Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)

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)


Open Labs


Barcelona Science and Technology Studies Group



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.

The potential of Living Labs as research tools have been of interest for the UAB since 2014 when the university actively joined the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) and got further exposure to the wide variety of application and experiences initiated on a European and International level. This exposure fortified the initial faith that living labs could provide the adequate platforms for setting up local ecosystems of innovation around thematic axes and for implementing the strategic vision of the university with respect to its territorial mission and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) policies. The case of the Library Living Lab is a demonstrative example of how collaboration among different societal agents can produce initiatives rich in innovation and potential social impact.

In trying to describe what the Library Living Lab really is, it can be described essentially as a space of experiences. It is a place where one can explore how technology transforms the way we enjoy and experience culture and cultural content in general. This question is addressed within the frame of open social innovation, where the Public Library provides the context of a meeting point for diverse users with different perspectives. In this sense, the Library Living Lab sought to transform a library space into a place in which all the stakeholders, and most-importantly the end-users, the Library users, are invited and encouraged to participate in the definition and design cycle of new services and of an innovative experience. The outcome is a laboratory where it is possible to co-design prototypes of new tools and services, but also a social innovation laboratory where active research and observation is carried out on the dynamics and processes that lead to such innovation to take place. In the specific case of the Library Living Lab, there are two fundamental pillars, namely: i) The exploration of technology as a disruptive factor that makes possible new experiences and adds transformative value to existing services. ii) An on-going research on the role of public space in contemporary society, as a stage for open innovation where all citizens are potential actors.

A new model of inter-institutional collaboration with all relevant stakeholders

The launch of the Library Living Lab has involved the definition of its own dynamics around a permanent working group, in which several mechanisms of inter-institutional collaboration have been deployed. The aim of the working group was the alignment of all these various objectives for the definition of the master lines of work. The group was gathered during three years in bimonthly meetings and its first task, and perhaps the most important one, was the definition of a common language between all institutions, by learning to talk between all members, fixing terminology and procedures, and defining a new field of common knowledge. The Permanent Working Group (Figure 1) has been the engine of the specific definition of the project, and it brought together representatives of the five participating institutions, each one with different roles, plans of action and objectives and interests in participating:

  1. City of Sant Cugat del Vallès: The City of Sant Cugat del Vallès won a new innovative space for its residents, a meeting place and a space where cultural projects with the participation of all the social segments of the city can occur. It allows the city government to experiment and advance on the design of new models of governance with a special focus on citizen participation.
  2. Provincial Council of Barcelona (Manager of the Network of Libraries):  The LLL endows the Library Network of Provincial Council of Barcelona with a testbed  to locate and identify the challenges that arise on a day-to-day basis, to explore fitted solutions, to test prototype proposals and to propose answers and solutions, all by-with-and-for the users. The scalability of the solutions produced is guaranteed by transferring the validated ones obtained in the LLL to the rest of the libraries of the network.
  3. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB): The LLL serves as a physical extension of the university to its adjacent territory. The Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona implements through the LLL its own policy of RRI in the territory, and at the same time provides its scientific community with a space to work with citizen science.
  4. Computer Vision Center (CVC-UAB): (Research Center) The Computer Vision Centre gets a place of experimentation and validation of technologies with a high added value, and an implementation space for rapid technology transfer to society though fast prototyping.
  5. Association of Neighbours of Volpelleres: Are the final recipients of services and the instigators of the initiative. The Association achieves a strong revitalization and dynamization of the neighbourhood, a collection of innovative activities, and a place to enjoy culture through the latest technological tools.

The transformative value of the Living Lab within a public library

The existence of the Living Lab enriches the day-to-day activity of the library. The continued presence of people with various profiles -scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, … all of them also “new” library users- provide novel entry points of knowledge and potential opportunities for multidisciplinary interchange among all participants, starting by the library users and finishing with the professionals who provide the services. On the other hand, there is a direct impact in terms of inclusion: the new range of experiences broadens the scope of the library users, even by attracting people who otherwise would not visit the library, and by increasing the possibility of user interaction and active participation in joint projects with diverse and qualified profiles.

