Better Living Challenge


Living Labs as open design in BLC2

Oct 07, 2017

The BLC2 has adopted as one its programmes Living Labs in supporting the goal of having greater impact on the lives of informal settlement residents and the built environment they live in. This news section will be updated each month with a profile of the Living Lab participants that actively contribute to this open innovation and problem solving methodology of the BLC2. We feature the people who work with us in the Living Lab from organisations including Fontys Academy for Creative Industries (The Netherlands), Inscape, and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

What is a Living Lab? Living Lab is an open innovation and research concept. The origins of Living Labs lie within the tech-development space where the Wisdom of Crowds and crowdsourcing have fundamentally changed product development and software-as-service. In recent years, the concept application has found its way into various industries such as education, health care, public service and more. Industries adopting Living Labs share an approach to finding innovative solutions to open and real-world contexts, as opposed to closed laboratory settings. In their Living Lab Methodology Handbook, the Lulea Tekniska Universitet (Sweden) considers Living Labs to be an ‘environment’, and identifies five types of labs:

  • Research Living Labs focusing on performing research on different aspects of the innovation process.
  • Corporate Living Labs that focus on having a physical place where they invite stakeholders to co-create innovations.
  • Organisational Living Lab where the members of an organisation co-creatively develop innovations.
  • Intermediary Living Labs in which different partners are invited to collaboratively innovate in a neutral arena.
  • A time limited Living Lab as a support for the innovation process in a project. The Living Lab closes when the project ends.

In this context, the ‘Living Lab Research Approach’ (LLRA) is a new form of user-centred research method, which include action research, contextual design, user-centered design, and participatory and emphatic design. Living Labs are both ‘environments’ and a ‘research approach’, with special attention to activating and empowering end-users in the growing interest in Living Labs as a research methodology is finding ways to sufficiently empower users to become active participants and co-creators in open development environments. In the past, other user-centric research methods mentioned above failed to sufficiently empower the end-user. blc-2-small How do Living Labs apply to BLC2? The BLC2 follows a cooperative model approach rooted in collaboration and participation, rather than a competition format, as was the case for the BLC1. In this iteration of BLC, the key outcome is to have greater impact on the lives of people living in informal settlements and be based on end user needs, while embracing the notion of ‘dweller as designer’. If you want to read more about the key concepts behind BLC2, read this blog and the Surfacing Design Innovation publication. BLC2 is adopting the Living Lab methodology due to the developmental view of innovation and research in complex real world settings, such as upgrading informal settlements.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT)

The Better Living Challenge Team approached the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s (CPUT) Department of Marketing to offer their students an opportunity to conceptualize and develop an integrated digital marketing campaign for the BLC. The marketing campaign should showcase the work towards unearth existing innovations and innovators related to the upgrading of informal homes. The BLC Team worked closely with Sven Wolf, a Digital Marketing Lecturer and founder and CEO of Black Wolf Agency, who selected a group of students to participate in this specific Living Lab. The student team consisted of third year Marketing students Naledi, Sinipha, Vuyo and Aphiwe, who have worked with the BLC team since August 2017 to develop different campaigns.

This project has given us the experience of how things are in the working industry and gave an opportunity to learn about people’s attitude towards research and surveys – Aphiwe.

During August the students conducted surveys and interviews in Kraaifontein and Khayelitsha, after which they sorted and coded the data to prepare for a presentation. This presentation formed the basis of a Hackathon at the Open Design Festival at the Cape Town City Hall. During the Hackathon, participants had to create integrated digital marketing campaigns targeting the different personas/ users interviewed. After the Hackathon the students further developed the different personas, users and the corresponding integrated digital campaigns.

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All the research, workshops and insights has led to the ‘Build my Kasi’ campaign, which is now being refined. Some of the ideas presented by the students include wrapping a taxi in BLC branded collateral with free Wi-Fi on board, promotional content at places of congregation (e.g. Khayelitsha and Philippi Malls), social media and vlog campaigns, workshops to be held in local material depots, and a road show with DJ’s and MC’s in a number of locations. After graduating, the students wish to work in a marketing research company for a few years and eventually start their own companies.

It could also be a service such as creating my own modelling agency which I’m very passionate about. All in all my dream is to become a business woman owning my own businesses in the long run — Sinipha.

Fontys Academy for Creative Industries

Roy Bens and Emmy du Bont spent three months with the BLC team from March to June 2017. In July, Emmy graduated with Bachelor of Communication and Roy graduated with Bachelor of Commercial Economics. During her time in the Living Lab, Emmy conducted primary research on the ‘customer journey’ of residents during and after the re-blocking of Flamingo Crescent in Lansdowne. Her dissertation is titled Improving interactions between participants during the re-blocking process in Flamingo Heights, Cape Town, South Africa, in order to generate more support for future re-blocking innovations.

Emmy du BontResearch has shown that there do exist negative experiences/touchpoints in the Customer Journey Map of the Flamingo Heights residents during re-blocking. These negative experiences caused that residents weren’t informed adequately and therefore didn’t understand the whole process of re-blocking. Residents were less willing to implement the re-blocking innovation because of uncertainty and frustration. – Emmy Du Pont

Roy’s research concerned the existing options for micro-finance in South Africa, and looked at international precedents of innovative lending practices in the low-income market segments. Most of the currently available housing finance products are aimed at middle class citizens living in brick-and-mortar houses in developed urban areas. For low-income groups, there is only a small subsection of finance products that can be used for home building or improvement.

Roy BensThis case study provides an in depth look into the current state of micro-finance in the informal sector in South Africa and available financing products, identifies some of the challenges and setbacks, and provides some recommendations for further research, based on international precedent. The intention is to provide a foundation to build upon. – Roy Bens.



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During June 2017, Tamryn Lendrum and Kristy Kruyer completed an internship with the BLC. Both are in their third and final years of their Bachelor of Design: Ideation at Inscape. Kirsty and Tamryn first had interactions with CDI during their first year when on a tour with Inscape and gained exposure to the CDI’s prototyping workshop. At the Social Innovations Career Day at UCT, both students learned more about the BLC, and got in contact with the team to organise an internship.

In the future I’d like to be involved in a career that, at its heart, is about understanding and designing with and for people. Be it systems design, user experience design, experiential design, anything in-between or beyond. – Kristy Kruyer

During their internship, the students accompanied the BLC team on site visits and field work. They conducted a number of interviews with residents to understand, from the ‘end-users’ perspective, challenges of informal dwelling construction, which feeds into the workstream of materials in BLC2.

I was tasked with researching toolkit and knowledge exchange platform precedents as well as developing the various personas that would help guide decisions in term of what the toolkits and knowledge exchange platform should look like and the information they should depict. They also provide key insights into the mind of the user and how they might use/benefit from the product/solution. – Tamryn Lendrum.

Going forward The BLC team will continue to update this news section with the latest happenings in our Living Labs. If you want to find out more how you can benefit from CDI and BLC support to develop your idea for the improvement of informal settlements, get in touch with the team at