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Last update: May 2021

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Implementing agricultural living labs that renew actors’ roles within existing innovation systems

A case study in France

2021 - Quentin Toffolini, Mathieu Capitaine, Mourad Hannachi, Marianne Cerf

Highlights :

  • We develop a framework to study an agro-Living Lab as a boundary object.
  • An agro-Living Lab built by incumbent actors of the innovation system is studied through a one-year immersion observation.
  • We underline divergent rationales regarding two notions underlying its design: innovation processes and territory.
  • Divergent rationales prevent the infrastructures of the innovation system and the arrangement of actors from being questioned.
  • We point out the governance issues in such agro-Living Lab in order to create room for redefining the roles of the actors.

Abstract : 

Living Labs are developed in widely diverse innovation domains, based on principles of users involvement and experimentation in ‘real-world’ contexts, inviting to question the various actors' roles within innovation systems. In the agricultural sector, the implementation of Living Labs may face incumbent routines for experimentation, actors' relationships, and information circulation, as ‘users’ are mostly farmers already embedded in innovation systems. How, beyond adhesion to inclusiveness principles, the actual practices related to an agricultural Living Lab development make possible to renew or redistribute actors' roles in the innovation process?

To address this issue, we realized a case study, following the development of an agricultural Living Lab in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region (France) by one year long immersion and participant observation. Our theoretical approach was to consider the Living Lab as a boundary object supposed to allow actors from different social worlds to work together in a new way, and relying on infrastructures in order to do so. We thus studied the intertwining between various rationales about the innovation model or the territory, the infrastructures on which the innovation process relied, and actors' roles construction.

Our findings underline the divergent rationales conserved among the LIT's steering actors, associated with undefined roles, especially for farmers. We further show how these divergent rationales participated in maintaining existing infrastructures of the innovation system, preventing from effectively renewing actors' arrangements and respective roles. Among these, we describe the farmers' workshops, and the information sharing paths, both limiting the ownership of the process by non-incumbent actors. Complementarily to the distinctions of various roles in literature, we contribute to relate potentially neglected aspects of the Living Lab management (because not judged strategical) to the room for manoeuvre and possibilities for enactment of expected actors' roles. We finally discuss the relevant skills and their distribution among actors that our findings suggest for the development of an agricultural Living Lab within an existing innovation system.