Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a Looper Living Lab?

The Looper Living Lab is where the Looper Model is put into action. It is an experimental zone where new ideas can be tried, and new ways of co-creation can be tested. Inside the lab, there can be any number of loops for different problems, from purely technical issues, to wider social challenges.

What is a learning loop?
A learning loop is about building the community-based knowledge and creative thinking, which can turn problems into solutions. Each learning loop has three main stages:

  • Problem identification: identify the issue, set up citizen monitoring, visualise and analyse;
  • Co-design: create options and decide which should go forward
  • Action and feedback: make real improvements (physical or social) and monitor impact.

  • Three levels of learning loops emerged in the Looper project:

  • Management loop
    This ‘functional’ learning loop works with detailed information on practical or technical problems and solutions. It can use both online and offline platforms (for example to locate the streetlight and get it fixed).
  • Community loop
    Here the citizens are ‘in the loop’, via local empowerment, social enterprise and self-reliance. We work with ‘deep engagement’ methods such as active outreach and community visioning as well as with networks and communities of interest (to debate the wider issues of public security).
  • Governance loop
    Local government and other bodies can enhance their organisational learning and ‘strategic policy intelligence’ (i.e. capacity for thinking ahead). This loop helps overcome the ‘trust gap’ and enables government and public services to ‘do more with less’ (with better policies on public safety).

  • How to set up a Looper Living Lab?
    The Looper Living Lab is an overall structure and program of action. Inside the Lab, we can have any number of loops, for different kinds of problems, from the purely technical to the wider social. For the Lab as a whole, we aim to learn from what goes on inside, in order to improve.

    Each Lab generally includes six main components (i.e. a ‘6P model’):

  • Place: define the place (a local neighbourhood, district, landscape, or other area on the ground), where the lab is to be based.
  • People: gather the people to be involved (networks, organisations, groups or communities). We need ways to mobilise their energy and commitment, to mediate conflict, and find ways to turn problems into opportunities.
  • Priorities: work with the people in the place, to explore their priorities (problems, issues, challenges, risks, hopes or fears, ideas or opportunities). This includes both negatives and the positives which can inspire and motivate.
  • Policies: set the scope of problems and possible solutions towards the policies (local, regional, national) for that area, and aim to engage with the policy process, which can be long and complex.
  • Platform: develop a system for the exchange of information, learning, debate, analysis and insight. Such online platforms see new and exciting technology every day, but the real purpose of the platform is about improving human interactions.
  • Process: look for the overall insights, from the whole experiment from start to finish, in order to improve and transfer the learning to other places, or other applications such as public services.

  • How to run a Looper Living Lab?

    To run the Lab, we work with the community to select the ‘interventions’ to work on (e.g. air quality, greenspace) and plan the phases of work:

    a) Problem and opportunity phase sets the scope and gathers data.
    b) Co-design and evaluation phase creates design options and decides which to go forward.
    c) Implementation and feedback phase makes interventions (physical or social) and measures the results of the experiment.

    What is the program and timescale?
    The Looper project was an experimental development and took a total of 3 years (plus an extension due to the COVID-19 effects). The timescale included:

  • 6 months: project inception phase, including setting up, writing the guidance, forming the partnerships.
  • 18 months: the main learning loop with interventions, as described above.
  • 9 months: a second loop was done in part, up to the co-design stage.

  • Building on the Looper experience, and using the new guidelines, templates and platforms, it would be possible to reduce the timescale for these learning loops by 50%. This depends on the community and policy context: if the community is aligned and mobilized, and if local government can supply the permissions and budgets for interventions, then each stage can progress with all speed.

    What are typical interventions?
    Each Lab is different in terms of problems, opportunities, co-design and interventions: the Looper Model can be adapted to suit almost any set of local issues. These are the main issues from the experience of the Looper living labs in Brussels, Manchester, and Verona.

  • Air quality: to analyse the problem, citizens can use hand-held monitors, compare their data with official measurements, and analyse with mapping and visualization. For the co-design of responses, there are some local actions (planting trees, sealing of buildings) and social innovations (public health info, travel adaptation). But major progress would require city-wide policies for industry and transport. This points to a ‘strategic’ learning loop: getting information into the hands of the community enables and empowers them to argue their case.

