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Living Labs in Health and Autonomy: how to leverage these new centres of open innovation at the service of society?

Published on 06 February 2020 Read 25 min

Alcimed, a consulting company in innovation and development of new markets, takes stock of Living Labs in Health and Autonomy: what it is, what its benefits are for organizations and communities, and what are the key points to create a successful one.

The Living Lab, a tool for economic development

The concept of Living Labs was born at the end of the 1990s at the MIT Media Lab, and was then exported to Europe in 2006. The ENoLL (European Network of Living Labs) was then created to structure its emergence through the accreditation of projects and the documentation of good practices. Today, there are more than 340 Living Labs, spread over 40 countries on five continents, with a wide variety of experiences depending on the objectives to be achieved, the tools used and the strategic and operational structure set up.

More specifically, the Living Lab is part of a broader landscape of territorial innovation including Fab Labs [1], co-working spaces [2], incubators [3], accelerators [4], etc. This new tool allows public or private organizations to promote innovation and increase economic development in the territory.

These are new types of innovation centres, driving the development of solutions that put users, their needs and uses at the heart of the innovation process [5]. Indeed, the Living Lab allows, for example, the meeting of public, private and citizen actors, working in continuous consultation, rather than in a vacuum, to design, improve and validate in real-life situations, products, services, technologies, tools, etc.. According to the experts of the Health and Independence Living Labs Forum (hereafter “the Forum”), the concept of open innovation favours the marketing of solutions adapted to the needs of users/caregivers, professionals, etc. Thus, within the Living Lab, the integration of the user in the testing phase of these solutions, in conditions as close as possible to reality, allows the relevance of the solution to be modified and improved, iteratively and more quickly.

A Living Lab, a real operational challenge

As Célia Nassif, Project Manager at Alcimed points out, “Several aspects are key to the creation of a Living Lab, including: the constant mobilization of users, the involvement of a leader who is credible to all stakeholders as soon as possible, the legal status, the commitment of several partners, and the economic model – all of which are made even more complex when the partners are both public and private.”

The mobilization of end users will be more or less complex depending on the type of public targeted by the Living Lab. In all cases, it is critical for the long-term sustainability of the structure. Indeed, the users are at the heart of the system: without them, the Living Lab cannot exist. In the same spirit, the localization of the Living Lab is also a crucial point.

The selection of a Living Lab manager or facilitator is a key issue to guarantee the operational launch of the system and to ensure its sustainability. The key skills expected for this position are therefore: strong relational skills (for partnerships, animation, etc.); a capacity for synthesis; an ability to federate a team; knowledge or mastery of design through use; adaptability; and finally, experience in setting up, coordinating and managing collaborative projects, on the topic and with the target audiences of the Living Lab.

The legal status, especially when the Living Lab brings together different partners under public and private law, is a pivotal choice. The early framing of the legal structure is instrumental for an optimal deployment and functioning of the Living Lab (decision-making deadlines, equity of stakeholders, governance modality, etc.). Numerous status options are possible: association, PIG [6], foundation, EIG [7], consortium and CICC [8] are often the preferred structures. These statuses will be more or less relevant depending on the configuration of the Living Lab: purpose, partners, timeframe, constitution period, etc.

Moreover, it is essential to ensure a strong commitment of the partners and their complementarity to make the project stand out, to give visibility, and to bring financial, human and technical support to the project. Partners are the cornerstone of the Living Lab,  guaranteeing respect of the initial objectives of the project, as well as its economic and social impact.

And finally, the business model must be structured and based on a variety of offers and services. According to the Forum, the value proposition of the Living Lab is articulated around 4 types of offers:

  • Research, study, consulting excluding intellectual property
  • Project support and evaluation: from ideation to assessment of the solution
  • Normative evaluation: setting up a procedure for validating products with a view to their acquisition or deployment
  • Training: university and technical programmes or modules

Alcimed’s explorations on Living Labs

In the last few years, Alcimed has been supporting several projects related to the structuring and deployment of Living Lab offers across the French Regions.

For example, Alcimed has supported the Annecy-Genevois Hospital in the creation of a Living Lab in health and autonomy, which was launched in 2019.

The Biovalley France innovation cluster and Strasbourg stakeholders have also benefited from project management assistance contracts as part of their Health and Sport Prevention strategy.

Searching for partners, project coordination, legal status, economic model, communication, drafting responses to calls for projects, etc. are all subjects on which Alcimed teams have brought their expertise to support the deployment of these projects.

[5] Forum Living Lab Santé et Autonomie
[6] PIG : Public Interest Grouping
[7] EIG : Economic Interest Grouping
[8] CICC : Collective interest cooperative company

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