Vitalise-Project / Living Labs, an answer to Europe’s biggest challenges

Living Labs, an answer to Europe’s biggest challenges

Schools As Living Labs (SALL) held a roundtable to discuss what policy measures should exist to enable the transition towards more comprehensive, inclusive, and modern education and health systems. the living lab approach is seen as one of the answers by practitioners and policy makers across Europe.

“There is a generation whose life has been dominated by crises: the financial crisis, the climate crisis, the COVID pandemic, a crisis of confidence in our democratic values, and even a war now in Europe. Operating in this context, especially in the field of education and health, becomes an impossible task.” It is with these words that the convenor Stephanos Cherouvis, senior project manager at Ecsite, the European Network of Science Centres and Museums, opened the Next Generation Europe roundtable that convened in Athens in person at the American School of Classical Studies.

As governments work on building back better, future-proof societies, the post-COVID-19 world represents the perfect opportunity to rethink and reset previous environments, working methods, and systems. High-level speakers from across Europe were therefore invited to reflect on how education and healthcare systems can be transformed under the prism of open innovation and the living-lab methodology.

Living Lab, Laboratory for Life

“Living labs are laboratories for life” said Panagiotis Bamidis, professor of medical physics and informatics in medical education at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and a pioneer in the living lab. This open innovation methodology enables the development of sustainable innovations that fit society’s needs by involving a variety of stakeholders in the innovation process. This methodology is now used beyond technology fields because it offers flexibility and empowerment. “We stole your idea of living-lab and applied it for a good purpose: to develop 21st-century skills in children in schools across Europe,” replied Pavlos Koulouris, senior researcher at Ellinogermaniki Agogi and coordinator of the Schools As Living Labs project. “We, also, aim at creating innovation but not for the innovation per se, not for the innovative products or services, but actually for the process that will help our students realise the world around them, develop science literacy and acquire the knowledge that they need”.

Michael Teutsch, Head of unit Schools and multilingualism, DG for education, youth, sport and culture at the European Commission identified another strength in the living lab approach: “It’s about empowering teachers but it’s also about empowering the teaching community because one of the strengths that I see in the living lab approach, and that we have been trying to promote over the years, is to make teachers move away from this idea of a single person lecturing in front of a classroom towards a team-based approach with teachers and other professionals involved in the teaching process.”

Living labs are also set up in hospitals to increase the relevance and the impact of innovative solutions designed for and with patients and health professionals. Rosina Malagrida, head of the Living Lab for Health at IrsiCaixa, Spain, reaffirmed that “the only way to address complex problems is collaboration. When there is too much uncertainty and so many factors involved, we need to move from linear thinking to system thinking.” Malagrida also insisted on a key aspect: the necessity to “completely change the way how we solve our problems and the way we address research and innovation.” This is why living labs are important in many sectors. They offer the opportunity for a continuous process of iterations to design sustainable innovations tackling persistent and complex problems.

For Evodkimos Konstantinidis, chairperson at the European Network of Living Labs and member of the Vitalise project: “Research infrastructures should not be only for researchers but we should open them to the community. And to do so, what we need is building trust within the participants and making sure there is a real interest, a real value for everyone, experts or not.”

Greece, a terrain of experimentation for new education and health policies

Ministries of education across Europe have started to encourage schools to introduce new learning approaches by updating their syllabus, supporting digital transformation, and promoting interaction with the community. Alexandros Koptsis, secretary-general for primary, secondary education and, special education at the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs reaffirmed this trend: “Day by day, we are working for setting objectives to develop a comprehensive, inclusive, autonomous school, a school of new didactic approaches, a pupil-based teaching programme, a modern school. Rather than saying it, we walk the talk.” Ioannis Antoniou, president of the Institute of Educational Policy in Greece, presented some of the current education policies integrating elements aligned with the open schooling approach adopted by Schools As Living Labs. Among them, is the introduction of Skills Labs promoting the so-called skills of the 21st century: life skills, soft skills and technology and science skills. The Skills Labs give children the opportunity to discover and cultivate multifaceted knowledge, skills and inclinations, in order to become active citizens in a changing environment. “This is the school that we would like to transform all our schools into,” confirmed Koptsis.

Koptsis reiterated the ministry’s support to initiatives opening new windows for education, such as the one explored by the Schools As Living Labs project. He strongly advocated for “a comprehensive, integrative and target-based solid approach that will help us change schools with new ideas, new visions, new concepts, contemporary thinking, people looking forward and having the power to break down the silos of past.” This approach was praised by Dimitris Chalkiotis, advisor A at the Institute of Educational Policy, Greece, who highlighted the need to motivate teachers, particularly young ones: “Teachers who are less than 30 years old, are declining and this is alarming. They represent only 10% of all the teachers in all the OECD countries”.

Apostolos Papalois, secretary-general of the Network of Accredited Clinical Skills Centres in Europe was delighted to notice how the culture of entrepreneurship is only one step away from schools: “I am pleased to see all these radical reforms from the ministries of education because this culture of entrepreneurship starts in primary and secondary schools.” A culture of entrepreneurship that has been recently boosted in Greece thanks to a large increase in its effort in innovation: “We currently spend 1.5% of GDP. In 2011, it was 0,69%. We have had a significant increase in entrepreneurship” confirmed Michael Dritsas, head of cabinet of Christos Dimas, Deputy Minister of Development and Investments, Greece.

Make changes happen at the system level

All the speakers, coming from various sectors and institutions, agreed on the same strategy to adopt in order to reshape our education, health, research and innovation system.

  • Bringing together stakeholders with the objective to foster collaboration in the long term
  • Changing the way we do research and innovation adopting methodologies that produce a greater societal impact
  • Moving away from piloting excellent ideas to making them mainstream experiences
  • Investing in the quality of practitioners’ training and rewarding them for exploring new approaches and methodologies
  • Empowering practitioners on the ground and offering them more autonomy

Based on these reflections and within the Schools As Living Labs project, the Lisbon Council will produce the Policy Roadmap to European Policies for Living-Lab-Based Open Schooling putting forward a set of actionable policy recommendations in order to normalise the use of living labs in school education. “According to Socrates, ‘wonder is the beginning of wisdom’ and in a sense, we also want to instill ‘wonder’ to our students” shared Francesco Murredu, senior director at the Lisbon Council a Brussels-based think tank, as guiding words for the Schools As Living Labs work. The Lisbon Council is paying special attention to the feasibility of its recommendations. In that regard, a strong involvement of policy makers and decision-makers is needed in order to test the feasibility and the relevancy of the recommendations. The consultation is open and all policy makers are welcome to contribute.

This event was co-organised by the European think tank and policy network The Lisbon Council, the European Network of Science Centres and Museums Ecsite, the European Network of Living Laboratories ENoLLEllinogermaniki Agogi, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Institute of Education Policy, in the framework of the European projects Schools as Living Labs, VITALISE and LOOP.