By Elizabeth Howell
Photos by Luther Caverly


Carleton University continually works on making its research relevant to the wider community. The latest offshoot of that work is a concept called a living lab, which comes up with economic and social solutions for Eastern Ontario.

Entrepreneurship and innovation are the major focuses of Mika Westerlund and other researchers involved in living labs. Creating new industries is one way of stimulating community innovation, notes Westerlund, an assistant professor with the Technology Innovation Management program at Carleton.

“I’m interested in open and user innovation, with living labs as the current focus,” says Westerlund.
“The TIM program is the perfect place for studying and teaching them, because of its focus on entrepreneurship, and its strengths in studying and teaching innovative business models and ecosystems based on open-source software.”

Living labs – a concept that originated in the 1980s in the United States – are considered a network of research that includes the university and the community. Often involving public-private partnerships, it requires the university and the community to work closely together to attack and solve problems facing the region.

I’m interested in open and user innovation, with living labs as the current focus

pedestrains

Carleton’s living lab is just beginning, but Westerlund’s research indicates that it will have a big impact down the road. He and co-researcher Seppo Leminen, with the Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Finland, collected data on 26 living labs in Europe and South Africa.

“Innovation development in living labs results in increased performance, increased compatibility with user needs, and increased technology usability due to increased user involvement,” Westerlund notes.
For universities such as Carleton, living labs allow universities the chance to gain closer ties with the community and organizations that work to benefit the region, such as non-governmental organizations.

Students also receive a benefit, Westerlund adds: “Living labs expose students to solving real-world problems and by learning from those experiments, provide interesting research opportunities. It also inspires aspiring entrepreneurs.”

Living labs expose students to solving real-world problems and by learning from those experiments, provide interesting research opportunities. It also inspires aspiring entrepreneurs.

Mika Westerlund         pedestrain

Basically there is no limit to how we benefit from it. Living labs, ideally, are open for everyone. They allow us to collaborate and develop something on what the community wants to do.

Mika Westerlund

Westerlund and Leminen are now working on an evaluation tool to determine how to measure the effectiveness of living labs in the greater community. Meanwhile, Carleton is looking to international examples as it establishes its own living lab.

In its strategic mandate agreement released in October 2012, Carleton pledged to begin the first living lab in Canada, building upon the research that Westerlund, Leminen and others have done.

Carleton proposes to begin a living lab that would serve Eastern Ontario, with the aim of expanding that concept to other regions in the province. In the face of the province’s economic challenges, Carleton proposes this could be a partial solution to stimulating innovation.

“The objective is to engage postsecondary institutions with leaders from the public, private and community sectors in Ontario regions in order to establish and implement priorities for joint action focused on economic prosperity and regional vitality,” Carleton stated in the document.
The university will measure the success of the laboratory using metrics such as jobs, revenue and the potential for increased productivity in the community. As the living lab flourishes, it will also expand Carleton’s student enrollment in Technology Innovation Management and the newly established Master of Philanthropy and Non-Profit Leadership.

By fall 2014, the university anticipates having 60 additional master’s students and 20 PhD students in these programs.

“Basically there is no limit to how we benefit from it,” Westerlund says. “Living labs, ideally, are open for everyone. They allow us to collaborate and develop something on what the community wants to do.”