Living labs are redefining innovation. Over the years, their numbers grew significantly and by 2014 there were 340 labs in 40 countries throughout the world. But in fact, what is a Living Lab? How are living labs an innovative solution? What is their role in changing cities, particularly when it comes to mental health?

Reconnecting institutions with their users

Living laboratories are open, collective innovation resources which put users first, at the heart of the discussion, in their real-life environments. Moving outside specialist spheres is one of the keys to ensuring that, in the end, the users are the ones who take full and effective ownership of the innovations instigated upstream.


The ecosystem of a living lab is different because it develops products, resources and services which directly involve future users. On an equal footing with other stakeholders, users help to design, create, develop, and experiment with innovations to meet concrete needs regarding social issues which concern them. In a nutshell, a living lab is a joint creation project which brings together professionals in a given sector (scientists, industrialists, designers, engineers, and technicians, etc.) and representatives of the general public.


The principle of living labs is applied at both strategic and operational levels, relying on structured methods and tools. It is difficult to summarise a typical living lab structure because living labs apply to a wide range of areas, but a Canadian team has drawn up a comprehensive white paper on living labs, including information about how to implement them.

A mental health Living Lab, à la française

M-LAB, a mental health living lab, is based in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region and was created in 2020 to bring together mental health players such as researchers, entrepreneurs, and of course, users. Innovations are based on mental health prevention and inclusion for people with mental disabilities.

The Cities and Mental Health theme illustrates the need for multi-party collaboration to implement effective and useful solutions for the users concerned. Living labs could be a relevant strategy both for cities and their residents.

Article updated on 12/08/22