Identifying the most feasible way to set up a living lab for food sustainability in the Netherlands
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Agricultural intensification, global climate change and a growing population are putting pressure on global food systems. The Netherlands plays a unique role in these systems because of its international hub of agricultural science, high agricultural productivity and responsibility for many negative effects of agricultural intensification. To achieve a transition to more sustainable agri-food systems, a living lab can help by providing an effective arena for cross-sector collaboration and experimentation. While academics argue for the use of living labs in fostering agri-food transitions, little research into this topic has been conducted. In this research, the feasibility of a living lab for agri-food transitions in the Netherlands was studied through a case study for the Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI). Desk research was used to construct a theoretical framework for the analysis of the feasibility of an agri-food transition living lab. Semi-structured interviews with SFI network partners were conducted to provide empirical data on stakeholder’s views on the SFI living lab and the concepts from the theoretical framework. Hybrid thematic analysis was used to analyse the data, resulting in themes that were deduced from the conceptual framework and induced from the data. The analysis shows that there are both strong differences and strong similarities along the respondents’ views on an SFI living lab. Most importantly, the results show that SFI network actors are interested and see the added value of a network with various actors from the value chain, experimentation in real-life settings and the use of co-creation. However, they struggle to see the role of the SFI in this, do not see the added value of involving citizens and governmental organisations as stakeholders and indicate that there is a lack of examples. Additionally, there is ambiguity regarding the definition, goal and organisation of an SFI living lab. These issues and some of the differences –amongst actors themselves and between actors’ views and theoretical feasibility– need to be addressed in order to maximise the feasibility of an SFI living lab. To aid in this process, this research provides 28 recommendations for the SFI to adhere to when setting up a living lab.