PA4ALL Living Lab; an inspiring story of ENoLL's network potential

We recently had a chance to reconnect with Grigoris Chatzikostas and his Living Lab, PA4ALL from Serbia. PA4ALL joined the European Network of Living Labs in 2013 during the 7th Wave of Membership. After attending the 4th Edition of the ENoLL Summer School (now OpenLivingLab Days) in Manchester, UK, the connections that Grigoris made lead him to a great project opportunity that was sucessfully funded thanks to its unique approach, only possible thanks to an openness towards the uptake of the Living Lab paradigm and methodologies and tools shared with him during the ENoLL conference. Please read our inverview with Grigoris and his inspiring story below:

LS: Please describe your Living Lab and what domain you're working in?

GC: PA4ALL is a Living Lab established in the region of Vojvodina, Serbia and we are working in the domain of Precision Agriculture,a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops with the use of advanced ICT technologies. We bring together all the major players of the regional ecosystem including researchers, ICT SMEs, farmers and government. The choice of the domain was pretty much obvious to us, since the region of Vojvodina traditionally demonstrates a strong agricultural sector, while at the same time the local ICT community became very quickly a well-recognized European partner for ICT outsourcing, offloading application maintenance and product development. On the basis of the above, our vision at PA4ALL is to employ open innovation and collaborative research in order to bridge the gap between the geeks and the farmers.

PA4ALL is hosted at BioSense Center, in the central rectorate building of University of Novi Sad, Serbia

LS: Why did your Living Lab want to become a member of the European Network of Living Labs?

GC: Since 2007, when the host organization of our Living Lab (Biosense Center, was established, our collaborative research work in the region involved many informal Living Lab activities with strong collaboration with local stakeholders. In 2011 we decided to formalize this cooperation by establishing a Living Lab and involving those stakeholders in its structure. Up to that point our experience on collaborative research and open innovation was mostly based upon our activities, our own successes and failures, but we obviously needed more than that to make the whole venture sustainable and scalable. Thus we were seeking not only to exchange experience and know-how with other people working on activities similar to ours, but we also wanted to obtain insights on the scientific work that has been done on the Living Labs domain, with particular emphasis on topics of great importance for us such as: how do you select and recruit end-users, how to you keep selected end-users engaged, how do you build a sustainable business model for your activities etc. The channel to get all these insights but also to network with colleagues from all over the world and gain brand recognition led us to learn more about the activities of ENoLL and eventually we applied and became a member.

Some pictures of the Pilot sites & tests

LS: Please tell us more about the FRACTALS project and the interesting way in which it came about?

GC: FRACTALS aims to support the community of innovative ICT SMEs and web-entrepreneurs to develop FIWARE based applications with high market potential, addressing the needs of the agricultural sector. FRACTALS Call will be open to all European SMEs and web-entrepreneurs but will additionally focus on areas which are considered as "white spots" (Balkans, South East Europe).

FRACTALS will offer between 50,000 and 150,000 €, reaching a total amount of 5.5 m. EUROS, to 50-60 SMEs and web-entrepreneurs to develop applications based on FIWARE technologies for the Agricultural Sector. The Open Call to SMEs will be published on November 30th, 2014 and will be open until February 28th, 2015.

FIWARE is an amazing technological framework, however its visibility and usage in the Balkan region has been rather limited up to now, with many countries, including West Balkans, to be considered as “White Spots”. Based on that, and in cooperation with partners with strong experience in the previous phases of FI-PPP, we figured out that this is the ideal framework to promote agriculture as a business opportunity to ICT SMEs and Web entrepreneurs, but also to further strengthen the links of our Living Lab with the ICT community. FIWARE is the ideal vehicle for these objectives as it provides the building blocks, allowing people to launch innovative apps and start doing business on the web, without reinventing the wheel.

LS: Why was it important for you to involve a Living Lab approach in your project proposal and subsequent execution?

GC: Evidence shows that only 0-24% of farmers in Europe use ICTs, while the respective percentage for US reached up to 80%. The problem is not the lack of technological solutions but rather the distance between these solutions and the real needs of the farmers. In other words the current approach is technology push rather than user driven and the results are below the true potential of ICTs to ensure safe and adequate food for European citizens and minimize the environmental impact of farming activities. This is why the Living Lab approach was vital for FRACTALS. In order to reach the 23 million people employed in the European agricultural sector, ICT companies need to work closely with them. And this is exactly the value that FRACTALS brings to the FIWARE ecosystem. We provide access to a pool of end-users that will engage themselves in the design, development and validation of solutions, ensuring that these apps will meet the real need of the market they are aiming to address.

LS: How has your Living Lab benefited from becoming part of ENoLL?

GC: Shamans (spiritual healers) of indigenous tribes always gave the most difficult tasks to young shamans because these young spirits didn’t yet believe that these tasks where impossible. This applies in a way to our case as well. European farmers are among the most vulnerable groups when it comes to digital divide, which means that are very reluctant to use ICTs. Thus the difficulty is to recruit the right users that have both the motives and the skills to be involved in co-design and validation assignments. In PA4ALL we have an initial pool of 3.500 farmers, as a result of partnering with the extension services of the provincial government, but choosing the right ones for our endeavour seemed at the beginning as a “mission impossible”.  But our participation in the ENoLL Summer School in Manchester, was an eye-opener to us. After all, we were not the first ones to face this problem and the presentations during the event demonstrated that other people have developed the tools and methodologies we needed to identify the so-called “Lead Users” within a huge users group. We applied the methodology that was presented by Lynn Coorevits, Dimitri Schuurman  and Aron-Levi Herregodts (reference to paper available below) on how to identify lead users in a living lab environment, and our approach was praised by the evaluators of our FRACTALS proposal giving us the high marks we needed to ensure funding. As we speak we are heavily involved in the selection and recruitment of end users and it is an exciting learning process for us.

LS: Thanks so much to Grigoris for taking the time to answer our questions, sharing his Living Lab story and illustrating what can happen when the right people happen to be in the same room at the same time!

If you are interested in making your own connections and discovering the potential of a Living Lab community event then please save the date for OpenLivingLab Days 2015 to be hosted in Istanbul, Turkey from the 25th to the 28th of August 2015 in collaboration with Basaksehir Living Lab.

Further Information

Read more about the FRACTALS project here and here.

Read more about PA4ALL Living Lab here and here.

Read the paper referenced by Grigoris Chatzikostas Identifying Lead Users in a Living Lab Environment by Lynn Coorevits, Dimitri Schuurman in the Proceedings of the 4th ENoLL Summer School here.