Good Practice Case Study

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 wider region.

The Key to Success: Multi-stakeholder and Multi-disciplinary R&D

A number 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 residents.

Each 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.

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 Master’s programme.

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 were:

  • 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 engaged.

For the Urban School and Sciences Po University:

  • A more robust connection between the theoretical background explained during the course and the reality of professional practice

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 statistical analysis
  • Potential employment opportunities for postgraduates

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 structure
  • 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.

Main Partners:

Urban School   

Sciences Po University

  France Urbaine

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  the Open Labs 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 Barbier, 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)

WEB

Open Labs

https://www.uab.cat/open-labs/

Barcelona Science and Technology Studies Group

https://barcelonasts.wordpress.com/

REFERENCES

Anderson, C. (2012). Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. London: Random House Business Books.

Corsín (2014). Introduction: The prototype: more than many and less than one. Journal of Cultural Economy 7 (4), 381-398

Dougherty, D. (2012). The maker movement. Innovations, 7(3), 11–14.


Lhoste, É. & Barbier, M. (2016). FabLabs: L’institutionnalisation de Tiers-Lieux du « soft hacking ». Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances, vol. 10, 1(1), 43-69.

Oldenburg, R. (1997). The great good place: cafés, coffee shops, community centers, beauty parlors, general stores, bars, hangouts, and how they 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 Knowledge programme 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.

Aeroclub Zagorje ob Savi

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.

MATOSINHOS LIVING LAB AIMS AT CREATING SMART, ZERO-CARBON EMISSIONS, RESILIENT, ACCESSIBLE, PARTICIPATORY AND CONNECTED NEIGHBOURHOOD

Matosinhos is a coastal city in the district of Porto. The living lab is located in a central area of the city surrounding the City Hall, where the main public services are centred, composed by several points with distinct physical, economic and social characteristics. It is an initiative of Municipality of Matosinhos, CEiiA (Centre of Engineering and Product Development), Porto Polytechnic, Metro do Porto, Efacec, among others. The overall objective of is to create a smart neighbourhood, as a low carbon space, resilient, accessible, participated and connected. It aims at testing technological solutions for low-carbon, energy efficient and reducing pollutant emissions. It acts in areas such as mobility and transport, buildings, environmental innovation and the promotion of circular economy, to decarbonize the city.

It is a project of co-creation and open innovation of products, services, software, hardware and low-carbon urban interventions, where municipalities, knowledge centres, companies, entrepreneurs and citizens interact.

Real context tests are performed for challenges like parking management, bike sharing, electrification of the fleet, traffic monitoring.

A CITIZEN-ENGAGEMENT EXPERIENCE

Matosinhos is preparing to become a living experience of what may be the cities of the future regarding the carbon intensity of daily activities. The citizens will be engaged in the creation and experimentation of cleaner and more intelligent technologies. The project also aims to promote entrepreneurship and the development of low-carbon business solutions.

In this sense, the role of the University was to develop a methodology to assess the impacts on the citizens. Indeed, the Polytechnics of Porto has created a technological tool to monitor social impact on two levels: customer perception of the use of the technologies offered by the living lab and the appropriation of the concept of “citizen centre” by them. This tool will be based on the use of the OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) cube, analysing the 3 perspectives presented of the BSC (Balanced SoreCard): customers’ perspective, learning perspective and economic-financial perspective.

MATOSINHOS LIVING LAB GOES BEYOND THE DECARBONIZATION OF THE CITY

Besides decarbonizing the city, the project’s goals include decreasing energy consumption, providing a test-bed for solutions that can be scaled to the whole city, to other cities and eventually to other countries, having a more comfortable and sustainable mobility, and promoting the use of renewable energies.

