Last 26th of June, we organised a session at the European Conference of Science Journalists (ECSJ2017) in Copenhagen, Denmark. The session was titled ‘Citizen Experience as a powerful communication tool: Open Innovation and the role of Living Labs in EU’ featuring key speakers who presented a novel way of crafting citizen innovation: living labs.
Our aim was clear: to explain that there are new ways of communicating science through experience, implementing a quadruple helix ecosystem. But most importantly that we need journalists within this equation. How? We did not know, but that was precisely what we wanted to explore with our European colleagues at ECSJ2017.
The session was presented and moderated by Alexandra Canet, communications officer at the Computer Vision Center and had the intervention of three panelists: Emiliya Hubavenska, a communications professional working for the Open innovation 2.0 team at DG CONNET; Lasse Bundgaard, industrial PhD at Copenhagen Solutions Lab which is implementing the Copenhagen Street Lab, a living lab that is in charge of testing the latest technology for Smart cities within Copenhagen, and Fernando Vilariño, associate director of the Computer Vision Center and codirector of the Library Living Lab, a technological laboratory located within a library with the aim of discovering new ways of connecting technology and culture, and who is, furthermore, associate director of the Computer Vision Center in Barcelona.
Two real examples of living labs were presented, very different the one from the other. The Library Living Lab is an initiative which was proposed by neighbours from the city of Sant Cugat del Valles, right next to Barcelona. It is a project thought by citizens and for citizens. It all started with a request from the neighbourhood association, who wanted to create something new in the library that the town council had planned in the recently built Volpelleres neighbourhood. A community formed by young, educated people, with their families. With this proposal, they managed to involve different agents: University, Public Administration, Businesses and Citizens, in order to create a project in which everyone could be seated at the same table and thus decide the challenges that would be taken upon together within this space, the Library Living Lab.
From there, the Library Living Lab has hosted many activities, for different publics, and has found ways of putting the citizen in the center of scientific innovation. How? We were asked by our colleagues in Denmark: Identifying a number of challenges; presenting prototypes and trying them out with citizens; developing workshops, such as the 3D printing course, which then shifted into the 3D club. The neighbours engaged highly within this activity, organised their own meetings and started gathering every Friday afternoon. This club has experimented with 3D printing and robotics and has ended up building a remote control formula 1 car, a drone (that flies), and more recently, a catamaran. A true example of citizen Innovation and engagement.
On the other hand, Mr. Lasse Bundgaard presented the Copenhagen Street lab. With a different approach, this living lab is oriented to the needs of the Copenhagen Town Council and the businesses which operate in the city in order to test the initiatives that will make Copenhagen a Smart city. Here, citizens also play an important role, but in a divergent way. They participate when collecting data, but are not currently proposing challenges or needs, an aspect which, according to the session’s public, and identified by the Copenhagen Street lab itself, needed to be worked on.
Ms. Emiliya Hubavenska’s preceded both presentations and gave a brief insight into the European Commision’s strategy of Open Innovation. Not only did Ms. Hubavenska explain that the science communicator’s job must be as inclusive as possible, but that the role of the Communicator and the profession is evolving, and we start to have the need of expertise in areas such as citizen innovation and living labs, which are essentially open ecosystems in which Business, Public Administration, Academia and Citizens must learn to work together with a clear and defined strategy. This might be the only way to work on the scientific and technological challenges that we have upon us.
Our colleague journalists, those who came to our session, helped us to identify the challenges that living labs arise for communicators. To communicate effectively and be catalysers of the technological and scientific experience which takes place within Living Labs. The questions that sprung up: do these spaces substitute the communicators’ tasks? How do we, as journalists, complement them if experience is the channel? How do we make communicators feel interested in living labs? What online and offline tools can we make use of in order to engage citizens and make them part of the experiences offered in these innovation spaces? How to finance this all?
The initial question, though, was left unanswered: how to include journalists in the process is still unknown. We collected ideas, new questions, but not a guide. What we did all agree on is that there is the need for a specific training that gives journalists the context of open innovation and its strategies and thus relate them to the communicator’s actions, giving them an adequate tool in order to make use, in an effective and coherent way, of living labs. Only then, will we know how to integrate communicators within this process.
Journalists are normally committed citizens, and what we all agreed on is that we must be the ones promoting these strategies in which citizen engagement in research projects is crucial from the beginning, actively practising RRI. This will only happen if RRI recommendations are applied in a correct, effective and well communicated way.