the design process of UAB Open Labs, that took place from January to December 2018, was carried out.
Multi-stakeholder participative approach
The UAB Open Labs follow the trail of predecessor innovation spaces/labs such as makerspaces / fab labs and living labs and adopts their main aim: providing an open space for designing, prototyping and testing collaboratively. Therefore, participation and collaboration lay in the core of the UAB Open Labs fundamental principles. Precisely for that reason the design process of the UAB Open Labs was conceived and carried out in line with these principles, deploying a multi-stakeholder participatory approach and by implicating the final user in the design from the early beginning of the process. As described in a previous article, since 2013 the UAB had already setup four thematic strategic research communities (COREs) that had activated and engaged a great part of the academic community and thus could serve as the base for the co-creation process. The existence of these communities provided two identifiable advantages: i) a recognition and identification of needs and capacities of faculties and research groups based on the functioning of the COREs the previous years ii) an acquainted community that could be invited, engaged and make participant in this new endeavour that they would ultimately be the beneficiaries of.
A third factor to take into consideration was the existence of the UAB Smart Campus Living Lab (member of EnoLL since 2014) that had been functioning for some years already on an experimental basis. The creation of the Open Labs was ideated precisely as a pragmatic step for the further development of the Smart Campus Living Lab, where they would serve as the operating branch of the Campus Living Lab, reinforcing its stature and capacities, and increasing its potential impact as an innovation and technology transfer tool while at the same time helping to impulse even further the collaboration potential within the COREs and the university community as a whole.
The first step in any participatory process is answering who should be invited to participate. In this regard, it should be noted that UAB Open Labs have some relevant differences with other labs that should be taken into account when answering this question. Unlike other open labs, UAB Open Labs are located inside a university campus; not in a neighbourhood nor in any other “real life” setting, so the community at stake was very specific and of high educational level. Nonetheless, UAB Open Labs are not located inside the academic traditional closed labs scheme and proposed to go beyond that. These characteristics make UAB Open Labs a particular case situated in between universities and cities. In other words, UAB Open Labs are bringing academic labs and open labs together; establishing a new mixed space between them and defining a new way of doing things in an academic setting. This peculiarity determined which actors could get involved in its design process. In any open lab the Quadruple Helix principle establishes that companies, public administration, academia and citizens should be brought together to seek solutions for the urban challenges that concern them. Nevertheless, UAB Open Labs set up a quite more complex scenario, where any stakeholder linked to the university can become a possible user, as well as anyone outside university borders.
Therefore, the whole university community together with near local and regional administrations, citizens and other universities were called to participate in the design process; enabling multiple and diverse actors (students, professors, researchers, librarians, neighbours, etc.) to work together. After this wide call, at the end of the design process, approximately 137 people were involved,most of them from the UAB community but also relevant external participants. As the attendance data shows, the entangled map of stakeholders was a challenge itself, adding complexity to the process, but at the same time presented a great opportunity to work with and for the special diversity and talent present within the campus community.
Co-creation and collaborative methodologies
As was exposed in previous paragraphs, in line with Open Lab’s approach
and aims, the design process was based on participative methodologies. It was conducted throughout three different stages, which had different
aims and targets.
The first stage (January – March 2018) consisted of three co-design sessions, where the whole net of stakeholders where invited to participate. Each workshop had a concept that guided the objectives and participative techniques: “sympathy”, “inspiration” and “prototyping”. That is, during these workshops, stakeholders shared their interests and get to know each other. Moreover, the workshops allowed to collect suggestions to define the functions, aims, governance and spaces of the labs. Additionally, during this phase specialized visits to relevant Labs in the territory were realised with the academic community.
After these workshops, in the subsequent phase (May – December 2018) two commissions/ working – action groups were created in order to bring the ideas and suggestions collected to reality. These commissions aimed to define clearly the characteristics of the future labs and advance with operational steps to make them reality. The First Commission worked on the regulations, governance, community and virtual platform; and the Second Commission oversaw the infrastructures, tools and machines, spaces and furniture. Both Commissions met periodically to plan and draw all the labs characteristics. Although the call was also open to the whole community, the Commissions were formed by stakeholders more closely related with the UAB Open Labs organization. The loss of participation during a co-design long process is one of the main challenges that this kind of experiences must face. Even so, it should be noted that a massive participation may hinder the decision-making process.