Several activities are being performed in order to achieve those goals, namely:

  • Development, testing and experimentation of innovative and integrated technological solutions, in real context, intersecting mobility, energy, buildings and connectivity
  • Promotion of strong user involvement, with the co-creation of solution
  • Evaluation of social adoption of these solutions
  • Measurement and evaluation of carbon emissions in real time powered by mobi.me (CEiiA’s mobility management platform)
  • Intelligent traffic monitoring in Matosinhos using radars and sensors
  • Placement in buses stops of real-time information monitors, managed by mobi.me, displaying the time, the atmospheric temperature and the waiting time for the incoming buses

Therefore, the project, apart from reducing the carbon emissions, intends to provide more quality in public spaces, more energetic efficiency, better life quality inside public building, improvement of road safety, increasing connectivity between citizen and all agents, and promotion entrepreneurship and new businesses creation related to low carbon solutions (development of new products and services). How? With auto sustainable lamps that measure carbon emissions, with pavement that reduces vehicle speed without drivers’ intervention, with a bike sharing system connected to the public transport system with a real time measurement of CO2 emissions spared, with an autonomous robot to support urban cleaning, among other activities and tools.

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.

MAIN PARTNERS

An initiative by the Chalmers University of Technology, Challenge Lab is a collaborative project that aims to reinforce students and the university as active part within local and regional ecosystems. It exists around the facilitation of direct conversation amongst stakeholders that, led by the students’ initiative, intend to identify contemporary issues and potential points of leverage for future action. This multidisciplinary cooperation tries to introduce systemic change in the university structure, bridging the gap between education and utilization.

Linked to their Master Thesis, participating in the Lab does not entail extra credits for its participants. Instead, it offers students the opportunity to develop their understanding of the complexity of societal challenges, applying their own vision for a sustainable future and engaging with industry, academics and municipalities to navigate the intricacies of their topic, and strengthen the accuracy of their line of questioning. Priority is given to the adequate definition of the issue, over the potential delivery of specific solutions.

Challenge Lab appeared in 2013 as a response to the resistance of societal actors to deeply engage in the conversation to solve modern urban issues. Inspired by a water management project completed in Barcelona, Prof. John Holmberg proposed the creation of an independent body within the university to promote the development of concepts in pursuit of sustainable development. This autonomy from the traditional university structure aims to combine expertise from a variety of disciplines in order to tackle complex issues such as urban mobility, waste production, housing or clean energy. One of the unique characteristics of Challenge Lab is the introduction of students as neutral, unthreatening intermediaries to drive the conversation, with the hope that business, industry, researchers and municipalities would play a more active role without the need to protect their own financial or intellectual stake. Innovation is enhanced by strict criteria of multidisciplinary research, where pairs of students allocated to specific topics are always from different academic backgrounds. This diversity aims to reflect the complexity of urban challenges, encouraging students to develop a collaborative mindset.

HOW IS THE MASTER’S THESIS COMPONENT STRUCTURED?

The Master Thesis Lab complements the standard Master Thesis module, and offers a co-creative environment for students to deliver a research project with real life impact. Each thesis is completed in pairs, accepted by the departments of Architecture and Civil Engineering; Engineering for Sustainable Development; Mechanical, Automation, Naval and Industrial Design Engineering; and Technology and Learning. It is also accepted by the Gothenburg School of Business, Economics and Law. This joint research method is considered to increase the quality of the thesis.

The semester prior to the beginning of the programme, students are introduced to fundamental sustainability principles, encouraging their own understanding of the topic and exposing them to concepts that will inform their thesis. This course, called ‘Leadership for sustainability transitions’, is part of the department of Space, Earth and Environment, and its completion increases the probability for students to be accepted to the Master Thesis Lab. Access to the programme is via open application in September-October, including a motivation statement.

After screening and a series of interviews, acceptance of candidates aims for a diverse range of students, with different background and with a flexible approach to modern urban issues.

HIGH IMPACT AND RECOGNITION OF THE PROGRAMME

The development of the Master Thesis Lab allows students to tackle modern issues while considering a wider range of perspectives. Thanks to the implementation of multidisciplinary approaches, and the focus on systems innovation, students develop a deeper understanding of the complexity of social challenges allowing for more inclusive and comprehensive research. This holistic model, and the iterative process with academics and practitioners help students deliver research that is relevant and with high level of applicability. Despite the focus of Challenge Lab being centred around the conversation between stakeholders, the consistent engagement of businesses and municipality creates an opportunity for the outcome of research projects to be developed and implemented.

