AcadieLab – Living laboratory in agriculture
AcadieLab is a living laboratory in the rehabilitation of agroecosystems on the Acadie River, located on the south shore of Montréal. It is the only living laboratory in agricultural in Canada certified by the European Network of Living Labs (ENOLL).
The AcadieLab was born from the meeting of an agronomist, Samuel Comtois, a biologist, Marie-Pierre Maurice – who were both working at Groupe Pleine Terre Inc. – a professor in the department of environmental sciences at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR), Julie Ruiz, and the senior advisor for skills transfer, design and innovation here at the MIS, Virginie Zingraff.
Driven by the desire to re-examine ways of doing integrated environmental management projects and to increase the positive impact of their actions, they then solicited the active participation of agricultural producers in the Acadie River watershed through the Techno-Champ 2000 agro-environmental club, and launched AcadieLab.
AcadieLab is a collective integrated development project that has been implementing co-creation and experimentation processes for agroecosystem rehabilitation adapted to farmers in the Acadie River watershed in the Montérégie region since 2015. These innovations are implemented directly on farms by agricultural producers, with all stakeholders involved in the process.
It is a living laboratory that combines the knowledge of scientists, experts and agricultural producers to foster the emergence of agro-environmental solutions that are both sustainable and adapted to farms and farmers.
AcadieLab has three specific objectives:
- Co-construct and test improvements or new agro-environmental practices that are adapted to the diversity of farmers’ economic and social needs, and are consistent with environmental considerations, while ensuring the scientific monitoring of both the environmental and social health of the agrosystem.
- Induce long-term behavioural change among stakeholders in terms of their relationship to the agroecosystem, and their relationships to each other; reconnect non-farmers to agricultural realities, and farmers to the realities of the ecosystem.
- Strengthen the individual and collective capacities of these actors to continuously stimulate innovative research.
AcadieLab adopts a participatory science approach
Involving experts exclusively in an experimentation and innovation approach places users in a passive position and prevents them from appropriating the knowledge and the issues surrounding a problem. This also hinders their ability to contribute their day-to-day knowledge and expertise to help adapt the solutions proposed for their communities. By favouring a participatory science approach and recognizing that agricultural producers are in the best position to know how their farms work, AcadieLab addresses this problem directly. Using innovation methodologies, AcadieLab manages to overcome adoption barriers among agricultural producers and stimulates diversified knowledge exchanges to generate innovations that have more impact.
Participative science in connection with the living laboratory
A living laboratory, or living lab, aims to co-create rather than build consensus. Its starting point is neither a predetermined solution, nor a search for consensus, but rather creativity through divergence, because a living lab values, above all, knowledge through usage and the experience of the users who are at the centre of co-creation of solutions. This is why, in a living laboratory, it’s the users (in this case, the producers on their farms, the agronomists advising them, etc.) who are the active contributors and who lead the process.
By putting farmers back at the centre of the process and identifying their leading role in experimentation and innovation, it creates a real dynamic for the co-construction of a common action plan for the territory. The knowledge of multiple stakeholders in the agroecosystem benefits this quest for solutions and the protection of our environment.
The impact of AcadieLab
Can we say that it’s ‘mission accomplished’ for AcadieLab and that the farmer can now take ownership of the solutions and put them into practice over the long term? “It’s like asking someone from become a vegetarian overnight,” says Julie Ruiz, specialist in socio-cultural issues in agroecosystem rehabilitation and founding member of AcadieLab. Without the tools of the living laboratory, such as co-creation, exploration, real-life experimentation and evaluation, it would be very difficult indeed to involve farmers in the process.
Today, well beyond the actions taken or abandoned in the ebb and flow of government subsidies, the first results of AcadieLab have demonstrated an awareness of the importance of a collective and concerted action in the face of the challenges of the rehabilitation of agroecosystems, as well as a significant mobilization of the farming community.
Source: Ruiz, Julie; Dumont, Aurélie; Zingraff, Virginie. Une méthodologie de cocréation pour renouveler l’action collective (chapter 10) in Penser le gouvernement des ressources naturelles. Presses de l’Université Laval, 2019.
AcadieLab is co-led by a public, private and citizen partnership that combines the resources of a broad ecosystem of stakeholders in the agro-environment innovation chain.* These players include UQTR, Groupe Pleine Terre inc., the Maison de l’innovation sociale and the Techno-Champ 2000 agro-environmental club, with 70 members who are agricultural producers in the Acadie River watershed.
*Other actors involved:
- 6 universities: UQO, UdeM, UQAR, Université Laval, McGill University et Concordia;
- Collaborators in technical research and other living laboratories: Laboratoire d’innovation territorial de Limagne (France), Société des arts Technologiques de Montréal;
- Representatives of federal and provincial ministries:Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada, MDDELCC, MAPAQ;
- Local and regional government representatives: Municipalité régionale de comté, Centre local de développement;
- Local collaborators: COVABAR, Prisme, club Agri-Action, Regroupement Québec Oiseaux, Pôle d’excellence en lutte intégrée;
- Representatives of the agricultural union: UPA.