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Festivals as Living Labs for Sustainable Innovation: Experiences from the interdisciplinary innovation programme DORP
Transition from a linear to a circular economy is challenging and asks for simultaneous change of many system aspects (technology, legislation, infrastructure, behaviour, etc.). The use of the concept of Living Labs is a popular approach to develop and test sustainable innovations. Although a universal definition of Living Labs does not exist, they may be defined as "user-centred, open innovation ecosystems based on a systematic user co-creation approach, integrating research and innovation processes in real life communities and settings”. A Living Lab approach that is yet to be discussed in academic literature, is that of a ‘festival’. A festival can be considered a temporary 'mini-society' with similar sustainability challenges regarding water, energy, housing, logistics, waste management, food and behaviour. Since a festival is built up from scratch every time the event is hosted, adjustments and interventions can be made to its overarching system and mutual interrelations between different aspects of the system can be investigated. Herewith a unique experimentation context for sustainable system innovation arises. To explore the potential of a festival as a Living Lab that enhances sustainability, a five-year experiment was conducted at the Welcome to The Village (WTTV) festival in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. This experiment aimed to find out how festivals can effectively serve as testing areas for sustainable system innovation. Between 2014 and 2018 over 80 innovation challenges from students, start-ups and companies were hosted in a 7-10 day innovation programme linked to the WTTV festival, called ‘DORP’ (meaning ‘village’ in Dutch). New sustainable concepts, prototypes, business- and service models were developed and tested during the festival. Projects ranged from research on the development of an algorithm for selecting the best renewable energy solution for construction sites (Van Wijnen), prototyping multifunctional and bio-compostable single-use packaging (BioPack) and selling newly developed sustainable snacks like cricket burgers (BurgsFoods). Several of the projects adjusted their concepts based on new insights gained during the festival and others completed their innovation process going from concept to successful market launch. The experiment showed that within a festival Living Lab, innovation can occur on multiple system levels: Product-technology system, Product-service system, Social-technical system and Societal system. This paper demonstrates how a single festival Living Lab can host all stages of the innovation process (research, development, testing, implementing, commercialisation) on different system levels, making it a relevant experimentation context for sustainable system innovation. Additionally, the paper explains how various festivals succeeding one and other in such a way that multiple innovation sprints can be held in a relative short amount of time, may effectively contribute to accelerate sustainable system innovation.