Real-world labs have been a popular research approach at the interface between science and society since 2013. They are designed as a combination of transdisciplinary and transformative sustainability research with a strong focus on societal, long-term learning processes through real-world interventions. To determine the learning potential of these new formats, the team of authors accompanied fourteen research projects designed as real-world labs from 2015 to 2018. All were part of a funding programme on "Science for Sustainability" of the state of Baden-Württemberg.
In the article "Transdisciplinary sustainability research in real-world labs: success factors and methods for change," the team of authors, including Dr. Franziska Stelzer, Senior Researcher in the Innovation Labs Research Unit in the Sustainable Production and Consumption Division at the Wuppertal Institute, combines their conceptual and empirical work into a structured collection of experiences and provides a comprehensive account of real-world labs. The article presents the comprehensive work of the four-year accompanying research in detail. Franziska Stelzer emphasises: "Especially the success factors of real-world labs as well as methods to cope with the challenges of this new and promising research approach have not been in the focus of publications so far. Our bringing together of success factors and methods offer a deeper insight into research as well as practical work in real-world labs."
First, in the article, the team of authors addresses the characteristics of real-world labs such as transformational orientation, transdisciplinary research approach, use of experiments, enabling learning, and long-term orientation. In a second step, the authors name eleven success factors and concrete design tips that emerged from a survey of the 14 real-world labs: These include, for example, finding the right balance between scientific and societal goals and developing a culture of collaboration that can initiate change on the ground and can serve as a "blueprint" for other cities. Finally, the team of authors also shows which methods can help to overcome the challenges in real-world labs and outlines the current state of discussion on real-world labs as well as future research approaches.
The article "Transdisciplinary sustainability research in real-world labs: success factors and methods for change" is published in "Sustainability Science" (Volume 16, Issue 1, January 2021) by Springer and available under the following link (open access).