The Living Laboratories Initiative is a new approach to agricultural innovation in Canada, which brings together farmers, scientists, and other collaborators to develop and test innovative practices and technologies. Through a nation-wide network of living labs, the initiative focuses on innovative solutions to environmental issues related to agriculture, such as climate change, soil health, water quality and biodiversity. The goal of the Living Laboratories Initiative is to accelerate the development and adoption of sustainable practices and technologies by Canadian farmers.
The initiative is based on three core principles:
- Focusing on farmers’ needs: As the people who ultimately use these innovations, farmers are key collaborators throughout the entire process. Farmers not only test the proposed innovations, they contribute knowledge and experience to their development and improvement at every step.
- Broad and diverse partnerships: Farmers, multidisciplinary teams of scientists and researchers, and other collaborators contribute their expertise and resources to develop innovative farming practices and technologies. These collaborators include First Nations, governmental institutions, industry representatives, non-profit organizations and producer groups.
- Testing in the real-life context: The practices and technologies are tested in the context and scale in which they will be adopted: on local farms under real agricultural production conditions.
At the start of a living lab project, farmers, scientists, local collaborators, and others come together to discuss the farmers’ needs and to identify common priorities and objectives.
Then, working together, they design innovative new practices or technologies to help address these needs. These innovations are then tested, evaluated, and further improved through a set of repeating steps.
- Step 1. Co-develop: This is a creative step where diverse perspectives are brought together to share information, data, experiences, and new ideas about how to improve farming practices or technologies. With the active involvement of farmers, the innovations and accompanying scientific research activities are co-developed and prepared for testing.
- Step 2. Test: The innovations are tested where they will be used: by farmers on real farms. Along with real-life tests, scientific research helps assess how well the practices or technologies are performing, including their environmental and socio-economic impact.
- Step 3. Evaluate: The innovations are evaluated in many ways, such as their practical application and effectiveness, based on both scientific research and the hands-on experience of farmers. This data and evaluation ensures that farmers and scientists have useful and scientifically-proven solutions that can be readily adopted by others.
With each cycle of innovation, we learn more about the practices and technologies under development. As the cycle is repeated, the innovations are continually adjusted to address feedback from farmers, collaborators and scientists, as well as prioritize agri-environmental challenges.
Because the resulting innovations are co-developed with farmers from beginning to end, they are more likely to be adopted by farmers. The co-development process ensures that innovations are economically viable, technically feasible and desirable for the producers in addition to being scientifically sound. Collaboration with farmers throughout the cycle of innovation is therefore essential.
The initiative will lead to the development and local use of practical technologies and sustainable farming practices to help Canadian farmers:
- Mitigate and adapt to climate change
- Reduce water contamination
- Improve soil and water conservation
- Maximize habitat capacity and biodiversity on agricultural landscapes