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"Sustainability will be an important peg on which we hang the expansion of experiential learning at Penn State, encouraging our students to positively impact the communities they touch."
Vice President, Student Affairs

Living Laboratory Principles

A key objective of Penn State’s Sustainability Strategic Plan is the advancement of the Living Laboratory concept. This concept is increasingly common among colleges and universities who seek to expand and refine their pursuit of sustainability.

In essence, the Living Laboratory concept seeks to embrace campus grounds, regional eco-systems, and local social networks as assets for learning and experimentation in the advancement of sustainability. The concept is based on the premise that building capacity to truly understand, practice, and lead others in a new way of decision-making requires an immersive learning experience that dissolves the boundaries of classrooms, campuses, and communities.  This pursuit promotes acting our way into new ways of thinking as opposed to thinking our way into new ways of acting.  It requires hands-­on engagement of our University community in the reinvention of our physical environment, relationships, and policies and processes in a way that connects our students, faculty, and staff to broader communities and landscapes at every scale as a resource for learning. 

Living Lab Workshop: Examples and Case Studies
Guiding Criteria for Projects
Transition Matrix
Resources and Design Criteria

To advance the integration of the Living Laboratory concept at our university and in higher education Penn State faculty and staff are currently participating in a growing community of sustainability leaders.  The following draft principles have been developed as a direct result of these interactions and collaboration.  The Reinvention Fund seeks ideas and collaborative project that are strongly aligned with these principles.

living laboratory is an ecosystem for learning that enables the unique features of our communities, facilities, campus grounds, and regional neighborhoods to serve as test beds for the development of innovative solutions to real challenges.   Through project-based teaching, research, and applied work, we will combine our talents across the functions of the university and within our community to explore, experiment, and evaluate actionable solutions.

Living lab program at Penn State will be pursued in a manner that is highly aligned with the following principles:

  1. Sustainability:  Aligned with PSU’s vision for sustainability as a simultaneous pursuit of human health and happiness, environmental quality, and economic well-being for current and future generations. 

  2. Educational Design: Process design is integrative to establish an environment of co-learning and with clear learning outcomes defined and documented for participants and community members.

  3. Fit: Advances community priorities as defined by strategic sustainability planning and through inclusive co-creation processes.

  4. Place: Reflects an awareness of history and context within the campus and surrounding areas to honor the legacy of transformation pursued by our ancestors.

  5. Scale: Project outcomes are regenerative and designed in a manner and that would be useful and applicable to other contexts and locations.

  6. Enduring:  Lasting impacts are pursued by thinking big, commitment beyond capacity and that will inform future decisions regardless of project longevity, success, or failure.

  7. Collaborative Action:  Process celebrates diversity of contributions to foster deep engagement with partners and that transcends and diminishes organizational barriers and cultural differences.

  8. Monitoring, evaluation, and continuous improvement: Processes reflect attention to roles, resources and timelines to manage progress, evaluate effectiveness of approach and validity of models, and learn from data.


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