Living Labs are defined as user-centred, open innovation ecosystems based on a systematic user co-creation approach integrating research and innovation processes in real life communities and settings. In practice, Living Labs place the citizen at the centre of innovation, and have thus shown the ability to better mould the opportunities offered by new ICT concepts and solutions to the specific needs and aspirations of local contexts, cultures, and creativity potentials
The Helsinki Manifesto (November 2006 Finnish EU Presidency) first pointed at Living Labs as a first step towards "a new European R&D and Innovation System, entailing a major paradigm shift for the whole innovation process". After that a number of strategic policy documents have highlighted the relevance of human and social aspects for better design and implementation of Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) projects. The Green Paper on RDI policy reform recommended that all future programmes "should provide more [European] added value, increase [their] leverage effect on other public and private resources and be used more effectively to support the strategic alignment and pooling of national and regional funds, to avoid duplication and [fragmentation]". The flagship initiative Innovation Union invited Member States to overcome traditionally "compartmentalised approaches" between research and innovation financing, setting a narrower focus on the outcomes to be achieved by meeting the two ends of the RDI value chain, possibly in relation to grand societal challenges and to clearly stated policy objectives.
Thus, the rationale of EU sponsored public intervention in this domain merges the aspiration to push the technology frontier ahead to improve community life with the pragmatic requirement of translating RDI results into new products and services that meet market expectations and ultimately lead to the creation of "more and better jobs". Not only have these recommendations shaped the research agenda of Horizon 2020, but also inspired the provisions for RDI within Cohesion Policy and Territorial Cooperation Programmes for 2014-2020, particularly through the Smart Specialisation Strategies now defined for all EU Regions and Member States, most of which also providing the implementation framework for the EU Digital Agenda at local level.
Additionally, Living Labs allow a bottom-up policy coherence to be reached, starting from the needs and aspirations of local and regional stakeholders, creating a bridge between Horizon 2020, Smart Specialisation, the Urban Agenda, Cohesion Policy, and so forth. In this context, Living Labs can be somehow thought of as a transversal, ICT driven, 'lead market' meeting the requests of the Council and the EP for "strengthening synergy between EU support policies in the area of research and innovation" and placing regions and cities as leading actors in Europe's innovation strategies.