The Utrecht region as a living lab for global transitions.

Tackling the complexity of the global sustainability challenge requires real-life experimentation with radical sustainability innovations in their local and regional contexts. However, the road from experiment to large scale diffusion is full of obstacles. These obstacles can be found at different levels like the innovating organisation, the technology, the infrastructure, the demand side, and in the wider social and institutional context.

The Utrecht region has large sustainability challenges, for e.g. the energy transition, the circular economy, sustainable food systems and adaptation to climate change. Healthy urban living is used as an umbrella policy concept. Governments and other stakeholders use a transition approach, in which various experiments are carried out in a living lab setting. In urban experiments a shift is visible from carrying out local pilots towards testing innovations on a neighbourhood scale. On this scale the complexity increases significantly. The province of Utrecht has recently presented itself as a living lab for the sustainability and health objectives for 2050 as defined in the European Green Deal.

This project aims to address the two following goals;

  • To evaluate the transformative potential of experiments with healthy urban living innovations in the Utrecht region.
  • To support the actual scaling of these innovations using innovative action-oriented research

To achieve this aim, the project team will follow the below method.

  1. Formulate a transdisciplinary research team of researchers, students and local/regional stakeholders from the Utrecht region and host a kick-off workshop, where detailed research questions and a detailed methodology will be formed. Additionally, in summer 2023 the team will organise a science-policy debate with policy makers from the Utrecht region on the Sustainability Conference IST2023, which can serve as an input for this project.
  2. Evaluate the transformative potential of radical sustainability experiments in the Utrecht region for approx. three healthy urban living themes, including experiments with technological as well as social innovations.
  3. Oragnise action-oriented workshops with pioneers and regional stakeholders aimed at improving the transformative potential for experimentation. For each healthy urban living theme one workshop will be organised. In these workshops the results of the evaluation are discussed and stakeholder actions will be formulated to improve the context conditions (e.g. the formation of multi-actor networks or the creation of a learning environment).
  4. Give scientific support to follow-up actions from these workshops such as participation in network formation, organise festivals, trainings, etc.
  5. Reflect on whether these actions in combination will create a better ‘habitat’ in the Utrecht region, i.e. a flourishing environment for experimentation and diffusion, in which the university is an active partner.

It is the aim to further develop the role of the university in these networks as a ‘change agent’ for sustainability transitions.