Characterizing nature-based living labs from their seeds in the past

Astha Bhatta*, Heleen Vreugdenhil, Jill Slinger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Nature-based living labs combine the elements of nature-based solution design with a living lab context to address social and environmental resilience challenges. There is a need to deepen insights on the characteristics of the emergent phenomenon of nature-based living labs, with respect to their predecessors. Accordingly, the paper first develops an outline of how living labs evolved into nature-based living labs, informed by bibliometric analysis. Second, the unique characteristics of nature-based living labs are identified using a systematic literature review. Finally, the core characteristics of living labs are determined, and nature-based living labs are placed within this context. Initial living labs had a strong technological focus, which proliferated into diverse application domains and regions after the European Network of Living Labs was established and expanded. Urban living labs emerged as a significant multidisciplinary and geographically specific domain, while nature-based living labs are inherently sustainability-oriented and consider ecosystem processes, interactions, and natural materials. Next, the paper identifies nine characteristics of nature-based living labs, five of which are always present, namely: (i) real-life spatial context and multi-scale, (ii) innovation and learning, (iii) user-centric, (iv) multi-actor involvement and (v) sustainability-oriented multiple benefits. Then, the four core characteristics of living labs, the variation within these characteristics, and how these align with the characteristics of nature-based living labs are clarified. Finally, the need for research on living labs across application domains and regions is highlighted, so that the global applicability of these local, user-centric, innovative approaches can be established.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100959
JournalEnvironmental Development
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Living labs
  • Nature-based solutions
  • Real-life setting
  • Stakeholder participation
  • User-centric innovation


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