Research formats such as real-world laboratories are still relatively new, but are becoming increasingly popular. In the transdisciplinary sustainability research community, they have already initiated an important debate on whether and how it is possible to experimentally accelerate social transformations into sustainable development. In real-world laboratories (RwL), scientists together with actors from business, politics, administration, and civil society reflect on social-ecological transformations and shape concrete processes of change. The latest GAIA special issue, "Labs in the Real World", is now devoted to scientific and practical questions on real-world laboratories and its necessary research infrastructure.
Take Baden-Württemberg, for example: Since 2015, the Ministry of Science has been funding 14 RwL projects as part of the "Science for Sustainability" initiative. The aim is to establish "learning spaces" in which different solutions can be tested and social attitudes, demands and questions of the participants be observed. It is the objective to find practicable and locally accepted solutions for concrete transformation processes, such as urban redevelopments or the introduction of sustainable mobility systems.
The "BaWü-Labs" are accompanied by two research teams. Both have contributed their experiences with the research format to the special issue of GAIA. The accompanying research team "ForReal", which consists of researchers from the ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research, the Leuphana University of Lüneburg and the Wuppertal Institute, is a guest editor of the special edition's editorial, providing an insight into the current scientific discourse on real-world laboratories and similar formats.
The authors of "ForReal" further contributed to the article "Jointly Experimenting for Transformation? – Shaping Real-World Laboratories by Comparing Them", in which they research the sustainable concept of RwL at the interface of science and society. By means of empirical findings, they illustrate how laboratories have to be designed in order to be successful. Another article from authors of the Wuppertal Institute considered real laboratories as research infrastructures with a special focus on the real-world laboratories in Wuppertal. Among the authors are Prof. Dr. Uwe Schneidewind, President of the Wuppertal Institute, Karoline Augenstein (TransZent), as well as Dr. Franziska Stelzer and Matthias Wanner (both Wuppertal Institute).
All articles are in English and can be downloaded under the following link (open access).