Finally, once the design was almost closed, two last co-creation meetings were celebrated to draw the physic composition of the labs (furniture, lights and other features). Both meetings took place in the space where the labs will be located, which facilitated the ideation exercise. In this case, the attendants were almost entirely from the university community.
Towards a conceptualization of the UAB Open Labs model
One of the singularities of the UAB Open Labs
is precisely the starting point that we have just described: to a large extent,
these Labs have been configured as a result of a participatory process of co-creation that was opened to the entire
university community and which also involved other agents of the territory,
both public and private. So, these labs, which are open spaces for co-design
and co-creation, have been themselves co-designed and co-created; it is,
itself, a singularity.
To what extent the future practices performed at
the UAB Open Labs will be influenced by this singularity, or how the governance
of the Labs will be impacted by the transversality and horizontality with
which, from the beginning, the Labs were conceptualized, are just some of the
many questions that still remain to be answered.
In fact, the first two physical spaces of the UAB Open Labs (Design Lab and Digital Lab) were inaugurated in November 2019 but the Lab model in itself is supposed to remain open, to accommodate non-traditional or singular ideas of value that could be incorporated. However, it is possible to identify two more characteristics that, together with the singularity mentioned earlier, are drawing a singular model of an Open Lab which will be more clearly defined during the functioning of the Labs from now on:
The first characteristic is that the UAB Open Labs have re-appropriated some conceptualizations that initially came from makerspaces and other manufacturing / tech community spaces. The Labs are conceptualized as open spaces for testing and prototyping, where innovation is fostered through co-creation and co-design practices which turn around the “ideas” and the “doing”. And, more specifically, “Doing-It-With-Others” (DIWO), since the starting point is that the potential of “making” is amplified when people meet with other people in spaces provided with helpful technologies to materialize projects but, above all, where people meet other people to collaborate, design and create together. Thus, on one hand, these spaces promote innovation based on co-creation and co-design practices (Anderson, 2012). And on the other hand, these practices turn around the concept of “doing”: manipulating, testing, experimenting and prototyping. In this sense, the prototype forms the base of the maker culture, as it is “doing” and “manipulating” how different attempts are given to answer the questions that people ask themselves (Corsín, 2014). The construction of significance around the object, then, goes beyond its consideration as a simple “good” or “product” (Dougherty, 2012), since the object´s creation process in itself has agency and value.
The second characteristic is that, conceptually, the UAB Open Labs model falls close to the description that Lhoste and Barbier (2016) placed on FabLabs when they analyzed them from the point of view of Oldenburg’s “third spaces” (1997): “a singular form of collective and distributed open innovation“, a new form of social organization in which the socio-technical practices performed are related to cooperation, collaborative generation of knowledge and collective innovation. As in the Labs studied by these authors, the UAB Open Labs accordingly try to generate symbolic open spaces that favor sociability, sharing and collaboration. For that reason, the physical locations of the LABs were chosen based on criteria such as visibility, proximity to flows and accessibility.
Contributions of the model
As it was mentioned in the beginning, the point of departure for the UAB Open Labs was the thematic research communities (COREs) that had already been articulated within the university community and the context of the Smart Campus Living Lab. While the thematic communities (COREs) ensured that a wide co-designand a co-creation participatory process could take place the Smart Campus Living Lab provided the base requirements and an operative frame for the Open Labs, as well as a testbed for the produced solutions. And, as we also stated, there is a clear transition from DIY (Do-It-Yourself) to DIWO (Do-It-With-Others) in the configuration and launching of the UAB Open Labs. Perhaps, as could be understood from the text of Lhoste and Babier, one of the contributions of Open Labs to innovation could be found just in these two aspects: i) how the Lab has been put in place and ii) how these conditions related to participation, collaboration and collective encounter, have been maintained. If so, the conceptual model of UAB Open Labs could notably contribute to achieve new comprehension of how Open Labs could contribute to social innovation and related processes, especially with relation to academic environments and communities.
Article written in collaboration with the research group Barcelona Science and Technology Studies Group (STS-b)
Barcelona Science and
Technology Studies Group
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Dougherty, D. (2012). The maker movement. Innovations, 7(3), 11–14.
Lhoste, É. & Barbier, M. (2016). FabLabs: L’institutionnalisation de
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get you through the day. New York, Marlowe & Company.
