Interview with Bror Salmelin and Emiliya Hubavenska of European Commission, DG CONNECT

For our latest interview, we had a chance to speak to the father of the living lab movement and the adviser for Innovation Systems at the European Commission – Bror Salmelin and a communication professional working for the Open innovation 2.0 team at DG CONNECT – Emiliya Hubavenska. The ENoLL Community is preparing for the Open Innovation 2.0 conference where ENoLL President will speak in a panel discussion, ENoLL will lead a discussion table and the network will present its members and project at a booth. With this combined interview, we had a chance to learn more about their perspective on the relationship between ENoLL and the European Commission.ll

For how long have your been following the evolution of the LivingLab concept, methodology and the activities of the ENoLL? 

Bror Salmelin: The European approach to Living Labs was created in the Unit "Collaborative working environments" of the DG INFSO (now DG CONNECT) in close collaboration with an industrial advisory group on Open Innovation (Open Innovation Strategy and Policy group – OISPG) which I founded. The original concept was updated to open innovation environments attracting inwards investment, both intellectual and financial one.

We saw the need of interlinking these, so it became a policy instrument under the Finnish and then successfully under the Portuguese and Slovenian EU Presidency respectively. The ENoLL was created in 2006 with a strong support by the European Commission. 

So, in short, I followed Living Labs before they even existed.

Work is now developed further in open innovation 2.0 including many of those original elements.


Emiliya Hubavenska: I got fully familiar with the concept ever since I joined the Open innovation 2.0 team at DG CONNECT five years ago. Have always felt kind of special to be working for and with one of the ENoLL policy pioneers – Mr Bror Salmelin.

I have heard of a living lab at the VUB University in Brussels, where I did a Master in Communication Studies. A fellow colleague was researching a living lab network in Africa and got a special scholarship to go and do fieldwork. Back then I thought it was pretty innovative; now I believe the living lab concept provides the right methodology and expertise for the creation of new professions.

A Living Lab is an expression of Open Innovation 2.0. When people ask me what OI2 means, as a communicator I need to find the easiest way to put it in a few words, so I always say that OI2 is a process which involves all stakeholders (businesses, public institutions, academia and citizens) and it can actually translate into smart cities, living labs, fab labs, social media, ePlatforms, crowdsourcing platforms, etc. 

How LivingLabs can support the transition from linear to non linear education and why is it important?

Bror Salmelin: It is a totally transformative process where all stakeholders in quadruple helix need to learn and take on-board the new mind set. Basic concept and theory can be taught but as many people claim, the real essence is learning by doing. The ENoLL can have a remarkable role in the general information dissemination, but I see its role in being more critical on developing and participating in projects using Living Lab methodology in open innovation environments.

Emiliya Hubavenska: In the most of the cases students get hands-on experiences through summer (or other type of) traineeships, different initiatives/campaigns; The Erasmus Programme (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students; work and study programmes and so on. It sounds sufficient, but what unites all those opportunities is that they are all looked as something additional to the curricula.

The great thing about Living Labs is actually that they are research facilities, therefore, whole University campuses can be converted into living labs, providing hands-on experiences to students by default.

A living lab environment, or a community if you wish, is type of interaction which requires time and physiological adjustment of the newly-joined. It is the same in every other sphre in life. Every new thing we try feels a little bit unfamiliar and not too comfortable at the beginning until it becomes part of life, if you let it. 

In that sense, an university living lab will give a lot of room for serendipity innovations – innovations born out of unexpected circumstances and intersections of opinions. 

Why do you see it important to educate and train Open Innovation specialist and Living Lab Practitioners? 

Bror Salmelin: It is more than training specialists; it is about creating entirely new professions to build the ecosystems for modern innovation. New professions like Bridgers, Curators, Orchestrators and System managers. These are to be trained with the concepts but moreover grown in practical activities: projects, experiments, prototyping, etc. A handbook sharing best practices together with design patterns on how to progress with Living Labs help in this making and we will announce it soon on our social media channels (@OISPG and and web page

When looking at new types of skills needed within an innovation ecosystem and organisation we need to go to the fundamentals of modern innovation: interlinking different stakeholders and disciplines for a common goal, and make it all happen in co-creative experimental manner. Only by experiments we see which ideas are failing and which are scaling.