With regards to the dialogue between researchers, industry and municipality, the more casual debate led by students facilitates an increase in the engagement by external stakeholders. Not being subject to the formal requirements of institutionalized exchange, representatives of businesses and governing bodies perceive the Lab as a place to discuss modern issues, support the student community and access an innovative source of ideas.

Challenge Lab received the Green Gown Award 2016, in the category of Student Engagement for Europe. These awards are organized by the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability (GUPES), and supported by United Nations Environment Programme and the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC).

This blog article has been produced as part of the Challenge Lab Case Study Report of the UCITYLAB Project Case Study Collection.

Photo credit shutterstock.com

The Ghent Urban Academy of the Ghent University, Belgium has been working on to unite all urban stakeholders, including academics, researchers, and students as knowledge generators, along with non-academic actors to support the development of an ecologically sustainable and socially just city of Ghent. This noble cause is underpinned with a solid purpose to create a collective learning platform for various stakeholders to tackle wicked sustainability issues.

How did it all start?

The Ghent Urban Academy has had several triggers to launch itself as we know it, over the past years. The first trigger has appeared in form of a think tank, called Transition UGent that was launched in 2012 to ideate and articulate the concept of a sustainable university. The other trigger closely followed and revealed itself as the Platform for The Sustainable City of Ghent that allowedacademics to do interdisciplinary research on the topic. This platform failed because a consultancy logic became dominant and we were not able to address sustainability issues as complex or wicked problems. The Ghent Urban Academy was launched in 2017 to explore and address sustainability issues of the city and the university (as living lab) attracting students and educators to participate its main activities.

What does the academy offer?

The Urban Academy activities are multi-faced. It provides ‘urban academy sessions’ in the form of open seminars and workshops that gather urban civil servants and society actors as well as external knowledge partners. These sessions are primarily held to identify burning issues of the city/university that can later be translated into viable research questions for students to deal with.

The Urban Academy also offers a 2-semester elective course Sustainable Cities to students studying at Ghent University. The core themes of the course are redefined on a yearly basis. For example, the intake of 2018-19 was exploring the urban food issues to later develop an urban food policy brief.

Naturally, the Urban Academy offers ‘master thesis workshops’ on complex sustainability issues. Via these workshops, the Urban Academy is trying to promote the idea of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity by inviting academic staff from different faculties together with non-academic stakeholders to diversify the vector of the research at hand.    

Cui bono?

Undoubtedly, students are the immediate beneficiaries of what the Urban Academy offers, especially in terms of educational services and research. For Ghent University at large, the Urban Academy serves as a sustainability vision and initiative generator that works on breaking down the university vision into actionable steps of strategy implementation. Ghent University educators, who are facing pedagogical challenges in the light of daunting sustainability issues, get support with the implementation and conceptualization of the sustainability education in their work. Naturally, the city of Ghent is an ultimate beneficiary of all the endeavors taken by the Urban Academy to advance the wellbeing of the city of Ghent residents.

This blog article has been produced as part of the Ghent Urban Academy Case Study Report of the UCITYLAB Project Case Study Collection.

PC armennano via pixabay.com

The dismal statistics indicates that almost half of Amsterdam adults feel lonely. The data collected by the municipal heath service GGD states that it comes down to 300 thousand lonely people in the Dutch capital, 80 thousand of whom feel extremely lonely. The tendency has stricken the elderly population as well. To alleviate the problem, the Urban Vitality Programme, one of the Research programmes of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) has joined forces with Het AMSTELhuis, a residential facility for senior citizens, and launched ‘The AMSTELhuis’ Living Lab project in 2015. The project made social inclusion of elderly people, along with their activities and nutrition, a cornerstone of the Urban Vitality Programme and het Amstelhuis’ cooperative efforts.