  • Road safety and parking: the community can map the problem with technical data and other media, and compare with official data. For the co-design of actions, the options include technical responses (e.g.traffic calming), policy responses (e.g. regulation, enforcement), or social responses (e.g. a ‘walking bus’ or helping kids to cross the road). There are also strategic issues raised by parking by outsiders, in the context of gentrification. Here, a strategic learning loop should help to empower the community, mediate conflict and guide policy.

  • Noise pollution: this may be a local issue, which calls for local data and participative debate. The co-design process will look at social innovation for collaboration between neighbours or different parts of the community. It may also be an issue coming from outside the community, from roads, industry, sports or leisure. This might call for physical solutions (barriers, traffic calming, which can be expensive), and/or policy solutions (e.g. regulation, enforcement).

  • Crime and security: this involves several kinds of problems and responses: perceived insecurity, harassment, and anti-social behaviour which calls for social mediation and/or enforcement; property and personal crime which needs physical action and/or law enforcement; organized crime/terrorism needs higher-level intelligence and enforcement (generally outside the Looper scope). In each case, the technical data (e.g. crime incidents) needs to go alongside social deliberation and co-design for possible solutions.

  • Greenspace: this often shows problems of anti-social behaviour, conflict between users, or local pollution, for which data can be gathered and mapped. Greenspace also brings many creative opportunities, not only for physical works, but including nature conservation, education, health, local food, cultural events and festivals. For community participation in co-design of the built environment, greenspace is a good place to start.

  • What will be the results?
    The Lab in each city will make direct contributions to solving practical problems like air quality, noise, traffic safety, security and greenspace. It should also help local empowerment by community learning and capacity building. And it should help with local governance by policy learning and strategic policy intelligence. It will also help to advance the state of the art, with knowledge transfer and scaling up to other cities. It will do mapping and analysis of the learning loops at all levels, with new insights on barriers and opportunities (‘multi-loop learning’). Overall, this will contribute to ‘urban innovation’, both for technical problems and social opportunities, for policy-makers and providers, for analysts and researchers, and most of all for citizens and communities.

    Places and spaces

    How big should the place be?
    There is no fixed rule, but for a critical mass a population of over 1000 is a good idea and a population of less than 20,000 will be more practical.

    What about places in very rapid development or change?
    If the place is an empty construction site, a different kind of Lab may be needed. If there is rapid regeneration or gentrification, there may be conflict between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, and the Lab will need to pay attention to this.

    Should the area be mainly residents or mainly businesses?
    Either is ok, but the methods needed to engage with businesses may be different to that of residential areas.

    Can we study local problems (social, economic) which are not local or spatial in origin?
    Actually, most local problems are driven by outside forces. Some (not all) can benefit from local solutions.

    How best to use digital mapping & spatial analysis?
    There are standard products and apps (e.g. ‘geo-mapper’). These help with mapping and analysis of the problems. Sometimes they can help with responses and solutions. In deprived neighbourhoods, not everyone is familiar with digital mapping. One example from Manchester is a combination: a large size aerial view printout (from Google Earth), with a table top system, i.e. ‘Ketso’ (details in D3.1 Methodology for Co-Design). Spatial analysis is also part of the LOOPER platform that will offer functionalities to visualise and analyse data collected by the Labs or imported from external sources. Please see Deliverable D2.1 Report on data collection procedure framework for details.

    People & stakeholders

    Who should be involved: local residents, businesses, community groups?
    All of these, with priority given to those with the most commitment and presence in the area.

    What are the best ways to recruit and mobilize them?
    The best way is ‘active outreach’, i.e. meeting them on their ground and in their activity space (if we call a community meeting some groups may not come).

    What if there is conflict between social groups?
    A careful task of mediation and management is needed, where the researchers/Lab organizers are interested but neutral.

    How to include ‘hard to reach’ groups?
    This is essential, again the ‘active outreach’ is the only practical way. Specific guidelines for how to include hard-to-reach groups are developed in D3.2 Methodology for the inclusion of hard-to-reach groups.

    How to maintain interest through a long process?
    A staged program will include events, festivals, publicity, competitions in schools, faith buildings, community centres and public spaces.

    What about public participation in urban planning?
    There may be overlap with official consultation on urban planning. If so the Looper Lab should find problems/opportunities which are not addressed in the normal urban planning process.

