Living Lab Guide: University of Leeds Case Study

Tags: living labs | University of Leeds

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“The Leeds Living Lab drives the University’s commitment to embedding sustainability through knowledge, engagement, collaboration and innovation. It brings together students, academic and operational staff to research and test sustainable solutions, enhance our curriculum and solve real-world challenges using the University as a test bed” Leeds Living Lab 1 year on, 2018

What advice would you give an institution staff member keen to get this started?

“Align the business case with the University’s strategic themes and approach. Develop clear governance around the programme, including performance measures, to maintain support from senior management. Begin by focussing on a key area - for Leeds this has been developing internal collaborations between academic and operational roles, for others this might be community partnerships. Focus on building a network of interested colleagues and students, utilise their buy-in and enthusiasm to demonstrate the benefits to others.” – Thom Cooper, Living Lab Coordinator, 2018

The University of Leeds have made Living Labs an institutional priority through policies, resourcing and funding. Living Labs at Leeds are recognised as formal collaborative partnerships for interdisciplinary research and learning in line with the University’s Sustainability Strategy. A dedicated staff member, Thom Cooper, working in the Sustainability Service leads the Living Lab Programme at Coordinator level, facilitating partnership building, engaging staff and students to raise awareness of the opportunities, and maintaining momentum to embed the way of working into business as usual. A core benefit of Thom's role is support for staff and students in identifying and getting Living Labs off the ground and supporting projects or initiatives that aren't quite there to become 'true' Living Labs.

There seems to be a common theme of institutions struggling to identify a strong business case for a Living Lab coordinator role. At Leeds this role is recognised as both a key way to advance immersive and meaningful teaching and learning that develops student knowledge and skills and to facilitate collaborative, impactful research that breaks down institutional boundaries, generates funding and forwards the sustainability of the University and the city.

Where students are active participants in Living Lab projects, the opportunities contribute significantly to their employability skills, giving them real-world applied learning and research experience and, by engaging in the sustainable management of the University, stakeholders are provided with a greater sense of pride and connection to the institution.

All students and staff at Leeds are invited to apply for funding and support to develop and implement their Living Lab ideas. Successfully funded projects span from air quality modelling to shape and inform strategic approaches to projects that improve health and the environment on campus; to trialling Mixed Ability Sports through workshops and taster days to demonstrate a case for inclusion in University offerings.