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Living Labs: Social Innovation Spaces for the Economic and Social Development of Territories and Populations

The development of societies, territories and their populations is linked in part to their innovation capacities to identify problems and find appropriate and sustainable solutions, such as social innovations, and face contemporary issues and challenges. To respond to these problems, innovation spaces are being created in many urban, peri-urban or rural territories (Krauss, G., and Tremblay, D.-G., 2019). These spaces take various forms (places of consultation, production, reflection, etc.), are assigned multiple names (living labs, fab labs, makerspaces and other labs, etc.) and tackle various themes with teams and resources of varying sizes. However, these innovation spaces exist with the common object: that of (re) thinking about society in order to improve the lives of the population that makes it up (Rumpala, 2014), and of (re) thinking an alternative to the industrial and globalized economic model (Healy, 2020), in particular through the territorialization of the economy (Lallemend, 2015). But despite their growing number, these initiatives sometimes seem to lack coherence, resources or recognition among a large audience, which, however, could be the primary beneficiaries. Innovation spaces are very diverse and multiply. However, it is not always easy to provide an elaborate definition, or even a sufficiently precise categorization (Scaillerez and Tremblay, 2017).

Among these innovation spaces, there are living labs. As a new approach seeking to solve complex social issues, living labs are distinguished by their participation and co-construction objectives, positioning citizens and users at the center of their efforts (Scaillerez, Tremblay, 2017). One of the objects of the method is to allow as many people as possible to participate in the reflection, which also makes living labs an approach which helps to admit that certain resources (natural, Ostrom 1990; or for example, intellectual, Hess and Ostrom, 2007) belong to all and are part of the commons (Hess, 2008).

Social innovation can be seen as a perspective and result of the living labs approach, and can also allow them to be better qualified. Living labs therefore seem to be linked to the concept of social innovation, which would be the result. In other words, the method of living laboratories, the tools and the actors present can ultimately contribute to producing a social innovation intended to solve a problem. Social innovation is also a polysemic notion (Cloutier, J. 2003). The notion responds to a lack, a dysfunction, a complex problem, but also faces a complex dynamic (Murray, Caulier-Grice, Mulgan, G. 2010) in order to meet the needs of the (or a) population and therefore impacts society as a whole (Andrew, C. and Klein, J.-L., 2010), as well as its socio-economic development. It is therefore a question here of forging links between these two concepts with a view to strengthening their respective definitions.

The territory is another dimension that can provide a better understanding of the role and functions of innovation spaces. The notion of space does not only refer to the spatialization of an innovation process but also to a process of territorialization of innovation (Torre, 2018) which contributes to making it social (Fontan, Klein and Tremblay, 2004). In other words, living labs would be those places where innovation is social because it is anchored in a territory endowed with its specific dynamics and with potential for economic and social development. However, understanding the dimensions and territorial effects of living labs remains an open field (Lafontaine, 2017). They would be one of the vectors which would allow the advent of an innovative process anchored in the social and economic needs of the territory and the population considered (hence the name of “social innovation”), and this, by making it possible to react actively (center of impetus) through collaboration and capacity building (through the number of participants, their expertise, their experience, their knowledge, their experience, etc.). Through living labs, the resulting social innovations can then have an impact on society, on the quality of life, the economy, the environment and even on local governance methods (Lévesques, B. , Fontan, J.-M. and Klein, J.-L., 2014), economic policies, or the resilience of a territory or a population (Klein, J.-L., Pecqueur, B., Koop, K. and Soussi, SA, 2016).

This call for papers therefore aims to link the notions of territory, living labs and social innovation to strengthen the cross-understanding of these notions and thus better define the frameworks and intervention postures of open innovation practitioners. This linking of these notions (territories, innovation spaces and social innovations), in this special issue, will be relevant, because this angle of comparison is still little used by the scientific community, which is why we invite authors to submit articles on the following topics:

  • The territory as a matrix, place of establishment and perspective of living labs. How to take into account the territorial dimension in the construction of a living lab? What are the issues raised by the notion of territory (spatialization, scales of action, power relations, governance, political economy, etc.)?

