How do real-world labs create impact for sustainability transition? A study of the societal impacts of real-world labs using an actor-centered approach

Project description

Our society is currently facing a number of major challenges (loss of biodiversity, climate change, environmental pollution, aging society, inequality, etc.), which require rethinking and fundamental transformation processes toward sustainability at all levels. In efforts to support the transformation toward a more sustainable society, real-world labs have gained a lot of attention in science and public in recent years.

Real-world labs offer a framework in which scientific and societal actors jointly design and conduct real-world experiments in order to initiate and support change processes and draw lessons for sustainable development. Their goal is to support, accompany, and research (local) transformation processes in order to contribute to the “Great Transformation” (WBGU).

Real-world labs are increasingly establishing themselves in the transdisciplinary research landscape. With their proliferation and against the backdrop of the global challenges, the question of their impact for sustainability transformation becomes more and more relevant and the interest, whether the expectations can be met is growing in science, among funding agencies, and in politics.

The dissertation takes up this question by examining the effects and mechanisms through which real-world labs support a sustainability transformation. The focus here is on actors and their perspectives and experiences.

Actor-centered approach

Non-scientific actors play a key role in the transdisciplinary work of real-world labs. As local experts, they contribute their knowledge about local conditions and problems, are important partners in the implementation of real-world experiments, and are indispensable for their continuation and success. Moreover, they are directly affected by the activities in the lab. Against this backdrop, actors and their experiences are at the heart of this work. A social-science perspective on actors and agency will be used as a starting point and is intended to serve as a bridging concept to other approaches and disciplines dealing with impact research.

The dissertation is designed as a cumulative project and examines the impact of real-world labs based on the real-worl lab “District Future – Urban Lab” established in 2012.

Administrative data

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Paula Maria Bögel (University of Vechta)
Advisor: Prof. Dr. Armin Grunwald (ITAS)
Related projects: District Future – Urban Lab, Your balcony network – Energy creates community
Doctoral students at ITAS: see Doctoral studies at ITAS


Dipl.-Ing. Helena Trenks
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-26486