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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.

FOSTERING CURIOSITY

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 expertise.  

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 intellectual property.

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 future career.
  • 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.

Main Partners:

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.

COLLABORATIVE NETWORK

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:

  • ITS Factory development
  • Commercialization and marketing activities
  • Facilitation for developers
  • Testing facilities
  • Interaction with end-user

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 opportunities
  • 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.

Main Partners:

City of Tampere

Council of Tampere

Business Tampere

Tampere University

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
  • Widening horizons
  • T-shape people, which means that each student learned skills outside their training area
  • Entrepreneurship education

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.


Main partners

Warsaw University of Technology

Warsaw Design Factory
Municipality of Warsaw

 

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.