“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Carl Sagan (Astronomer, Writer, Scientist)
FutureEverything has adapted the physical, social, infrastructural, conceptual space of its festival in order that it function as a living lab.
Living labs are a model of open innovation ecosystem for ‘in the wild’ research and development. They take research out of the laboratory to test ideas and prototypes in real-life situations. Living labs can engage participants in co-creation, experimentation and evaluation of new technologies and services.
Festival As Lab is a novel take on the living lab concept, that builds on a number of dimensions in cultural festivals:
- Festivals involve large numbers of people taking part in creative experiments. They are participatory spaces that nurture play, risk and community creation.
- They offer the ability to discuss and give attention to an idea or theme.
- They enable the free circulation of people and ideas, connecting people at different levels, from grassroots to government and business leaders.
The insight behind the Festival As Lab approach is that a festival can transform a city into a pop-up laboratory for new ways of living, playing, governing, new forms of citizenship. They can engage a wide demographic of people in devising and testing emerging forms of interface and experience.
FutureEverything has adopted an ecosystem approach. Festivals are intermediaries between global creative communities, stakeholders and local citizens. They bring experts and passionate amateurs together to imagine and experience the future. They can also help to build trust and to bridge between organisational and cultural silos.
There are some initial distinctions between a Living Lab and a Festival As Lab. One is that a Festival As Lab is a staged space where extraordinary experiences can emerge to enable new ways of doing things. A festival stands outside of the everyday, whereas a living lab is about ‘real life’ testing.
|Festival as Lab||Living Lab|
|pop-up, light touch||embedded, longitudinal|
|staged, extraordinary||real world, ordinary|
|wide engagement||deep engagement|
Since it introduced the concept in 2008, FutureEverything has hosted a huge diversity of Festival As Lab projects, from usability trials to art works. Projects can take the form of a mobility application, that visitors to the festival test as they move about the city. Or a city data service developed at a festival hack, and trialled with festival visitors. Or a game combining play online and in the streets, testing new live streaming technology. Or a participatory artwork generating data on local climate the Met Office could not ordinarily capture alone.
A Festival As Lab can enable artists and designers to working in new ways, and with systems and technologies they could not otherwise access. For researchers, the research concept offers creative license for imaginative ideas, a testing ground for prototypes, and access to participants and stakeholders. For the host city, it provides an international platform to test new ideas, and an intermediary that mitigates risk. For audiences, it is a place to play and a step into the unknown. This is most interesting when it is truly collaborative and people are outside their conventional roles – communities creating technology, developers creating community, artists doing science, scientists making art.
There is a parallel in what critic Mikhail Bakhtin tells us about medieval carnivals. They were a temporary space and moment that turned the world on its head, using humour and chaos to subvert social norms and liberate new ideas. More recently, the world fairs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were utopian events presenting experiments in future science and technology. Festival As Lab is an agile research and development environment, using co-design and art events to disrupt norms and liberate new ideas.