Amsterdam: combatting loneliness and becoming an age-friendly city

Amsterdam is perceived to be one of the most inspiring and inclusive cities in Europe. Every year, it welcomes more and more expats from all over the world. Yet, the ever-rising population does not promote better socialization. Loneliness is getting recognized as a public health threat, and the city invests 1 million euros per year for tackling the issue of loneliness among its citizens. Apart from that, in 2015, Amsterdam joined the WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities to advance the well-being of elderly citizens through a number of programmes. With the AMSTELhuis project as a part of the Urban Vitality Programme, AUAS shares, a common ambition to organize the space for elderly citizens so that they can live an independent life that is meaningful and enriched with a variety of informal social activities.

Urban Vitality: improving senior citizens’ well-being

The activities carried out in the AMSTELhuis within the Urban Vitality research programme are majorly framed into students’ projects. The ongoing projects and research programmes are centred around three main themes: vitality, healthy nutrition and social inclusion.

Exercise Therapy students give weekly lessons in fall prevention. Prior that, a study on fall prediction was performed. The purpose of both activities is to predict falls, what will allow for a quicker action of the support staff in the future and make elderly people feel more confident in terms of their postural stability.

Healthy nutrition for the seniors is a frequent subject in research and advice. As part of the AUAS Food Lab, Nutrition & Dietetics students carry out research on the subject as well. Together with the residents’ club of the Amstelhuis, the Food Lab organises tasting events when residents can try sustainable vegetarian food. What is more, the Food Lab runs a project on marketing the Amstelhuis restaurant and making it more attractive for elderly people living in the neighbourhood.

For supporting Amstelhuis residents’ well-being, it is important they have a solid social network of co-residents, family and friends. The research done by Occupational Therapy students shows that some new residents find it difficult to connect with others when moving into the Amstelhuis. Students and researchers are trying to see what assistance is needed to help and strengthen the social network of new residents upon their arrival and further on.

The projects are being carried out with the support from the AMSTELhuis administration and supervised by the university researchers who guide and collaborate with their students in interdisciplinary teams.

Living Lab: why a success?

Efficient collaboration of the AUAS and the AMSTELhuis is ensured by several factors. First, both vision and ambition are shared and supported by the management, employees of the AMSTELhuis along with the researchers and students from AUAS. All involved parties have a common understanding that the AMSTELhuis residents, their comfort and safety are of primary concern. As confided by Ellen Budde, senior project manager of the AMSTELhuis Living Lab, a significantly important component of the programme success is related to the willingness to learn together and speak to one another respecting each other’s views, as well as to practice new behaviour expressed by all involved stakeholders, including residents themselves, their families, carers, etc. Undoubtfully, clear leadership and steering mechanisms bring more structure to the management processes. And the crowning element of the programme success is, undeniably, the applicability of the research results that improve the well-being of the AMSTELhuis residents.

Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels

This article has previously been published at uiin.org.

“Hub b30” is an open innovation network created to promote the collaboration, economic development and social cohesion of the territory in which the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) is located.

The B30 territory is made up of 23 municipalities in a valley that is crossed by the AP7 (B30) highway that connects the different municipalities, with an area of 485km² and has more than one million inhabitants. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it represents the main industrial agglomeration of Catalonia and Spain with almost 30,000 companies (providing occupation for almost 400,000 workers (1) located within its area.

In this sense, approximately 50 kilometers of the highway axis called B30 structure a territory of a great demographic, economic and social relevance.

In this territory a series of very singular circumstances come together that explains why it is internationally known as an innovative region (2). Not only does it have a high intensity of companies, but also a high presence of scientific-technical institutions. It hosts one of the most advanced light laboratories in the world, the Alba Synchrotron, as well as two major public universities: the UAB and the UPC. These capacities include research centers of the CSIC and IRTA; the UAB Research Park and the ESADE Creapolis business school. The possibilities of contribution of territory B30 to a socioeconomic development of Catalonia based on the knowledge economy are extraordinary precisely because of the potential for transfer of knowledge and technology that it integrates.
 
