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An iMinds Living Lab team

Date interview: March 24 2016
Name interviewer: Saskia Ruijsink
Name interviewee: Tim Rootsaert
Position interviewee: Business Developer of iMinds living lab

Things coming together Re-orientation Providing alternatives to institutions Platforms New Organizing Interpersonal relations Finance Expertise Competence development Business models

This is a CTP of initiative: Living Labs ‐ Imec living labs (former iMinds Living Labs) (Belgium)

Where the former CTP marks the point that the living lab approach lands in Flanders, this CTP (CTP4) is about its further consolidation within what is now known as iMinds. It marks the beginning of the process in which more sophisticated and clearly conceptualised methods and approaches that are used in the living lab are being developed.  

It started when the Operations manager of iMinds Living Labs, in agreement with Professor Pieter Ballon, formed a team of ambitious and talented living lab professionals during the course of the year 2011. This team included among others Tim Rootsaert and Dimitri Schuurman (from the Mediatuin Living Lab, see iMinds CTP3), Bram Lievens (from the Telenet Living Lab, that Lab is briefly introduced in iMinds CTP3) and Koen Vervoort (from the LayLab Living Lab, that Lab is briefly introduced in iMinds CTP3). The team first operated under the name iLab.o (part of IBBT) and later in 2012 it became the iMinds living lab team (for the structure of the organisation and its development see iMinds CTP1, 2 and 6). Tim Rootsaert, who first worked for the Radio centre (Radiocentrum, see iMinds CTP3) joined the iLab.o / iMinds living lab team in 2011. There was budget needed to make this team formation happen and it was mobilised from within the iMinds organisation by the Operations manager of the Living Labs.  

Tim Rootsaert and Dimitri Schuurman then form the core of a sub-team within this larger living lab team. Under this new living-lab-team-structure they were both rewarded and challenged: a) they got a strong mandate (including the required access to resources) to further develop the service offering for the industry (SMEs and other organisations interested in ICT focused living labs) and b) they were obliged to reach certain KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Dimitri had to focus on finalizing his PhD dissertation and he was obliged to publish. Tim needed to ensure financial sustainability: it was not required to make profit on offering a living lab trajectory as a service, but it had to become a financially self-sustaining model. Since the results of interim evaluations indicated that they were doing well, they got a lot of freedom in terms of how they did their work. This allowed them to further develop their ideology. Now (2016) their approach is structured in methods and tools. They did not have that yet in 2011, but the ideology was there since the start. As Tim explains it: “In essence we co-create innovations together, and we do this real-life.” He adds that when you guide, or better, are part of such an innovation trajectory you go through 3 stages: 1) exploration, 2) testing, 3) evaluating to prepare for going to the market (in all 3 stages there is some iterative form of business modelling). In the Mediatuin project (see iMinds CTP3) Tim and Dimitri mainly worked on the exploration stage. In the period that started off by Tim joining the iMinds living lab team they could focus more on the testing. He explains: “For testing you need infrastructure, panels (of test-users, eds.) and systems that we could not afford. Here (iMinds, eds.) we had funds.” The next step is that Olivier Rits joins iMinds in 2013 and he brings in expertise on business modelling. As a consequence the package of services that iMinds can offer changes even more. This is further described in the subsequent CTP, but this CTP also contains elements that introduce it.


This critical turning point was mainly a co-production of the efforts, the operational management expertise and strategic vision of the Operations Manager of iMinds Livings Labs and of the ambitious living lab professionals from the former living lab projects (see CTP 2 and 3). The Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs played a critical role in bringing the right people together and in mobilising funds to make it also financially feasible. But this was only possible because some people (mainly Tim Rootsaert, Dimitri Schuurman, Bram Lievens and Koen Vervoort) were successful in what they did and the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs saw that their success had potential to grow. As Tim explains this: “Well, many credits go to the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs, I gladly admit that, but you should also see that we were moving towards that direction.” Tim also emphasized that the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs pushed for financial sustainability of the living labs since the start of the new team and he also realized that there is a need for some central funding if you (start to) work with living labs. Therefore it was critical that the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs also mobilised funding, as Tim illustrated: “A living lab, which is a consortium of different partners, with different levels and types of ownership, with different visions and strategies: that is simply impossible without central funding.”  At a later stage it was also the Operationans manager of iMinds Livings Labs who introduced Olivier Rits, a business modelling expert, which actually triggers another CTP (see iMinds CTP5). Just before the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs introduced Olivier in this team, it was Prof Pieter Ballon who attracted Olivier Rits to iMinds.  

