Prompting creativity with Living Labs methods

With its 12 projects involving 129 partners, the broad question underpinning the activities of the Social and Creative community could be phrased as follows: how to create an environment which pushes for innovation opportunities?

First, the common trait to the projects within the community is that they strive to connect stakeholders that the policy process for local and regional development do not always reach: those working in the Creative and Cultural Industries (CCIs) and the Textile and Clothing sector (T&C). A major window for policy change to enhance sustainable development lies in the potential of the contribution of those actors to more traditional employment sectors such as transport, food services and construction. The second uniting element is that the community's projects place the needs and aspirations of local contexts and cultures at the core of innovation processes.

To achieve the integration of creative actors into the policy-making cycle while adopting a locally centred approach, a transversal goal to the methods and activities across the community is to create the conditions for creativity to happen, adopting specific participatory tools to build a conducive context for emergent solutions catering to the needs of  regional policy makers and citizens alike. 

One of the tools for Smart Specialisation strategies promoted by the European Commission are Living Labs ecosystems. Grasping the meaning of Living Labs through the various definitions can be a tricky task. Focusing on the objectives helps navigate their role in creating fertile environments for human-centred approaches to research and development.

The Social and Creative community is achieving its goal of promoting trans-local innovation clusters for creative and social innovation by applying various Living Labs methods and settings to the projects and pilot experiments; namely, Creative Hubs, Co-creation programmes and Creative Camps

To counter global competition focused on fast fashion products, the European textile and clothing sector has to heavily invest in research and development. This poses a challenge for SMEs and microbusinesses in the industry that may not possess the research and development resources necessary. As a consequence, they may also have trouble tuning in with the modernisation of the manufacturing apparatus becoming prevalent in the industry. 

The pilot project CreativeWear, over the course of three years, relied on one of the forms of Living Labs to create the setting to revitalize the T&C industry in the Mediterranean through inflows of creativity, design and small-scale production.

"Creative hubs"

A network of 12 Creative Hubs (initially only 5, one in each partner region) were set up to experiment new forms of interaction between creatives -artists, designers, illustrators, writers, etc-   and entrepreneurs. Creative Hubs are places of experimentations acting as levers for Living Labs, as Collective Creativity can be promoted by making “a census of local creative hubs, clusters, and settings where creative people come together”. 

The Creative Hubs interact in pairs and clusters to respond to service gaps in the T&C or even across the whole network. For instance, bilateral collaboration takes place between the Heritage Hub in Prato (Italy), which aims at enhancing the district’s textile and yarn companies’ historical archives with the digitalization of samples, collections and catalogues,  and the Art Hub in Athens which paves the way for new business models by raising awareness towards sustainable, eco-friendly production and social innovation.

Together, entrepreneurs and artists involved in the two Creative Hubs organized a Heritage Week in November 2019 at the Prato Textile Museum Archive. The study experience was meant to drive new textiles and works of art while making use of the Heritage Manager, the cataloguing software developed within the Heritage Hub in Prato.  

It was the opportunity for the French designer Pascaline Bossu living in Athens to visit two textile companies -Stamperia Toscana and Marinie Industrie - highlighting the skills and local knowledge available in the Prato textile district. Back in Greece, she then worked on Renaissance inspired canvas by reinterpreting the materials coming from the historical archive of the Prato Textile Museum.

The oil painting was then presented as part of the CreativeWear final event and exhibition which gathered all partners involved in the project, an event which showcased the outputs of collaborations between all pairs of Creative Hubs and, at the same time, pushed synergies across all of them.

These outcomes transversal to all Creative Hubs were enriched by the fact that the CreativeWear final event was conceived simultaneously with Reco, the first edition of the Festival of Circular Economy organised by the Tuscany region, giving a special place to the “increasing eco-sustainability" service gap which the Social Hub in Ljubljana, the Training Hub in Čakovec and the Sustainability Hub in Biella presided over.

"Creative camps"

In CO-CREATE project, Politecnico di Milano in collaboration with the other partners, implemented a model to generate ideas between the CCIs and three selected sectors: furniture, mechanics and building.  The methodological framework helped set up a transnational network and a Manifesto to promote cross-industries cooperation. Training activities preceded an engagement phase (call for ideas for CCIs and training for SMEs), followed by pilot actions and the process culminated in a transnational event. The last two steps took the form of Creative Camps.  In every of the 10 pilot regions involved, “couples” of SMEs and CCIs were formed at the 18 Creative Camps.


Another way of drawing from Living Labs concepts is to focus on the notion of “co-creation”, meaning to turn users “from observed subjects to active co-creators of value and explorers of emerging ideas, breakthrough scenarios, and innovative concepts […] for designing and experiencing their own future”.

The benefits of involving users in the creation, prototyping, validating and testing processes of new products and services is to offer an alternative to conventional in-house research and development and to reduce market risk in the launch of those new products. 

The MD.NET project, subtitled “When Brand Meets People”, crafted co-creative workshop methodologies which were applied to promote a brand linked to the promotion of the Mediterranean diet, a food pattern that has been threatened by various sociological, demographic and lifestyle changes.

Moreover, a new series of co-creative workshops aimed at entrepreneurs from Spain to generate new ideas promoting the Mediterranean diet took place during the month of February 2021. 

Overall, the Social and Creative community calls for the “contribution of arts and crafts to expand the innovation possibilities which may derive from individual or collective creativity and a deeper rooting of innovative activities in local cultures and cultural heritage”.

Through Creative Hubs, Co-Creation programmes and Creative Camps, the community has managed to be active both within and outside a certain territory and makes a key contribution to the partners’ capacity to grasp and integrate knowledge coming from the outside. The community also shows inputs produced by the CCIs and the T&C sectors potentially impacting on other policy areas such as tourism, education, agriculture, etc, demonstrating windows of possibilities for policy diversification.

Learn more about the Social & Creative community by reading its

Policy Brief on Living Labs and Collective Creativity, going through the

works of art generated for the CreativeWear project and exploring the Semantic Framework to discover all the hidden connections among projects, stakeholders and activities of the Programme !