Degraded industrial regions – such as Zasavje in Slovenia with its former coal mines – are faced with social, economic and environmental challenges, such as unemployment, pollution and brain drain. To prosper, these areas need fresh ideas, bold visions and industrial restructuring, developed in partnership with local industry, community and citizens. The RUARDI project was a university-industry collaboration project involving an interdisciplinary student research team. It was conducted over a period of five months in 2015 and implemented within the Creative Path to Knowledgeprogramme of the Public Scholarship, Development, Disability, and Maintenance Fund of the Republic of Slovenia.
RUARDI established cross-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder cooperation between different Faculties and research institutes of the University of Ljubljana, the city of Zagorje ob Savi (Slovenia), its local industry representatives (company Aereform), and local communities. The key aim was to conduct an interdisciplinary study which would provide recommendations for enlargement, optimization and integration of the existing city airport into the local industrial environment, community and everyday life of citizens. The long-term vision was to establish an aeronautic entrepreneurial hub for high-tech innovation and multiplication of regional social-economic development.
SMALL RESEARCH PROJECTS THAT BRING VALUABLE EXPERIENCE
The Creative Path to Knowledge programme, supported by the Slovenian Ministry of Education, Science and Sports and the European Social Fund, enhances cooperation between higher education institutions and industry, businesses, or other non-academic organisations in short-term research & development projects. The participating students thus get the opportunity to work on real-life challenges, gaining practical experience, additional knowledge, as well as competences and skills that are increasingly important for entering the job market.
The current programme (2016-2020) value is 10.625.000,00 EUR and aims to involve at least 2700 undergraduate and graduate students, as well as 1400 non-academic experts. The programme co-finances projects that are carried out in groups of 4 to 8 students co-mentored by academic and industry/non-academic mentors, and encourages the exchange of knowledge, experience and good practices. The projects can last from 3 to 5 months. University and non-academic partners have to apply for funding – if successful, the academic mentors recruit a team of students to work on the project.
REVITALISING A DEGRADED URBAN AREA
Zasavje is one of the most affected Slovenian regions – in the time of economic crisis, the unemployment rate in the region has grown considerably. Traditional industrial sectors are labour intensive and characterized by high levels of manual work and low levels of automation. In the past years, the production was globally moving to areas with cheaper labour force. These events have further aggravated the economic situation in Zasavje, causing serious economic problems, i.e. low standard of living, low income, dependence on the social welfare system, long-term unemployment etc. These kinds of areas can benefit by introducing positive visions and by enhancing new solutions and development strategies incorporating local heritage and involving their citizens as co-creators.
Air mobility and aeronautic industry can present key integrators and drivers having positive effects on the development of environment, region, local community and entrepreneurship. The RUARDI project aimed to provide a holistic solution of expanding and integrating the existing city airport into the local community’s everyday life. Three non-academic mentors from industry and research (Aereform and IRI UL), four academic mentors (University of Ljubljana), and eight students from four different Faculties within the University of Ljubljana (Faculty of civil engineering, Faculty of architecture, Faculty of social sciences and Faculty of mathematics and physics) commenced work on the RUARDI project in January 2015.
The core of the project was the students’ research and
development of solutions. Among other activities, the project team had to identify the relevant stakeholders and actors within
the local community, develop the concept and mapping, conduct research and
analysis, evaluate results and provide development recommendations, disseminate
results and participate in multi-stakeholder meetings. During this process, the
students acquired new competences and an elaborate vision of the airfield,
while the collaboration between industry and university partners supported the
exchange of knowledge and best practices. The interdisciplinary study resulted in a detailed,
153 pages long study report, written by the participating students and their
academic and industry mentors, and has provided concrete recommendations that
were later included in the city’s development strategy.
DEVELOPING SKILLS AND COMPETENCES
The learning outcomes were assessed for each student individually by the involved academic mentors, based on the activities undertaken by the student within the project and their performance. The individual assessments had to be included in the final project report, required by the funding programme. One of the most important outcomes of the collaborative project were the skills and competences developed by the involved students, including creative thinking; solving practical challenges with the solutions being feasible technically, socially, as well as financially; communication across disciplines and stakeholder groups; ability to set, formulate and implement a research process that has clear objectives and performance indicators; as well as organizational competences of working in an interdisciplinary team.
This blog article is written with reference to a good practice case study report prepared as part of the Erasmus+ University City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) Project.