  • Portrait and characterization of living labs: inventory and typology of their activities and practices.

  • Place and role of actors in social innovation in living labs: better understand the categories of actors who participate in them (creators, community manager, stakeholders, and / or beneficiaries); establish a link between the actions present in living labs and social innovations.

  • Actions and impacts on territories and communities: review various initiatives that have been put in place within these living labs in order to resolve certain issues (economic, political, social, etc.) and attempt to assess their impact on the territories and communities, including social innovations and local development.

In short, it will be a question of trying, through this publication, to better understand the territorial dimensions and the different actors (creators, animators-facilitators and users) of living labs, to establish a categorization, but also a typology by the results obtained and to measure the impact of these initiatives on a given territory and community, in particular in terms of social innovations and in areas linked to the economy, even political economy.

Important dates:

Article proposal (1 page): Friday June 25, 2021

Full article: Friday October 27, 2021

Issue date: around Mai 2022

Send your proposals and your text to the following addresses:

For instructions on formatting and editing your article, see:


Andrew, Caroline, Juan-Luis Klein. 2010. Social Innovation: What is it and why is it important to understand it better. Études théoriques et méthodologiques, numéro ET1003.

Cloutier, Julie. 2003. Qu’est-ce que l’innovation sociale? Coll. Études théoriques. Cahiers du CRISES. Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, novembre 2003, 48 p.

Fontan, Jean-Marc, Juan-Luis Klein, et Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay. 2004. « Innovation et société : pour élargir l’analyse des effets territoriaux de l’innovation ». Géographie, économie, société Vol. 6 (2): 11528.

Healy, S., 2020. Alternative Economies. In: Kobayashi, A. (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, 2nd edition. vol. 1, Elsevier, pp. 111–117.

Hess, C. (2008). Mapping the new commons. Dans Governing Shared Resources: Connecting Local Experience to Global Challenges. University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, England.

Hess, C. et Ostrom, E. (2007). Understanding knowledge as a commons: from theory to practice. Cambridge, États-Unis: MIT Press.

Krauss, Gerhard, Tremblay Diane-Gabrielle. 2019. Tiers-lieux – travailler et entreprendre sur les territoires : Espaces de co-working, fab labs, hack labs. Rennes et Québec : PUR et PUQ.

Klein, Juan-Luis, Bernard Pecqueur, Kirsten Koop, Sid Ahmed Soussi. 2016. L’innovation locale à l’épreuve du global. Un défi pour les acteurs. Collection Géographie contemporaine. Québec : PUQ.

Lévesques Benoit, Fontan, Jean-Marc, Juan-Luis Klein. 2014. L’innovation sociale, les marches d’une construction théorique et pratique, Québec : PUQ.

Lafontaine, Danielle. 2017. « Aspects et effets territoriaux du Living Lab : une expérience hors métropole au Québec ». Canadian Journal of Regional Science / Revue canadienne des sciences régionales 40 (1): 2331.

Lallemend, Michel. 2015. L’âge du faire - Hacking, travail, anarchie, Paris : Le seuil

Murray, Caulier-Grice, Mulgan. 2010. The Open Book of social innovation, Dossier spécial The Young Foundation.

Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons the evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge, Royaume-Uni : Cambridge University Press.

Rumpala, Yannick. 2014. « « Fab labs », « makerspaces » : entre innovation et émancipation ? » Revue internationale de l’économie sociale : recma N° 334 (4): 8597.

Scaillerez A., Tremblay D-G., (2017) Coworking, fab labs et living labs, État des connaissances sur les tiers-lieux, Territoire en mouvement Revue de géographie et aménagement [En ligne], 34 | 2017, mis en ligne le 16 juin 2017. URL :

Torre, André. 2018. « Les moteurs du développement territorial ». Revue d’Économie Régionale Urbaine Octobre (4): 71136.

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