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Open Access Jointly Experimenting for Transformation? Shaping Real-World Laboratories by Comparing Them

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Various experimental approaches of transformative research in real-world settings have emerged. Yet, similarities, differences, and specific contributions remain unclear. A characteristic-based comparison reveals complementarities and provides orientation.

Real-world laboratories (RwLs, German Reallabore) belong to a family of increasingly popular experimental and transdisciplinary research approaches at the science-society interface. As these approaches in general, and RwLs in particular, often lack clear definitions of key characteristics and their operationalization, we make two contributions in this article. First, we identify five core characteristics of RwLs: contribution to transformation, experimental methods, transdisciplinary research mode, scalability and transferability of results, as well as scientific and societal learning and reflexivity. Second, we compare RwLs to similar research approaches according to the five characteristics. In this way, we provide an orientation on experimental and transdisciplinary research for societal transformations, and reveal the contributions of this type of research in supporting societal change. Our findings enable learning across the different approaches and highlight their complementarities, with a particular focus on RwLs.
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Keywords: Reallabor; living labs; real-world laboratory; societal transformations; sustainability transitions; transdisciplinarity; transformation labs; urban transition labs

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

    Environmental problems cannot be solved by one academic discipline. The complex natures of these problems require cooperation across disciplinary boundaries. Since 1991, GAIA has offered a well-balanced and practice-oriented forum for transdisciplinary research. GAIA offers first-hand information on state of the art environmental research and on current solutions to environmental problems. Well-known editors, advisors, and authors work to ensure the high quality of the contributions found in GAIA and a unique transdisciplinary dialogue – in a comprehensible style.

    GAIA is an ISI-journal, listed in the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Science Citation Index and in Current Contents/Social and Behavioral Sciences.

    All contributions undergo a double-blind peer review.

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