Supporting the Evolution of Sustainable Living Labs and Living Labs Networks in Africa

Supported by the European Commission (EC) and African Union Commission (AUC), IST-Africa has taken a leadership position in promoting the adoption of Collaborative Open Innovation and Living Labs Methodologies to support socio-economic development in Africa.

Click on IST-Africa Living Lab Workshops to learn more about upcoming and past Living Labs Events.


Living Labs were developed as a concept in 1990 (Lepik, Krigul & Terk, 2010) and championed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Georgia Tech to bring "together interdisciplinary experts to develop, deploy, and test - in actual living environments - new technologies and strategies for design that respond to this changing world".

Living Labs in Europe have evolved over the past ten years based on national and European Policy and Innovation initiatives (including the i2010 and 2020 Policy Frameworks and Digital Agenda) that prioritised placing the user at the centre of the innovation lifecycle within real-life settings. Living Labs were launched as test beds/pilots to measure the impact and effectiveness of research undertaken in the areas of Collaborative Working Environments, Ambient Intelligence, eInclusion, eHealth, Ambient Assisted Living, e-Services in Rural areas, e-Participation (providing active input to municipal decision making) and ICT for Energy Efficiency. These Living Labs provided a mechanism to bridge the gap between technological development and market implementation by linking local experimentation environments with end users, industry and SMEs

In an African context, Living Labs have emerged primarily as outputs of Action Research. One key dimension in an African context is the rural community perspective. Africa has particular challenges in relation to rural socio-economic development and sustainable quality of life, due to the current state of available infrastructure, educational and employment opportunities and resultant migration (particularly of youth), to urban environments nationally, as well as international emigration.

Based on an integrated Developed and Developing Country perspective, Cunningham [2013] proposes that: "Living Labs are environments or a methodical approach focused on user-driven open innovation. End-user communities collaborate with Innovation Stakeholders (public, private, education and research, societal and funding sectors) in real-life settings to co-create innovative products, services, processes, business models or policies, or adapt existing ones, to better match market or societal needs. Successful deployments can be replicated or networked to achieve scale and wider impact".

Leveraging Living Labs methodologies and Living Labs Networks in Africa provide an important opportunity to collaborate, co-create, prototype and test new products and services, technologies, processes, business models or ideas customised for developing markets. It is important to monitor and evaluate progress so there is sufficient documentation to be able to replicate the achievements and to be able to provide evidence of success.


Within the context of developing the socio-economic & research potential of the African Information Communication Technologies (ICT) & Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) landscape, the 8th Africa-EU Strategic Partnership provides a political mandate based on mutually agreed priorities, for the European Commission (EC), African Union Commission (AUC), European Union (EU) and African Union (AU) Member States, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the Research Community, Private Sector, Civil Society and NGOs, Local Authorities, International Financing Institutions, International Donor Organisations & Foundations to collaborate.

The Second Action Plan for the period 2011 - 2013 of the 8th Africa-EU Strategic Partnership (Science, Information Society, Space) has identified a number of priority areas for public sector, private sector and research community collaboration between Africa and Europe to complement investments in ICT infrastructure deployment by exploiting synergies between the EU 2020 Digital Agenda and the African Union (AU) ICT development frameworks.

The goal is to support STI and ICT capacity-building initiatives for mass diffusion of ICTs and related services, as key enablers for poverty reduction, economic growth, social development and regional integration. One of the priority areas identified is to support the establishment of sustainable Living Labs Networks across Africa as a tool to enhance ICT research cooperation, local innovation, entrepreneurship and wider socio-economic and community development.

Supporting Implementation

To kick start this process, IST-Africa organised the Inaugural IST-Africa Living Labs Working Group Meeting in Gaborone, Botswana on 10 May 2011 as a Pre-Conference event to IST-Africa 2011. IIMC invited key stakeholders including EC, AUC, Co-Chairs of 8th Africa - EU Strategic Partnership, IST-Africa National Partners, World Bank, LLiSA Network (Living Labs in Southern Africa), ENoLL (European Network of Living Labs), researchers and private sector, and there were over 100 European and African participants. A number of European and South African Living Labs presented ongoing activities and there was a general discussion in relation to how to support the wider adoption of Living Labs across Africa.

Based on the level of enthusiasm, commitment and engagement demonstrated during this meeting, the European Commission (EC) and African Union Commission (AUC) established an EC - AUC Living Labs Task Force for Africa to develop an implementation strategy to support the rollout of Living Labs across Africa. Members include IIMC and a number of other IST-Africa Partners. It was agreed that as a member of this Task Force, IIMC would undertake a comprehensive survey of existing and emerging Living Labs across Africa from May 2011 - January 2012. Working in cooperation with LLiSA (Living Labs Network for Southern Africa) and other key stakeholders, this IST-Africa report identified priorities and recommendations for sustainable Living Labs and Living Labs Networks across Africa.

As part of the extensive public consultation and validation process, a series of interactive workshops were organised in IST-Africa Partner Countries across East Africa and Southern Africa.

IST-Africa Living Labs Validation Workshops were undertaken by IIMC and hosted by Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Burundi (26 - 27 September 2011); Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (29 - 30 September 2011), Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (06 - 07 October 2011), National Commission for Science and Technology, Malawi (17 November 2011), Ministry of Communications and Transport, Zambia (22 November 2011), Ministry of Science and Technology, Ethiopia (24 November 2011), and Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Swaziland (29 November 2011).