    Priorities & issues

    How to engage with residents/stakeholders on their priorities?
    An open mind and listening attitude is essential.

    What if there is disagreement or conflict within the community?
    In many cases there is not one ‘community’ but a set of overlapping groups and networks: therefore, conflicts can be quite natural and a sign that people are committed. This calls for a process of mediation, with techniques of consensus building.

    How to balance priorities which are ‘problems’ with those which are ‘opportunities’?
    Mapping and analysis of problems is very important, particularly for those who are excluded by the system. However, it is important that problems lead to opportunities, and also to recognize that some opportunities are there all the time: e.g. greenspace and urban food, childcare and social exchanges, community sport or social events etc.

    What if the priorities are about poverty and exclusion, which may be the result of national policies?
    The Looper Lab cannot solve national problems. But it can help, by mapping the problems in detail, or by enabling creative responses, in community mutual aid, unlocking resources, or social innovation of many kinds.

    Platforms and knowledge exchange

    Should a platform be more social or more technical?
    This depends on the intervention and the community for typical inner city neighbourhoods, the social platform is likely to come first, supported by a technical platform.

    Should the social platform be a membership organization?
    This depends on the community dynamics: if there are existing neighbourhood organizations, then the Lab can link to these. It may be necessary to identify an active core group of committed residents who can be called on.

    Should the technical platform include new hi-tech innovations?
    These may be very useful, and deserve some testing and development, but experience shows that the social platform should generally come first.

    Should the technical platform be general purpose, or for specific problems?
    A general purpose platform is being developed for the whole Looper project. Specific interventions (e.g. for data collection on and visualisation for air quality) will be linked to the general platform.

    Is security an issue for the technical platform?
    The platform has four levels of access: viewer, contributor, website content editor, and website administrator. Standard measures such as login with passwords will be implemented for all groups other than viewers. Moderation may be needed for the forums, depending on who uses them and how they are used.

    Process: setup of the lab

    Should the Lab be co-designed with residents/stakeholders?
    As far as possible yes: experience shows that the ‘research loop’ can be co-designed alongside the ‘functional loops’ and ‘strategic loops’ which have more tangible priorities and problems.

    Should we lever in other resources, e.g. from urban planning, transport systems, etc?
    In principle this could be a good idea, if we can avoid extra complexity (however, each kind of funding usually brings its own objectives, timescales, conditions etc). This suggests the co-design would aim towards low or zero-cost solutions such as social innovation or service innovation.

    Process: evaluation of the lab

    How to report failures?
    It can be expected that many of the above experiments may fail: most projects tend to ignore these because success is needed to justify the funding. The benefit of the Looper approach is the overall evaluation which should enable a critical viewpoint. In this case, failure is then a cause for improvement, which can be facilitated in the second learning loop.

    How to evaluate a ‘learning loop’ in a large organization?
    Many such organizations already have the aim of learning, so a critical approach is needed, to see the difference between the aim and reality.

    How to evaluate a learning loop in a complex community?
    Not so easy or simple, but we can look for signals and proxies. These can include the different types and domains of learning (see D4.2 Report on the framework for monitoring and evaluation of the urban living labs for more detail):
  • Social learning – networks and forums for deliberation and exchange
  • Technical learning – information flows and feedbacks
  • Entrepreneurial learning – unlocking hidden resources and creative energy
  • Policy learning – feedback channels and evaluation processes for continuous improvement
  • Cultural learning – organizational attitudes and cultures of innovation, exchange, etc.

  • Overall questions for setting up a lab

    What if the priorities/problems are not possible to solve at the local level (e.g. air quality)?
    This is often the case, where then the local level can achieve community empowerment and policy insight, which together increase the capacity to respond, innovate, substitute, unlock resources.

    What if the priorities and issues are messy, controversial, political and divisive?
    This is also typical: in this case we would focus more on the strategic learning loop, and the deliberation and exchange between different groups in the community or stakeholders.

    What if the experiment goes beyond the time frame of the project?
    We look for ways to continue in partnership with stakeholders.

    How is the Looper Lab different to experiments in public participation from 30 years ago?
    As stated above, the Looper Lab brings new insights on communities and organizations, the learning loop concept the over-arching theories of collective intelligence, and it covers the whole co-creation cycle.