December 1, 2017

Why a Living Lab?

Living Lab Approach

A Living Lab is a real-life test, experimentation and development environment where relevant stakeholders come together to explore, co-create and evaluate new concepts, products and services (ENoLL, n.d.). Building on 20 years of research and innovation in the fields of youth, technology and wellbeing, we are creating a Living Lab that focuses on the relationship between young people’s digital practices and their navigation of risk, resilience and wellbeing. Combining research with community-connected, intergenerational and participatory design processes, the Young and Resilient Living Lab will refine a unique, iterative methodology with potential for application in other contexts and challenges.

Our living lab will provide the physical, virtual and mobile infrastructure to bring young people together with community, industry and experts on a flexible and ongoing basis supported by an Intergenerational Living Lab Toolkit. Together we research and design programs, services and policies and co-create and trial new and potentially commercialisable products that significantly boost engagement, wellbeing, resilience and entrepreneurship by harnessing the potential of technology.

Why a Young and Resilient Living Lab?

The next 25 years will bring rapid and significant global technological, economic and social change to communities around the world. These changes are occurring alongside persistent social inequality and intensifying environmental crises. Over the next decade many people face challenges to securing housing, work, and safe and supportive communities. As our economy restructures and basic services (such as food, housing, transport and electricity) become more expensive, people and communities feel the stresses and strains of contemporary life more acutely. These challenges can contribute to poor mental health, already seriously affecting the quality of life of many Australians, their families and communities and costing the Australian economy up to $40 billion per year (National Mental Health Commission, 2014).  The need for a radically new approach to promoting wellbeing through more holistic, intergenerational, and people-centred approaches is needed.

These changes and continuities will be felt intensely by the more than 470,000 young people growing up in Greater Western Sydney as the population rapidly out-grows the availability of jobs, potentially compounding the effects of existing socio-economic inequalities and significantly impacting their quality of life, health and wellbeing. In addition, the number of full time jobs for young people is dropping, part-time work is not increasing and many young people are also not in any form of education or training (O’Neil, 2017). Young people are concerned about these changes: they have low levels of optimism about their future job prospects and a majority feel their job prospects are worse than they were for their parents’ generation (Infosys, 2016). Despite high levels of participation in community and voluntary organisations, online and new issue-based social movements, many feel excluded and that their views are not heard and acted on by those in positions of power (Collin, 2015). Nevertheless, many young people feel welcome and accepted in Greater Western Sydney, the value the diversity of their communities and say it is a place they want to live in (Youth Action, 2017).

Among other factors, technology continues to rapidly evolve, changing many of the ways in which we communicate, learn, work and live. Young people in Australia are avid users of the internet. Nearly 90% have home internet access, 80% have a smartphone which is the primary point of access to the internet although the majority go online using multiple devices (ACMA, 2014). Far from an alternative or separate space, online and networked technologies are fully embedded in most young people’s lives. They are integral to their family and peer relationships, identity and self-expression, information and news-seeking, education and work (Collin et al, 2011; Swist et al. 2015; Vromen et al 2016). Digital technologies are driving many forms of social, commercial and cultural innovation. Engagement with technology can address isolation and inequality and enhance the way young people learn and engage with the world. Indeed, some research has found that, in particular, those who are socially, economically, geographically or culturally marginalised stand to gain significantly from their online engagements (Third and Richardson, 2010; Robinson et al. 2014). But many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds still falling behind their peers when it comes to digital access and digital literacy (http://digitalequityforlearning.org/). This can further exacerbate existing digital and educational disadvantages and lead to lower education, employment, health and social outcomes, not to mention associated long-term costs to families, community and government.

In 2017, building on our extensive work – including with the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre (2011-2016) – we established the Young and Resilient Living Lab in Greater Western Sydney to explore these complex issues and investigate how to leverage technology to promote the resilience of young people and their communities. The Lab seeds and supports aligned research, design and evaluation projects.