Better Living Challenge

Living Labs

What are Living Labs?


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.


Living Labs Research Approach


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.


Living Labs in the BLC 2 (continually updated)


Academy IDT: The BLC team work with Academy IDT students enrolled in the one-year multi-disciplinary draughtsperson programme in industry standard computer-aided design (CAD) programmes. Student teams were tasked with three briefs: 1) Suggesting alternatives to the 3m x 3m emergency kit; 2) Constructing a safe double story dwelling; and 3) Constructing dry and safe foundations. Read more about our work with Academy IDT here.


Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT): We have been working with five CPUT 3rd year Marketing students to conceptualise 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. Read more about our work with CPUT here.


Craft – the thinking hand: BLC appointed Craft to collaborate on a Design/Build Workshop to construct an artists’ residence for Nyanga Arts Development Centre (NADC). Read more about our work with Craft here.


Fontys: Two students from Fontys Academy for Creative Industries worked with the BLC from March to June 2017. Emmy du Bont conducted primary research on the ‘customer journey’ of residents during and after the re-blocking of Flamingo Crescent in Wetton. Roy Bens studied existing options for micro-finance in South Africa, and looked at international precedents of innovative lending practices in informal housing markets. Read more about our work with Fontys here.


Inscape: During June 2017, two students in their third year of the Bachelor of Design: Ideation programme at Inscape completed an internship with the BLC. During their internship, the students accompanied the BLC team on site visits and field work and conducted a number of interviews. Read more about our work with Inscape here.


Koaspilot: BLC and students of Koaspilots undertook an initiative to gather key information which involved trailing small scale builders to gain an understanding of the local ecosystem of shack building. Read more about our work with Koaspilots here.