At an institutional level, the articulation of a genuine innovation ecosystem helps to effectively advocate the role of public spaces (such as a Public Library) as an open meeting place for all societal stakeholders. This fosters the attraction of small and larger companies to the public and cultural sphere and promotes their participation in public-led initiatives. On another level, the local library expands its area of ​​action and activity and this allows multiple projects of not only local but also regional and international reach to occur within its premises. The library is thus transformed into a place where many things can happen, not as a result of abstract improvisation but because of a collaborative work and open and flexible models of organization.

One example of how the LLL experience has served as inspiration, and a catalyst at the same time, for new initiatives to emerge is the recent initiative promoted by the UAB named “ISC2: BiblioLab of social innovation and citizen participation”. In this case, the UAB, the CVC-UAB and three public libraries from towns within the campus’ vicinity (Vapor Badia in Sabadell, the Cerdanyola Main Library and the Miquel Batllori Library in Sant Cugat) have come together to launch this project, with the objective of adapting public libraries to the cultural and social changes brought about digital social innovation, thus favouring the creation of collaborative and participative environments open to everyone (Labs ISC2). The project is part of the Barcelona Provincial Council’s initiative BiblioLabs, which seeks to promote the role of libraries as drivers of social transformations. The pilot programme will be applied with a first initiative involving secondary school students and how to incorporate concepts of responsible research and innovation (RRI) into their research projects, a subject around which many transformation processes can be conducted through the library labs. Later, other initiatives such as encouraging a vocation of science and digital skills in young people will also be offered with the aim of transforming libraries into spaces which foster learning, science, innovation and technology.

Future Challenges

The Library Living Lab implementation approach has also permitted us to identify and highlight some of the most relevant near-future challenges arising in the context such innovation endeavours. These challenges serve as a starting point for a reflexion on the “Library of the Future” and they have been selected to be part of the white book for the main directives on Future Public Libraries of the Barcelona Provincial Council:

  1. The Library of Living Lab was a result of citizen initiative. It will be important to implement social adequate monitoring tools to identify such kind of initiatives, and to accompany them with dynamic policy instruments. The current processes of public administrations are not adapted to the flexibility needed and it is necessary to develop new methodologies of inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional character, with an obligatory citizen participation and this needs to be revised / updated.
  2. In the medium term, the design of public spaces should be tackled as community projects: social actors must be able to participate in the design process in order to make it their own. Participation in the process of defining spaces not only guarantees a technical optimization based on a good design, but also fundamentally integrates a project space within the community.
  3. New paradigms of collaboration among all actors of society necessarily imply the need for specific models of economic sustainability. Novel instruments for co-financing /patronage / sponsorship in the quadruple helix scheme must be investigated to enable quick response at the budgetary action level for innovation projects.
  4. Citizen participation in innovation processes opens up many questions related to the management of intellectual property rights and the potential exploitation of emerging innovations. These issues can only be solved, given its high complexities and peculiarities, on a case-to-case base. We must therefore identify monitoring and protection mechanisms of the innovation outcomes, which must play a paramount role in the innovation processes.

In short, one of the key challenges for innovation spaces such as the Library Living Lab is to facilitate an efficient way for citizens to have a direct contribution in the processes of defining and implementing new services and activities. This added value can only be achieved through the participation of all stakeholders, and through the meticulous definition of processes and effective policy-making. In the upcoming future technology will undeniably play a very strong role as an enabling and disruptive factor, so it lays upon society -and respective mechanisms of individual and inter-institutional collaboration- to face successfully the most significant societal challenges that will be emerging in the following years. Only in this way, the society will be able to obtain a positive transformative socio-economic impact from the innovative contributions arising from collaborative innovation processes such as the ones proposed by the Library Living Lab and the emerging technological paradigm.

This blog article is written with reference to the Library Living Lab Good Practice Case Study Report prepared as part of the Erasmus+ University City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) Project.