Cross-learning in Urban Living Labs: Making Space and Time for it! 

Urban Living Labs are a key means in the project TRUSTMAKING to facilitate the collaboration of youth, researchers, designers, city administration and entrepreneurs in an experimental space: how can we develop, test, and evaluate innovative solutions for green infrastructure? The aim is to create a more sustainable, livable, and resilient urban environment by experimenting with new approaches of co-design. One key aspect of Urban Living Labs is cross-learning, which involves bringing together different actors and leveraging their diverse knowledge, their professional and everyday life experiences and expertise to foster mutual learning.

Cross-learning can take many forms in Urban Living Labs, including peer-to-peer learning, inter- and transdisciplinary learning, cross-generational learning and learning across different sectors. Peer-to-peer learning involves youth learning from each other through collaboration, observation, and feedback. Inter- and transdisciplinary learning, on the other hand, involves actors from different disciplines or fields coming together to share their knowledge and expertise to solve real-world problems. Lastly, learning across different sectors involves actors from e.g. science, city administration, and civil society learning from each other by sharing their perspectives and experiences. Cross-generational learning is the most important aim within our project of TRUSTMAKING.

Cross-learning in these many facets is essential to the success of Urban Living Labs as it helps to build trust, foster innovation, and develop more sustainable solutions. Cross-learning also helps to build trust among actors involved, as they learn from each other and gain a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives and needs. ‘Yet urban labs sometimes only start to think about the issue of learning long after the lab has been established1 state the Guidelines for Urban Labs by the URB@Exp project.

Therefore, we especially made space and time in the project process to foster exchange and cross-learning. TRUSTMAKING foresees different steps of cross-learning along the creation and implementation of ULL during four so-called Winter and Summer Schools. The four Winter and Summer Schools are foreseen at different stages of the project and at different sites of our ULLs, starting with a Winter School in Vienna (AT) and going on with a Summer School in Oslo (NO) in 2023, followed by a Winter School in The Netherlands and finally there will be a Summer School in Panevėžys (LT) in 2024. The main aim of these schools is to create an exchange network in order to promote rapid uptake of strategies and innovations emerging from the ULLs within the project and to articulate cross-learning outcomes and foster development of an extended exchange network among project partners as well as between youth and city administrations. As an international and cross-sectorial project, the need for accountable project governance, structured communication channels and functioning feedback loops are essential.

During a workshop with all funded project partners in February 2023, so-called Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) according to the constructive alignment method by John Biggs were defined for different stages of the project and for different actors in order to ensure focused and effective cross-learning processes. ILOs are the desired learning outcomes that partners hope to achieve through their participation in the Living Lab. These may include knowledge, skills, attitudes, or behaviors that partners hope to gain through their participation. ILOs are essential to ensure that stakeholders’ participation in the Living Lab is meaningful and impactful, and that they can use the knowledge and skills gained to address real-world problems beyond the Living Lab. The identification of ILOs needs to go hand in hand with design tasks and activities preceding and during the Winter and Summer Schools that are in line with ILOs. Activities therefore are planned by partners to develop the skills, knowledge and understandings identified as ILOs.
The development of ILOs for the first stage was done in a collaborative manner. This ensured that the ILOs are considered relevant, meaningful, and achievable, by all project partners. The ILOs that were developed, are going to be regularly reviewed during the upcoming Winter and Summer Schools and will be updated to ensure that they remain relevant and effective.

Some examples of ILO for the funded partners were that at the end of the Vienna Winter School partners should be able to apply the ULL monitoring methodology, to reproduce or redesign co-research methods of other partners in their own ULL location and to evaluate which approaches are most fruitful, to map the stakeholders needed for the ULL implementation, and to apply co-research methods that use various media etc. For the Summer School in Oslo, ILO of partners were described as being able to contrast and compare ULL considering local specificities, to evaluate and adjust the procedure of ULL, to define trustmaking characteristics, etc. During this Summer School, the focus is also on non-funded partners such as city administration and social organizations. These institutions should be able to discover ways of how to include youth in planning processes, understand the most important concepts of youth participation and trustmaking, and identify youth involvement in visited case studies.

Image 2: Collected ILOs during the workshop by different partners. Photo: Judith M. Lehner

The ILOs named during the workshop were mostly process-oriented ILOs, outcome-oriented ILOs will most probably be added during the upcoming Winter and Summer Schools. Process-oriented ILOs, on the one hand, focus on the learning process itself and the skills and knowledge gained through participation in the Living Lab / Winter and Summer Schools. Outcome-oriented ILOs, on the other hand, focus on the impact of the Living Lab on a broader level, such as following trustmaking guidelines for policy makers or offering educational programs for youth activation.

In conclusion, cross-learning and intended learning outcomes are essential components of our TRUSTMAKING Urban Living Labs. Cross-learning fosters collaboration, innovation, and trust among partners and other actors, while ILOs ensure that the Living Lab is a meaningful and impactful learning experience for all actors involved. The development of ILOs will continue to be done collaboratively and inclusively, with regular reviews and updates to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of cross-learning. By leveraging cross-learning and ILOs, Urban Living Labs can make a significant contribution to fulfil the potential of young creators in co-designing public spaces and green infrastructure together with city administrations, entrepreneurs, researchers and designers.