Newcastle Living Lab

Information doc: 

Prof. Rob Wilson

Director, Centre for Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Enterprise (KITE), Business School, Newcastle University,Barrack Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK, NE1 4SE

Tel: +44 (0)191 208 1727



Newcastle Living Lab for Innovating Relationships

How many times in business do we really search for the correct solution? Sometimes in business we can look to solve deep rooted problems through creating a new product or buying some new software, but rarely do we sit down and discuss how we are ‘getting on’. Living Labs provides organisations with the ability to put their relationships with employees, partners and customers first. By analysing fundamental interactions it can help innovative solutions and better ways of getting stuff done. The contexts of transformation, innovation and partnership across organisational, cultural, community and disciplinary boundaries that have generated the ideas and practice of the draw on the concepts of social informatics precisely matching the collaborative challenges facing many cities and regions across Europe including Newcastle and the NE of England.

 “It’s about relationship building and having deeper conversations, so that – for example – a sociologist, a scientist and council engineer might all be working on the problem of urban flood prevention,” says Living Lab Director, Professor Rob Wilson. “Each sees the problem through their own lens, and with Living Lab they learn to see things from each other’s perspective so they can work together. It’s a move away from silo thinking and shrink-wrapped solutions to wicked problems of collaboration.”

As part of the wider European network of Living Labs, the Newcastle Lab represents a creative and innovative contribution to working on complex problems. Many of the challenges facing our businesses and communities can seem difficult and intractable. Taking a Living Lab approach, can evolve thinking and adaptation in response to new pressures and expectations to deliver workable solutions for complex, multi-faceted – or ‘wicked’ – problems.

Description of Concept

Our vision of the Lab is of a sustainable, collaborative entity offering a resource for partnership building, innovation and the initiation of applied research with partners (potential and future). Our governance process will be designed to ensure that it is seen as an accessible, shared resource which supports Newcastle University’s core values of engagement with the community and the economy and research excellence.

The Living Lab intervention, which has been developed by a team based at the Research Centre for Knowledge Innovation Technology and Enterprise (KITE, represents a unique synthesis of co-production, learning and management sense-making theories. This is achieved via a participatory projection oriented approach in which complex socio-technical systems can be envisaged, modelled and specified. This has been developed, over more than a decade, through a programme of externally funded research and third strand work (including funding from EPSRC, EU Framework, DCLG, Innovate UK, Newcastle University and HEFCE Higher Education Innovation Funding - HEIF) and has resulted in a set of first generation tools and methods together with a growing body of theory and applied experience in areas as diverse as planning for climate change to the deployment of smartcards to designing marketplaces for adult social care. The contexts of transformation, innovation and partnership across organisational, cultural and disciplinary boundaries, in which these ideas have evolved, closely match the challenges facing the University both internally, in maintaining and developing its research base, and externally in its local engagements and wider partnerships. The ability to initiate internal and external collaboration and partnership are a core business requirement of a research led university while creating and sustaining collaborative structures and mechanisms are its most significant means of acting within and as a part of wider communities.

  • A set of tools and facilities associated with visualisation animation and synchronised juxtaposition of models and of data sets. This can be thought of in its simplest form as a “multi-screen PowerPoint facility”
  • A consultancy/facilitation product which makes use of the platform to address complex problem solving and innovation involving mutual sense making, the formation of new partnerships and understandings between the participant/clients.
  • A training and capacity building offer which produced accredited consultant/facilitators.
  • A multi-disciplinary project support service which delivers the dissemination and exploitation components of complex large scale research projects.

References and Track Record 

The core value in this proposition rests in the theory, practice and body of content that has been generated in the decade of development and use of the Living Lab. In line with the previous projects (e.g. Durham and Darlington Electronic Health Record, Framework for Multi-agency Environment: FAME project – which have generated much of the valuable theory and current practice in the lab. Our intent is to use a series of spaces and occasions for the innovation of inter-organisational relationships as an essential part of the shaping of complex services of the types outlined above. Taking this approach is analogous to information system development approaches such as soft systems (Checkland, 1988) ‘bricolage’ (Badham and Ehn 2000), ‘co-creation’ (Hartswood et al. 2002) and ‘co-production’ (Wilson et al. 2012; McLoughlin et al. 2012; McLoughlin and Wilson 2013) that emphasise the emergent reality of systems and their lack of determinacy as a social practice (Garudet al. 2008). The challenge is to collaboratively build this experience to address the need to build capacity by creating a second generation of tools for use by partners

Since 2000, a series of research projects and academic activities undertaken by the Centre for Knowledge Innovation Technology and Enterprise (KITE) and funded by the EPSRC, ESRC, Central Government Departments (DCLG, DH and Cabinet Office) and the EU, have provided the context for the development of new approaches to the active facilitation of partnership formation, collaboration and innovation processes. These represent a synthesis of a number of facilitation, learning and sense-making tools and techniques combined with an approach to the articulation of the architectural discourse of socio-technical systems which has been developed over a much longer time span. Our research has been focused in the context of multi-agency partnership development both in social and health care, economic development and public administration. Current work includes working with the NE of England Local Economic Partnership on Business Support and Growth and the national Centre of Excellence on Information Sharing on data sharing in public services.

For more information contact: Professor Rob Wilson