In this context, the strategy of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona is to play a role as a node of metropolitan knowledge. The consolidation of this paper depends, among other things, on the ability of the University to functionally integrate into the territory of which it is a part. But linking the university with the rest of the actors is not an easy task in the context of ​​the metropolitan area of ​​Barcelona, ​​characteristic of its variable geographies and changing boundaries in a reality that adopts urban models in the form of a network (3).

Born from the municipal partnership ÀmbitB30, initiative Hub b30 helps UAB to be linked locally and understands the logic of the various actors in the territory that hosts it. The systematic interaction it maintains, likewise, helps to determine the role of the university in the territorial network of centers and sub-centers to which it belongs.

The Hub b30 contributes to the UAB understanding the logic of the various actors in the B30 territory, to which it is linked, and to determine the role of the university in a complex network of companies, entities, centers and subcentres.

Born in 2018, the Hub B30 is conceived as a co-creation and co-creation ecosystem inspired by the 4 propellers, where companies, research and innovation agents, local administrations and citizens of the B30 have their place. It offers contacts, experts, resources and services to public and private organizations to help them detect and solve challenges in an efficient, innovative and competitive manner. It promotes access to knowledge about markets, financing, technology and patents; to equipment and scientific-technical infrastructures; to advisors in innovation and entrepreneurship; to research staff; and specialized training among others.

One of the first activities organized to promote interaction and collaboration among local stakeholder and boost knowledge transfer to the territory are the Hubb30 Innovation Brunches. These events are opportunities for networking between researchers, companies, entities and users and articulate collaborations around specific topics that combine technologies and diverse sectors.

In each of the announcements, a practical case of collaboration between diverse agents is presented to the public and in order to demonstrate successful examples of technological, social, product, process, marketing and business model innovations.

To date, the following twelve Innovation Brunches have been celebrated:

– Sensory at the Health Service
– Intelligent mobility solutions
– Smart Waste Management: Industrial Symbiosis
– New Pàckaging solutions for fresh foods
– Digitization and Exploitation of Data in the Public Sector
– Neuromarketing for Commerce
– Product Innovation in Cosmetics
– Big Data for the Healthcare Sector
– Smart Food
– Microbial Resistance
– Circular Water
– Gamification and Heritage

On each one of the topics, the UAB Research Park has produced an associated technological surveillance report that integrates a vision of trends and innovation around the thematic, as well as a related patent analysis. The various reports produced so far are available and can be consulted at the following URL:  https://hubb30.cat/en/innovation-brunchs. The 12 Technological Surveillance Reports of the Hub b30 Innovation Brunch can also be found at https://hubb30.cat/en/innovation-brunchs.

As in these sessions, the most disruptive technologies, trends and experts in the field are exposed, they generate a lot of interest among the business, social RDI and social fabric of the B30 territory. Consequently, they contribute to generating interactions that in the medium-longer term could become consolidated cooperation in research and innovation projects. The available data (4) confirm positive feedback from the participants that make up the quadruple propeller of field B30. They indicate that 68% of participants appreciate their satisfaction and efficiency between 3 and 4 points out of a total of 4.

The logic of Innovation Brunch is “top-down”, in the sense that the proposed topics take into account the characteristics of the territory and its opportunities for research, development and innovation from a strategic viewpoint. Since 2019 however and in order to complement the action of Hubb30 with a “bottom-up” logic, differentz events were organized “on demand” by and with the agents of the territory, the Innovation Mornings. The objective of this second typology of events is to work on problems, challenges and solutions utilizing Design thinking methodologies. This line of work has been initiated this year with the following two themes:

– Mental Health and Employment
– Business training needs

In essence, the Hub30 initiative is still young, but step by step recognition is being obtained both locally and supralocal and international level. Probably one of the most interesting success indicators of a hub is the quality and volume of the actors that have adhered to it or participated in the diverse activities.

Having reached the interest of RDI agents and local administrations for Hub b30, the company/industry membership phase is now underway.