Therefore, we need new kind of 'interlocutors' who I call "bridgers" who connect the various incoming contents which are then later on developed and maintained thematically by "curators". To drive the whole common vision the "orchestrators" are needed to combine the talents and motivate them to act well together. And, finally for designing the actions, experimentations and scale-ups we need the "system integrators" who are the action-enabler.

Emiliya Hubavenska: Because they will more and more have the required skills to meet citizens' needs in a digital era. There is such high demand for innovative solutions and so many missed opportunities for innovations, simply because we are lacking specialists in bridging and curating content online; specialists who are multiskilled to spot and develop talent online; to bring good ideas to their respective audiences, to financially engineer it (you can read more in Bror Salmelin's answer to the same question).

OI2 is an approach which works best online in combination with offline activities, the main of which are Living labs and Innovation Camps. There are still challenges in front of us, because even creativity needs a particular stimulus as it should be nurtured and fostered further. New professionals can be of crucial help in this process.

LivingLabs as enablers of the 3Os strategy. Your comments on this statement?  

Bror Salmelin: The Living Labs have by their character the Quadruple Helix model embedded in them. And, actually the Living Lab perspective integrates the 3O (Open Innovation, Open Science, and Openness to the World) elements to a holistic process, which is essential.

Open mindset, sharing and co-creating by removing sandboxes between innovation actors and disciplines as well as different maturity levels of technology is in the heart of functioning Living Labs.

Emiliya Hubavenska: We claim we are moving into a world of open innovation and user innovation. A world where the digital and physical are coming together. I believe it is obvious that the Living Labs are the right methodology to enable the 3Os strategy (Open Innovation, Open Science, and Openness to the World) through Quadruple Helix approach – involvement of businesses, researchers, policy-makers and citizens.


The ENoLL community is a regular guest on the annual OI2.0 conference. What is the theme of this year's edition in Cluj? Which agenda items would you highlight to follow by our community?

Bror Salmelin: Industrial and societal transformation due to digitalization. How to enable the transition and get everyone involved; how to create new environments for co-creating new markets, services and products. These are the main questions to be discussed at the event.

Such themes are in the core for the Living Labs community as we try to push for "Open innovation ecosystems as a service". So far it has been quite difficult to access Living Labs services thematically across Europe. The ENoLL helps in partnering of integrated services, if it wants to take this very much needed role. Solutions developed and experimented on pan-European scale enable us better to be fit from the single digital market development too. Scale-up on European scale is faster and will be easier if enabled by ENoLL networking.

Emiliya Hubavenska: The theme of this year's conference edition is 'Open Innovation 2.0 – the digital platform for innovation'. There will be plenty of topics related to Digital Single Market, Digital Transformation, Blockchain, Skills and Jobs, Innovative financing resources, National innovation ecosystems, Innovation measurement, etc. There will be parallel sessions and industry waypoint visits as well.

I will not recommend any of them, but all of them. Let serendipity guide you at the event on 13-14 June. Mingle, participate and explore.

Where do you see the activities and achievements by the community of LivingLabs can enhance and complement the Commission's and the OISPG's mission and work?  

"ENoLL can be the Bridger, its members - Curators and ENoLL, as a network, can provide system managers.
Orchestrators are those who bring the talent together,  to make common vision well tuned.
ENoLL can help in finding them" Bror Salmelin

Emiliya Hubavenska: Living Lab Practioners can actually provide expertise at local, but also international level on the creation of Open Innovation national strategies. Living Lab experts can provide full assistance at creating Open innovation teams in every sector. A big challenge for the ENoLL though is to act as one at EU level; for the time being the network is quite active but fragmented.

Events, publications, specific programmes recommendations to our community?

Bror Salmelin: Do things; share experiences and dare to experiment and prototype. Do not forget courage to seek the unexpected by co-creation.

Emiliya Hubavenska: Of course! 

Join us for the fifth edition of the Open Innovation 2.0 Conference 2017 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania on 13-14 June! The vent will be followed by an Innovation Dialogue on 10-11 June where experts from different fields will gather together and work for two days in a row on four business and public institution's challenges. There will be also a Cluj Town hall citizens' dialogue supported by the Committee of the Regions in the afternoon of 13th June.

Apart from that, I would recommend to the ENoLL fellows to follow EU policy initiatives on Public Procurement of Innovative solutions (PPI) and Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP)