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Accepted Paper:

Stuck with buzzwords? A critical review of living lab experiments in higher education projects.  
Gregor Cerinsek (University of Ljubljana) Sara Arko (Institute for Innovation and Development of University of Ljubljana) Dan Podjed (ZRC SAZU)

Paper short abstract:

This paper critically reflects on living lab experiments conducted in three EU Knowledge Alliance projects. Despite some positive implications, it highlights the risk of uncritical pervasiveness of contemporary “third mission” concepts that endanger the social and critical mission of universities.

Paper long abstract:

The dominant discourse in the higher education strategic agendas, which also shapes calls for European projects, revolves around concepts such as innovation ecosystems, (financial) sustainability, entrepreneurship, co-creation of knowledge, technology transfer, synergies, impact, relevance to end-users, etc. Behind this is Etzkowitz's “triple” and “quadruple helix” model, which depicts academia, government, industry, and “end-users” as part of a mutually beneficial innovation ecosystem. In this context, the living lab serves as a methodological platform for collaboration to ensure that knowledge generated in EU-funded projects ends up in the marketplace, driving innovation and promoting European prosperity.

Borrowing concepts across sectors opens up new opportunities for university research and teaching. However, this process can also have negative effects if it is instrumentalized for management, audit, and evaluation purposes. The aim of this paper is therefore to critically reflect on the living lab experiments as conducted in three EU Knowledge Alliance projects, namely EURL3A, PEOPLE and Active8-Planet. In these projects, interdisciplinary teams of students, university teachers, and business professionals worked together to solve real-world business challenges using people-centered development principles. Although students reported that they better understood the relevance of their knowledge when it was applied in a non-academic setting, we argue that there is a risk if these popular “third mission” keywords are introduced uncritically into higher education. This could eventually lead to universities reorganising themselves to reflect the corporate world and respond to the needs of business, rather than being academic institutions with a strong theoretical, social, and critical dimension.

Panel P146a
Experimental transformations - Living labs as hopeful commons [FAN]
  Session 1 Friday 29 July, 2022, -