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!
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.
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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