The final version of the IST-Africa Living Labs Report "Supporting the Evolution of Sustainable Living Labs and Living Labs Networks in Africa", January 2012 ISBN 978-1-905824-28-1 can be downloaded from

IST-Africa organised the 2nd Living Labs Thematic Workshop Group Meeting in cooperation with TANZICT (Bilateral Programme between Finland and Tanzania) and COSTECH as a pre-conference event on 08 May 2012 in Dar es Salaam, in the larger context of the 8th Joint Expert Group Meeting. Over 90 participants from Africa and Europe participated in the participatory workshop. The goal of this 2nd working group meeting was twofold (a) sensitise and educate stakeholders in East Africa and in particular Tanzania to concepts associated with Living Labs and Living Labs Networks, to identify local, national and regional priorities and facilitate wider adoption, and (b) identify stakeholders willing and able to collaborate to support implementation of Living Labs as a mechanism to support sustainable socio-economic development in developing countries.

The participants engaged with group activities to identify key stakeholder roles in Living Labs, examine the perceived motivations (why would they get involved?), expectations (what would they hope to achieve?) and contributions (how they could make a difference?) of different stakeholder groups (e.g. Public, Private, Education and Research, Community and Societal Sectors), and discuss different perspectives and emerging issues. Outputs included a greater awareness of the potential socio-economic impact of Living Labs, lowering costs associated with adapting and diffusing new technologies for a developing country context, enhancing end-user experiences and a feeling of ownership by providing a co-creation framework and consultative approach to innovation, provide a platform for new knowledge and skill acquisition, support creativity and technology transfer. TANZICT is now supporting six emerging Living Labs across Tanzania.

IST-Africa organised the 3rd Living Lab Thematic Workshop Group Meeting as a pre-conference event on 28 May 2013 in Nairobi, with over 80 participants from Europe and Africa including existing and emerging Living Labs and other stakeholders interested in learning about Living Lab methodologies. One of the objectives of this workshop was to identify potential areas where Living Labs and Collaborative Open Innovation would be beneficial in Kenya. A short introduction to Living Lab and the outputs from the previous Working Group Meeting were presented, following by group work in relation to perceived motivations, expectations and contributions of each key stakeholder group. The participants found this team work to be very enjoyable and stimulating and the group outputs provide interesting insights, including the importance of working towards achieving win-win situations for all stakeholders in a Living Lab to achieve sustainability.

Siyakhula Living Lab and NMMU-Emmanuel Haven Living Lab (South Africa) provided insights into their experiences. KINU Innovation Space (Tanzania) provided an overview of interventions they have initiated to support Entrepreneurs, Women and children leveraging ICT. These presentations triggered considerable discussion and raised important questions around practical issues associated with establishing and sustaining Living Labs, the requirement to deliver consistent eSkills training and how to motivate and manage different stakeholders to work together around a shared, common vision. Prof Marlien Herselman, Chair of Living Labs of Southern Africa (LLiSA) provided insights from some of the Living Labs set up in South Africa over the past nine years and how such challenges were addressed.

It was agreed that in Kenya, eSkills, Agriculture, Health and Public Service Delivery are key areas that would benefit from a Living Labs oriented approach.

Existing and Emerging Living Labs in Africa

IST-Africa is now commencing an updated study on Existing and Emerging Living Labs in Africa during 2014 - 2015. Profiles of Living Labs will be published in due course.

Living Labs in South Africa that has now been successfully running for several years include: Siyakhula Living Lab (focused on Remote Rural communities, eInfrastructure and eSkills); Limpopo Living Lab (focused on supporting Entrepreneurship, eSkills and eServices); Reconstructed Living Lab (RLabs) (focused on social innovation leveraging ICT, Incubation and eSkills) and NMMU-Emmanuel Haven Living Lab (focused on Education and Training, Healthcare, Youth Development Programmes and Hydroponic Farming).

In September 2010, two African Regional Mobile Application Laboratories (mLab South Africa and m:Lab East Africa) were announced by InfoDev under the "Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy Programme", as a public-private partnership between the Government of Finland, Nokia, and infoDev / World Bank. They support Entrepreneurship through an Incubator and Training Sessions.

Maputo Living Lab was set up in 2011 based on a technology cooperation agreement signed between the Government of Mozambique and Province of Trentino, Italy, which is providing funding to cover operations for three years. It is focused on supporting eSkills, Entrepreneurship and runs an Annual Summer School for 4 weeks focused on Web Development, Coding and Software Project Management.

Since IST-Africa Week 2012, TANZICT has been supporting six emerging Living Labs across Tanzania: Kigamboni Community (focused on vocational skills and use of social media); Iringa Living Lab (focused on training social media and ICT skills to deaf students and adults, beekeeping, mushroom growing and entrepreneurship skills); Elimu Living Lab (focused on Education and Training); Mbeye Living Lab (focused on ICT and entrepreneurship), Tanzania Youth Icon (focused on life skills, ICT and entrepreneurship) and Arusha EcoLab (focused on Education technologies).

There have also been a number of project based Living Labs set up primarily for product development addressing developing countries that are no longer running.