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The role of practice-based living labs in redesigning socio-technical systems toward sustainability
Living labs refer to real-life initiatives promoting technological innovation through social learning. Practice-based living labs focus especially on reshaping daily practices, and participating households are actively engaged in co-creation of knowledge on practices and their change. However, the notion of practice is embedded in local conditions and contexts, and scaling up might not be simply a matter of multiplying, transferring and deploying particular solutions at new sites and larger scales. This complexity of scaling up engenders our research question: What pathways and types of work for diffusion and scaling up can be identified in practice-based living labs? The empirical material of our case study covers a selection of reports and other material, as well as interviews with key actors of six initiatives in different European countries. We have categorized these projects as practice-based living labs since they have had an explicit or implicit focus on introducing and experimenting with new forms of daily practices with households. We investigate similarities and differences in how our selected cases worked to disseminate and diffuse their results and outcomes, in order to understand different pathways and conditions for scaling up. Our findings show that the practice-based living labs have clearly served their purpose in identifying barriers to change and highlighting the relationship between consumption, production and policy practices. In many cases, they could show policy makers why new technologies do not work as expected unless social practices change as well. In many of the cases studied, the experiences have led to new projects, in which the intervention and engagement mechanisms are utilized on a wider scale. The findings suggest that by learning about and experimenting with practices in real life and genuinely engaging a variety of stakeholders, the practice-based living labs can make practice change more understandable, doable and accessible for practitioners and policy makers promoting sustainable consumption.