Living Labs – Better Student Outcomes through Sustainability - Living Lab Guide – Common Challenges and Solutions
Students, academics, operational staff and external stakeholders often have differing timelines for developing and delivering work.
- Prior planning and agreement of timelines, wherever possible, at the initiation stage of a collaborative applied learning or research opportunity helps all parties establish a work plan that fits
- Student engagement with projects needs to be taken into consideration with regard to academic term/semester times and other academic commitments
- Where projects are likely to span a significant timeline, it is worth exploring opportunities to engage students with specific aspects of projects
The Case Study
UWE Sustainability Team members have been increasing their collaborative working with academics to embed applied learning and research opportunities in existing modules and relevant areas of the curriculum. This enables projects to be implemented in a timely manner that fits with other programme timelines.
Implementation: Going beyond test beds
How to ensure students' Living Labs work is impactful and useful for the university/ community?
Students want to see the impacts of their work, but institutions'/ large-scale projects and initiatives take time to implement.
- Manage student expectations from the outset of the Living Lab partnership with clear communications
- Work with academics to embed practical applied learning opportunities into existing areas of the curriculum, e.g. Leeds Environmental Science 1st year Undergraduate students carry out sampling and surveys during 1st semester to support Estates and develop surveying skills
- Set output requirements for projects through student-staff discourse when initiating Living Lab work, e.g. Dissertation research - agree upon useful outputs such as short report/ presentation/ posters/ video/ workshop etc.
- If there are potential project/research findings will result in unviable implementation, communicate the valuable learning experience for both the student and institution/ community or organisation, i.e. this is the nature of research and it is still useful
The Case Study
Living Labs at University of Leicester involve a clear planning phase between students/ academics and operational staff to agree on timelines of work, proposed outputs and intentions for how projects will or may be implemented.
Applied teaching, learning and research needs to be impactful for all stakeholders
Aligning impacts with institutional priorities
- Impacts of a Living Lab need to be understood, demonstrated and measurable for all stakeholders
- Ensuring at the point of project initiation the aims and outputs for opportunities are identified and agreed supports the journey towards the end goal
- Impact can be in the form of research outcomes and impact, student learning and development outcomes, re-evaluation of institutional priorities, increased recognition of applied learning and research
- Using case studies and examples of organisational and potential positive financial or sustainability impacts of Living Lab projects can generate greater resourcing for such opportunities in the future
The Case Study
Keele University’s Smart Energy Project and VC endorsement for campus as a Living Lab
UWE Living Labs and ESD work supported and engaged with by AVC.
Queen’s University Belfast identified the need for high level support wider engagement.
Resourcing: staff and funding
How can institutions drive this work forward effectively for student and institution/community benefit?
- Institutional staff involved with Living Labs have the potential to go beyond brokering and towards curating for high quality support and ensuring follow-through to meet all stakeholder's demands and expectations:
- For some institutions this may be a dedicated role
- For other institutions, clear communications institution-wide or responsibility to support Living Labs across different staff roles would support academics and professional departments to know who their key contacts are to establish opportunities
- Engaging with academics to identify courses, modules and assessments for which Living Labs could be embedded can support an organisational shift to developing a culture for applied learning and research:
- This could be done through collaborative mapping processes to identify opportunities across curricular, research, operational, campus and community priorities.
- For some organisations/ institutions, creating a funding pot to support initiation of applied research projects and to create part-funded opportunities can raise the profile and generate more interest from both stakeholder participants and high-level decision makers. This can help gain recognition for further resource support in the future.
The Case Study
University of Leicester, Leeds and Cambridge have all been developing methodologies for measuring, evaluating and reporting the impact of their Living Labs. Other institutions showcased in this document have been demonstrating impact by aligning Living Labs with academic assessment requirements, identifying the implementation of Living Labs (going beyond test beds) and quantifying the number of Living Labs projects completed.
Gaining high level 'Executive' support
How do you do this for a whole-institution approach?
Working to influence institutional priorities
- This can be achieved where departmental leaders have strong voices and influence to gain buy-in from Senior Leadership for a whole-institutional embedded strategic approach
- Top down approaches won't necessarily work/ be achievable in all institutions, but it doesn't need to be a barrier. Middle-out and bottom-up approaches can be equally successful
- Some institutions have found ‘nudging’ senior management teams and the wider community a useful mode of generation greater engagement and recognition
- Mid-level staff working with academics with a coordinated approach can create a system for achieving similar outcomes in terms or teaching, learning, student experience and individual project outcomes
- Student demand for applied research opportunities can drive need for Living Labs approaches, e.g. NUS student skills and sustainability research
The Case Study
University of Leeds – Sustainability team annual fund for Living Labs projects and match funding of other departmental projects. Equipment and materials purchased for Living Lab projects provide long term benefit to the departments involved. University of Leicester employed a graduate intern to identify the need for a Living Lab coordinator – this role is now a permanent Academic Engagement Officer.
Engagement: Reaching stakeholders
How to find the right students for the project/opportunity?
How to engage more academic or more operational staff/community in utilising Living Labs?
- Communication is key – to engage all stakeholder groups effectively it is necessary to use appropriate and diverse modes of communication
- Working closely with your institutions teams/ departments or staff who play a key role in communicating with different stakeholder groups and across the whole institution will help with the reach of communications
- Identifying the right people and obvious advocates for Living Labs can be challenging, it is important to recognise the appropriate language for the audience, i.e. arts focussed staff and students can find the ‘lab’ concept a barrier for engagement
- For some institutions there may be specific areas of study that engage and take up Living Labs organically, these can then be used as case studies to raise awareness, share good practice and encourage peer-to-peer learning.
The Case Study
University of Edinburgh – Creation of public engagement role.
UWE sustainability team collaboration and networking with academic staff.
Creating a culture of partnership working: breaking down silos
How can you break out of a historic culture of siloed working with lack of collaborations at an interdisciplinary level and between academics/operational staff?
- It is likely there are colleagues within most institutions who are already offering some level of applied teaching, learning and research either through internal collaborative projects between operational staff and academics or academics working independently with their students. Identify who these individuals are through networking and relationship building and use these in-house examples to create some momentum and communications across the institution:
- A large part of this work requires time, relationship building and networking.
- A common theme throughout the case studies in this document and survey findings from our state of the sector survey found that in many instances Living Labs are happening organically in an ad-hoc way. Identifying these pockets of existing engagement can support the growth of a whole institution, coordinated approach to Living Labs.
The Case Study
University of Salford – Business School academic promoting Living Labs approaches within their course and engaging with operational teams. University of Greenwich take a coordinated approach between academics and operational staff to raise awareness of opportunities and projects.