Then Dimitri, Tim and Olivier form a small sub-team as explained under contents and they focus on service offering of the living lab approach. It is at the heart of this CTP that, together with their clients they have co-produced a constantly evolving living lab methodology. In the beginning they mainly function as researchers, studying the needs of the potential users of innovations with the aim to support their clients (mainly SMEs in the ICT sector) in their innovation trajectory. This approach fitted within the classical view on an innovation trajectory: a serial process that starts with an idea, then a feasibility study, then a prototype, followed by a use case, that is translated into a product and then potential suppliers are contacted, etc. In this process the client needs data and in the beginning Dimitri and Tim would do surveys and make analyses and then report their conclusions to their clients. In small steps their approach has now developed towards a method that is really about the co-production of innovation. It shakes up the entire process, this means that suppliers might be engaged since the beginning for example.

Additionally it resulted in a new definition of roles. Before there was a client (SME in ICT sector) and the hired expert (in this case the living lab professional): the client formulated the (research) question and the expert delivered an answer in the form of and/ or based on analysed data. Now the living lab professional still gathers data, but (s)he shares this in its raw form with the SME and (s)he uses the data as input for meetings with the strategic innovation committee (in which representatives of various groups such as users, suppliers, the SME itself, are represented) and those meetings are actually business-model-workshops. Tim illustrates the shift in their respective roles and in the relationship as follows: “before we would deliver a presentation with 56 slides about a certain survey. Today we send an anonymized data set and we add 1 slide that introduces three discussion topics.”  

The approach was successful and more and more work came in and as a consequence more (junior) staff members were hired. The team has grown, in the beginning they were only with 5-6 people, now they have a team of more than 30 people. This makes the team proud, but it also results in new challenges (also see CTP5 and 6).

Related events

The events that triggered this CTP and that were triggered by this CTP include the following:

  • 2009: In this year the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs joins iLab.o as operational manager as is further explained in iMinds CTP2.
  • 2009-2011: In the period from 2009-2011 three living lab projects are prepared and implemented. The three projects are Telenet, LeyLab and Mediatuin (iMinds CTP2 and 3). Tim Rootsaert (as employee of Radio centre) and Dimitri Schuurman (as employee of University of Ghent) are engaged in the Mediatuin project and Bram Lievens in Telenet and Koen Vervoort in LayLab.
  • 2011: Orchestrated by the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs; Tim Rootsaerts, Dimitri Schuurman, Bram Lievens and the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs become employees of the (predecessor of) iMinds and they become part of a team focusing on living labs. Prof Pieter Ballon is the director and the interviewee (anonymous) of CTP 1 and 2 was the operations manager of this team or unit within iMinds.
  • 2011-2016: Under the leadership of among others Tim Rootsaerts and Dimitri Schuurman, the living lab approach evolves and becomes more clearly conceptualised.
    • 2013: The living lab approach is not any longer evolving ‘just’ around user involvement, but also starts to integrate a business modelling approach when Olivier Rits joins the team.
    • End of 2015: iMinds starts to offer bootcamps and master classes about the living lab approach
  • 2015: In 2015 an external office does an impact evaluation that also shows the added value of the living lab approach. This creates a strong internal position of iMinds living labs within the larger iMinds structure.
  • End of 2015: City of Things promises to be a new critical turning point, taking the livings labs approach yet to another level. It is a project about internet and ICT in the city and it runs in Antwerp. As it is explained on the iMinds website: “Bringing the Internet of Things – which uses the Internet to connect physical objects with each other and with us – to the City of Antwerp. This is what iMinds’ City of Things project is about. Hundreds of smart sensors and wireless gateways positioned at carefully selected locations across streets and buildings will transform the city into a true living lab for the Internet of Things (IoT). The long-term objective is to connect thousands of Antwerp citizens with numerous innovative solutions that will considerably improve their quality of life – by positively impacting mobility and public safety in the city, among other things (, 2016).”
  • First quarter of 2017: The centre for new media aims to open in the first quarter of 2017; it is planned that iMinds would also be physically located in the Krook (see in 2017.


Today the concept of living lab is framed as an open innovation; that includes cooperation with all kinds of people. It is important that one asks oneself the question: ‘why would you do this?’ Tim Rootsaert explains that if you think about a business model in a certain trajectory, you have a value chain: what is mainly important: who will take which role? When you have value propositions you normally ask, for whom are you going to do this? Which impact did it have? And then: what financial flows can be distinguished? Who creates value, who consumes, what kind of value is being created? What are the effects on the architecture? He further explains that all those issues are communicating vessels. If you change something in one of those things, something else will also change. This is our pitch towards companies.  

He further explained that they tried to link the innovation and business trajectory by focusing on the user but they reached a ceiling with focusing purely on users. This appeared too restricting and they then thought about open innovation. They realised they could facilitate an open innovation trajectory with the innovation leaders in the company, but the business strategy followed a more conservative path and then, business and innovation strategy could not match, this was solved eventually by introducing somebody with another expertise: Olivier Rits (see related events, anticipation and more in CTP5). As Tim says: “This was a very important moment, since we sensed that we reached a limit by facilitating the innovation trajectory, purely using a user focused approach.”  