Since the Hubb30 was initially created and impulsed by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, the UAB Research Park, Eurecat and the B30 Area Association to promote innovation, further key RDI actors in the territory also decided to adhere to the HUB (UPC, Sincrotró Alba, ESADE Creapolis ) and the key local administrations (County Council, Innovation Agency of Catalonia ACCIÓ ). In 2020 it is expected to continue growing and to gain more diversity and efficiency with the adherence of the representatives of companies and industry of the territory B30 to the HUB.

Sources:

  • Associació Àmbit B30 (2015) Estratègies per a una millora en la competitivitat de la indústria a l’àmbit B30.
  • AMB (2018) Estratègia territorial de l’Àmbit B30 per al desenvolupament econòmic inclusiu i sostenible.
  • Arcos(2019) Universidad, territorio y desarrollo local. Un análisis de la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona.
  • PRUAB (2019) Internal Document Elaboration.

Santander was chosen to become Europe’s test bed for a sensor-based smart city. The Spanish city is embedded with more than 12,000 sensors to help the government operate as efficiently as possible.

The gathering of data collected by the sensors will lead to significant improvements in how city infrastructure is used and to a better understanding of urban issues. This unique experimental facility will be sufficiently large, open and flexible to enable its scaling-up around the world.

The University of Cantabria has coordinated the technical deployment of the infrastructure and services, being responsible for technically guiding the digital transformation.

On the one hand, the research community gets benefit from deploying such a unique infrastructure which allows true field experiments while, on the other hand, different applications serving citizens’ needs will be deployed – typical applications and services for a smart city, including experimental advanced research on IoT (Internet of Things) technologies and realistic assessment of users’ acceptability tests.

Since 2010, 12,500 sensors have been measuring the amount of trash in containers, the number of parking spaces available, and the size of crowds on the sidewalks. Besides, sensors were also installed in vehicles, such as police cars and taxicabs, measuring air pollution levels and traffic conditions.

The data from these sensors flows to banks of computers that analyse the real-time information and give city officials the big picture, allowing them to adjust the amount of energy they use, the number of trash pickups needed in a given week or the amount of water to sprinkle on the lawns of city parks.

To attract the widest interest and demonstrate the usefulness of the SmartSantander platform, a key aspect is the inclusion of a wide set of applications. Application areas have been selected based on their high potential impact on the citizens as well as to exhibit the diversity, dynamics and scale that are essential in advanced protocol solutions and will be able to be evaluated through the platform. Thus, the platform will be attractive for all the stakeholders, e.g. industries, communities of users, etc. that are willing to use the experimental facility for deploying and assessing new services and applications, and Internet researchers to validate their cutting-edge technologies, including protocols, algorithms, radio interfaces, etc.

A scalable, heterogeneous and trustable large-scale real-world experimental facility

The main goals of the SmartSantander are to be a test bed for a sensor-based smart city, to lead to a better understanding of urban issues, to fuel the use of the Experimentation Facility among the scientific community, end users and service providers in order to reduce the technical and societal barriers that prevent the IoT concept to become an everyday reality, to develop new applications by users of various types, to validate approaches to the architectural model of the IOT, to evaluate social acceptance of IoT technologies and services and to develop a data market place, according to the Digital Single Market principles.

Some of the activities performed are environmental monitoring, outdoor parking management and driver guidance, parks and gardens precision irrigation, augmented reality, participatory sensing and joint R&D (university & industry cooperation). The ultimate impact is to improve the city efficiency using the real data driven from the sensors.

Awards and recognition

Awards received by the initiative include:

  • Computerworld & Cio Iberoamericano 2012
  • ENERTIC 2015
  • Future Internet Award
  • Gobierno Abierto
  • Google Ciudad Digital
  • Impuls@ TIC
  • Innovación +Sostenibilidad+Red
  • Innovation Hub 2017: Premio a la Innovación Transformadora
  • Premio “Ciudad de la Ciencia y la Innovación”
  • Premio Ciudadanos 2015
  • RFID & Wireless IoT tomorrow’ 2017: Modelo innovador en la aplicación de la tecnología a los servicios urbanos
  • Smart Cities 2013

Partners

University of Cantabria
Municipality of Santander