Oslo Living Lab is a social initiative started and run by youth from the multicultural area of Grønland, Oslo. As undergraduate designers, our job was to kick start the project and act as facilitators and co-designers to help the youth create their own work experience. The project was a collaboration with the social enterprise Nabolagshager, and is a part of the EU research project EdibleCityNetwork, which aims to research and develop models for co-creation in the circular economy and urban agriculture sector. As a result of this, we propose a transferable model for facilitating co-creation, based on our own process, called the "Creative Spark Plug Model".
1. Oslo Living LabThe youth employees of Oslo Living Lab with Adam of Nabolagshager
2. Business to business compostingThe first pilot of Oslo Living Lab is a composting service for smaller local businesses.
3. Growing kitThe compost is used in the making of consumer growing kits containing soil and seeds packed in an upcycled bag for growing.
4. Growing kit user experienceBy offering a simple and all in one experience of growing food. We hope to inspire urban dwellers in Oslo to become more food productive.
5. Planning Oslo Living LabTimeline made during the first workshop. The youths planned two years ahead to establish a common vision.
6. Compost prototyping togetherBy prototyping our own bokashi composting bins together with the youths, we all got an understanding of what worked and what didn't.
7. Ideating and synthesizing a brand directionBy having the group contribute to a common pinterest board and discuss their pics, we were able to build a physical mood board to convey our brand feel.
8. Logo ideationHaving everyone sketch 20 ideas each in 20 minutes provided a plethora of options for discussion. Ten were selected for further refinement.
9. Uniform workshopEveryone got to design their own uniform, consisting of a black piece of clothing freely decorated with our graphics.
10. The creative spark plug modelFirst: The model explaining the relationship between the facilitators, the group and experts in our co-creative process. Second: The process of Oslo Living Lab structured in the creative spark pug model.
11. Visualising learningBy color coding our process according to the double diamond model, we can see how the desicion making has most taken place on the group level, while the steps themselves are also slowing congregating at the group level.
12. Project reportThe report kit consists of the written report, a co-creation handbook and mood photos, all contained in a branded cardboard sleeve.
"We are Oslo Living Lab. We find underused resources, turn it into sellable products, and provide sustainable part time employment and job training for our employees."
The first pilot of Oslo Living Lab is a composting service, collecting organic waste from neighbouring small businesses and turning it into consumer growing kits. The growing kit itself contains soil, seeds and sowing instructions, packed in a bag made from discarded grain bags upcycled from a local brewery.
The centre of our service and brand is our youth employees. They are the drivers of our development and operation. Oslo Living Lab as a service is dualistic in nature, providing value both at the front stage to our consumers and back stage to our youth employees. The experience of the youths designing their own business is equally important as providing a delightful and simple growing experience to our customers.
With the open brief of designing a service and a brand, we wanted contribute to the growing urban agriculture movement in Oslo. We quickly got in contact with the social enterprise Nabolagshager, a center for urban agriculture working with eco-innovation and green community initiatives. They introduced us to Edible City Network, a EU research they are a part of and coordinates on behalf of Oslo Municipality, and asked if we wanted to kick-start the project for them.
The EU research project has four stated goals:
(1) Find new opportunities for food production from waste and underused resources.
(2) Provide employment to youth, women and single parents.
(3) Create a sustainable business model for circular economy jobs.
(4) Create a model for co-creation of green circular jobs.
Combining Nabolagshager's existing ideas for circular business ideas and our street mapping of the neighbourhood, we quickly identified the potential of a composting service serving smaller local businesses.
We built our project on Nabolagshager's previous youth program, learning from their experience while also contributing our own service design and user centered approach. By interviewing a participant of their previous summer program, we learned that having built it from the ground up, had made her much more engaged in a local community garden than working on a fancy but already established rooftop farm. This insight was crucial in establishing a co-creative mindset when establishing the composting service.
Developing Oslo Living Lab was heavily influenced by involving and co-designing with our youth employees. Even from the point of reaching out to recruit youth, we wanted to convey an inclusive and encouraging tone of voice. We searched for "pioneers", not "waste handlers", and "eager learners", not "experts".
