‘Limburg Living Lab’ gains ground outside of the Netherlands

Representatives of the four foreign universities that are currently implementing the 'Limburg Living Lab' model. Standing on the left is Jan Hamers

‘Limburg Living Lab’ gains ground outside of the Netherlands

New labs are expected to be opened abroad

24-11-2023 · Interview

Is it possible to use academic research to improve the quality of life for the elderly in need of care? The Living Lab in Ageing and Long-Term Care (Academische Werkplaats Ouderenzorg Limburg, or AWOL) thinks it is, and its model has been gaining ground even outside the Netherlands. An agreement was recently signed with universities in Leeds, Halle, Graz and Cologne, to confirm their mutual co-operation.

For a few years now, they all have a living lab, says Maastricht professor of Care of Older People and AWOL founder Jan Hamers. Limburg Living Lab, as the model is referred to outside the Netherlands, is all about co-operation: between researchers and those providing care, between theory and practice. At the centre, there are the so-called linking pins. These are scientists who work in a health care institution or educational institute one day a week, or health care workers or teachers who participate in the research.

"Not a sexy theme"

This started in Limburg a quarter of a century ago with co-operation between UM and a nursing home in Kerkrade. The first research focused on the usefulness and necessity of measures to limit freedom for the elderly. This led to adaptations in the law and new guidelines. Over the years, Zuyd Hogeschool, two Regional Education Centres and nine other organisations from the health care field have joined AWOL. They also provide linking pins.

Now, there are also definite results abroad, says a proud Hamers. In Leeds, where the Limburg model has been adopted without changes, research into oral care in nursing homes has been carried out. Hamers: “That may not be a sexy theme, but the research has led to new guidelines and extra attention for this. Health care workers at these homes started working differently and life for the inhabitants has actually improved.”

Concrete interest

Interest has also been shown outside these universities, says Hamers. “At least once a month, a professor from abroad comes knocking on the door with questions, from Spain, Belgium, India, Ghana and Colombia, among others. In Canada, the US, France and Germany, the interest is very concrete: I expect a few of those countries to start up a living lab next year.”

There are now six living labs in the Netherlands. The Tilburg living lab states in its 2022 annual report that workload at partner organisations could jeopardise the co-operation.
“They have a point. We are also affected by this sometimes, and we have to turn this way and that, and determine for each project which partners can participate. But workload also has to do with perception. Managers are more prone to seeing something as a problem; individual employees working on a project often become enthused by it. Whether projects are left undone due to workload? Researchers always want to do more, but as whole, things are going quite well.”

The Limburg living lab now covers the whole province and also helps four foreign universities. What is the workload like within AWOL?
“We have managed to obtain structural co-financing by the Health Care ministry, with which we have been able to expand the number of linking pins. There are now about thirty, from whom we ask a lot. They not only need to be good researchers, but also be flexible and work with people from all layers of an organisation. It takes time to manage that, as does supervising new living labs. It is doable, but indeed, if three new ones are added abroad, we will have reached our limit.”