Living lab (LL) may have slightly different meanings in different fields of research and to different actors or organizations. Nevertheless, all LL are known as user-centered approach with involvement of multiple actors to co-create, explore and evaluate the innovations together in a real-life condition. A living lab is comparable to an ecosystem with different living organisms (different actors) and abiotic components (LL criteria) that are linked together (co-creation, co-development) to fulfill the specific function (outcomes: e.g. solutions or products). Ecosystems are dynamic entities that are responding to environmental changes (interactions and networks within and between the systems) and therefore sustainability and resilience are considered as two important features of any living system including an agroecosystem and a LL.
Based on the executive report of international agroecosystem living laboratories (MACS 2019) three general components of agroecosystem living lab are defined:
1) transdisciplinary approaches,
2) co-design and co-development with participants,
3) monitoring, evaluation and research in real landscapes. Implementation of living lab approach in agroecosystem might be a good solution to move faster and more effectively towards a sustainable agriculture and agri-food system as LLs deal with diverse aspects of agroecosystem (ecological, social and political), consider different actors who are involved in a project and address current challenges (e.g. water and soil problem, climate change, etc.).
In the practice of living labs, learning processes take place at the individual and community level. New knowledge is generated or previous knowledge confirmed or evaluated and information and knowledge is transferred to other regions as well as to the scientific communities and policy makers. Therefore, it is expected that living labs underlay internal and external driving forces to enable plausible pathways of transformative change towards sustainable agriculture and food systems. Specifically, co-creation and sharing of knowledge between farmers, scientists, advisors and authorities play an essential role in development of technical, social and scientific innovations (Wezel et al. 2020).
However, there are still lots of open questions and unknown areas which need to be investigated and discovered. In the AE4EU project we want to find out what makes the living lab approach in agroecosystems unique. What are the differences between this approach and other interdisciplinary research infrastructures? How can living labs help moving towards a sustainable agriculture system? Which criteria are essential? What should be improved?
Here, we propose a trait-based methodological approach, applied in the framework of our WP2 in AE4EU, to enhance our understanding about the functionality of ALL’s and its drivers. Trait is any characteristic of an organism that is expressed in phenotype and has specific function relevant to the response of organism to the environment or effect on ecosystem properties (Violle et al. 2007). Considering LL as a living system, ALL can be assessed based on their functions and drivers that are inherent in ecosystems using the trait-based approach. We envision the assessment of existing ALL in Europe with a developed and defined set of traits that are necessary for successful performance of ALL towards a sustainable agricultural and food production systems. We will establish tools for monitoring, evaluation and practical field-research which could be used by other actors involved in agriculture practices. On the basis of the gained results of the functional trait analysis we will be able to provide recommendations to scientists, farmers and governments of different regions on how future projects and initiatives associated with LL in agroecology in Europe should be arranged and established in order to well address the current challenges in agroecosystem under pressure of time and global changes.
Here, we call upon the agroecology and emerging AE4EU community to reflect and discuss the complexity of understanding and applicability of agroecosystem living lab in order to achieve the sustainable agriculture and to shape the future.
Authors: Parastoo Mahdavi, Jan Thiele, Jens Dauber and Anett Richter (Thünen-Institute of Biodiversity, Germany)
MACS (Meeting of Agricultural Chief Scientists). International Agroecosystem Living Laboratories Working Group. Agroecosystem Living Laboratories: Executive Report. G20. 2019. Available online: https://www.macs-g20.org/fileadmin/macs/Annual_Meetings/2019_Japan/ALL_Executive_Report.pdf (accessed on 28 June 2021).
Violle, C., M. L. Navas, D. Vile, E. Kazakou, C. Fortunel, I. Hummel, et al. 2007. Let the concept of trait be functional! Oikos 16:882–892.
Wezel, A., Herren, B. G., Kerr, R. B., Barrios, E., Gonçalves, A. L. R., & Sinclair, F. 2020. Agroecological principles and elements and their implications for transitioning to sustainable food systems. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 40(6), 1-13.