The following interviews were run as group workshops, were the youths could show off their collaborative skills and eagerness through designing a hat store concept in 30 minutes. The workshop was also a fruitful way to test how we as facilitators could work with the youths, before starting to co-design the actual service.
From the very start of the project, we told our employees: "We want to create this together with you."
We included the youth employees from the very first day, facilitating a workshop for them to make a timeline and plan two years ahead of Oslo Living Lab. What does a business need, in what order, and what needs to be in place to get there? These discussions created a collective vision among the youths and gave us as facilitators a good foundation to set up detailed plans week by week, referring to the timeline and recent achievements. By keeping the timeline hanging in the office, we could also check off boxes as we progressed.
The same sentiment was applied when it came to building the composting factory. By researching with the youth employees to get a picture of what was needed, we could rapidly test different solutions and monitor them. Upscaling the ones that worked and scrap the ones that did not.
Every business need a visual identity, and when it came to creating this we used the same methods. The general direction of the brand was set by creating a shared Pinterest board and discuss what the group collectively liked. To refine and synthesize, we facilitators build a physical moodboard, with which we consulted the group afterward to validate the direction.
To define our brand personality, we created a collective music playlist of the songs we felt could describe our business. While it might be unfamiliar to a 17 year old to discuss brand personality, picking songs for a hypothetical Oslo Living Lab "store" is much easier to engage in.
The next step was to ideate a logo, with everyone sketching out 20 ideas in 20 minutes. The group then picked out ten ideas for us to refine further. We as facilitators refined four concepts, which were then presented back to the group. The group voiced their thoughts and together we chose the final logo concept.
Although we as designer facilitators know our way around the tools of graphic design, we are not graphic designers. But we know some, and the brand-driven agency Minsk invited us and the youth employees to show them our work and offer their feedback. While the result of this was a simplified logo, the important aspect was that the youths understood how we got from the ten original post-it notes to our current, and were then able to take ownership of our brand.
To get better insight into how the youths experience the workshops, and to be able to adjust our methods along the way, we ran weekly feedback sessions on post-it notes. The youths wrote something they liked about how we worked, and something which could be better. This was done anonymous and handed in to us. Secondly, they wrote down something which another in the group had done which they liked. This was read aloud to build appreciation of one another.
A central delivery of the project to the EU research project was to develop a transferable method for co-creating circular businesses. We have called our proposal the "creative spark model". The model describes the relationship between facilitators/designers and the co-creating group. The facilitators job is to help the group ideate and structure their thoughts, before refining their ideas and presenting the work back to the group. When the group is stuck in the process, external expertise is brought in for consultation and guidance.
Our proposed model is based on the 36 workshops we held together with the youths between September and December 2018. We planned workshops, let the youths ideate, refined their ideas and validated the our work with them, and consulted experts.
To further develop the creative spark plug, we have integrated the existing framework of the double diamond model, simplifying it to "Exploring and Deciding", and applying it as a color overlay.
Simplifying the model of the British Design Council, we color code the steps according to the exploration and decision phases. We now can now see at what level the creative phases operates, with shades indicating iterations.
By color coding the process, and then removing the text labels, we can see that most of the decision making (yellow) has been taken at the higher level of the group. This is something we consider fundamental to the creative spark plug model. Secondly, we can see that the process is narrowing over time. In short, the group is learning and becoming more and more self sufficient.
To communicate our project and proposed model to other researchers, we designed both a branded kit for distribution and a project website. The report is available on the project website through a registration form to track spread and engagement.
The end result of the project is a service ready to be continued by Nabolagshager themselves. I addition we leave a report documenting our process and methods to be distributed to the partners of the Edible City Network. Developing a service for and with an actual partner, and them incorporating a hand off of the project itself has been an incredible learning experience for us as students. Furthermore, we hope to inspire others to adopt a bottom-up and co-creative approach to green employment.