Scaling up does not happen without any tensions. Tim explained that they grew bigger, from a team of 5-6 people to a team of more than 30 people, and that is part of their success. But scaling-up also has disadvantages and it has put Tim in a position that he does not always like: “And then you end up in a situation like this: I want to do it myself, but I cannot do it anymore, so, as a matter of speaking, I have to play the manager, and that is a disadvantage.” He explains that another difficult element of getting bigger is that you will also have people in your team who do not function well: “You get in another phase. When you are with 8 people, there is a considerable chance that all those 8 people are really good and that they have a very strong drive, but when you work with 50 people there will be a number of them who simply do not make it. That is unavoidable and also rather painful.


It was clear for Tim that moving to (the predecessor of) iMinds was an important step and actually a critical turning point, for him personally. Despite the fact that he knew that it was important, he had no idea what it would all encompass. This only got clear through experiencing and simply just doing it.  

Tim and also others including the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs clearly had expectations that the living lab team at the (predecessor of) iMinds would bring the living lab methodology further and also that the methodology had much potential, that was the motivation of starting it. But also here the actual development path was determined by a combination of having the right people (see co-production) at the right place (in Belgium, close to the European Commission) on the right time (much political support for ICT and open innovation). The persons involved seem to intuitively know, what to do when and with whom, for being successful, also they knew roughly what being successful meant for them, since many of the drivers behind the process had personal dreams based on shared values.  But despite that, there was no clear and detailed picture of what the future of the living lab would and could be. At this point in time it got clear that another important ingredient was that dedicated and talented people worked hard and let it develop organically, but not without strategic interventions.    

For Tim it has been very important to further develop the notion of working with assumptions and of working iteratively.  Tim and Dimitri always worked intuitively: they acted first, based on their knowledge, experience and on-the-spot assessment competences they took off and then a bit later they did a re-cap of what they actually did and based on that they developed their approach. In this process they also sensed that they needed another element at some point, they were saturated in further evolving their approach mainly structured around user involvement in the broadest sense (end-users are not the only users, e.g. suppliers and internal departments are also users). It then was the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs who anticipated on this and he effectively introduced Olivier Rits (he was initially recruited to iMinds by Prof Pieter Ballon) in their team (also see CTP5). This resulted in another step in improving the living lab approach: “So we have developed a tool that allows you to adapt your business case based on data (about users, eds.) and that means you can monitor the process and make choices.” It also had a positive impact on the financial sustainability of the living lab approach.


This critical turning point shows part of the process of growing from a rather small initiative into a large team. This CTP highlights various aspects that made it possible, but also it shows some of the tensions and challenges that are related to it.

The CTP highlights the following factors that contributed to the success:

  • As this CTP clearly shows it was mainly the combination of having the right people, with different competences at the right place, in the right moment.
  • The right people can be further specified by looking at some critical figures. Prof Pieter Ballon attracted Olivier Rits to iMinds and it was the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs who combined a strategic vision with hands-on operational management: he understood what was needed and he also managed to mobilize the required resources (human, financial, etc.). Tim Rootsaerts had a very good sense for business, he could understand the needs of clients and he also had entrepreneurial intelligence that helped him to improve the financial sustainability of the living lab approach. Dimitri Schuurman brought his methodological knowledge in the team and his capacity to work in a bottom-up manner. He was also described by Tim as a rather ‘special researcher’, who was also very much into action and trying out things, rather than the more ‘typical researcher’, who first wants to study, analyse and prepare every step, before moving his/ her feet. Additionally all three shared a passion for ICT and for innovation: doing things differently, realizing change on the ground and engaging others in this process.

But this process of scaling up and maturing also includes challenges:

  • For Tim the scaling up impacts him personally since his work changes. As is addressed in the section on contestation, he does not always like his new role.
  • Also, in a smaller team it is easier to be connected with each other, to share your passion and to understand each other’s added value in the process. Besides that you can easily manoeuvre, or in other words you are agile when you are small.
  • Tim started with simply following his passion and being ‘disobedient’ even helped him to make progress (see iMinds CTP3), but he now sees that his responsibility has changed and that he gets involved in more complex processes with different and sometimes conflicting stakes. In iMinds CTP1 the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs also reflects on this process of scaling up and he is very rational about it. For him it has less and/ or different personal impact and he sees it more as another necessary and unstoppable step in the process.  

In conclusion, Tim looks back on the process in a very positive manner. He said that many mistakes were made, but he got the opportunity to learn and to grow and he is really grateful for that. He also emphasizes that it is enriching to reflect on the process and he stresses the importance of realizing that things go unplanned, but not without effort or vision: “Yes, it is also nice to see how all those processes have developed, it was very spontaneous, and it requires hard work, very hard work, but yes, it all happened very spontaneous and it just goes, so many years ago were with 5-6 people, now we are with more than 30. And we are proud of it.”


References (2014) - “iMinds - Living Labs kaapt gouden Bib Web Award weg voor ‘Bomb the Bib’” accessed on 01 July 2016: (2016) – City of Things explained, accessed on 01 July 2016:  

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