LICER, a lab that uses regulatory innovation as a lever for socio-ecological transition

LICER is the Civic and Regulatory Innovation Laboratory. It’s a space for research and development (R&D) on regulation as a means of activating and accelerating socio-ecological transition at the municipal level. It hosts Montréal-based emerging environmental initiatives who use experimentation to challenge the regulatory aspects of their implementation, in partnership with public officials and local citizens.

This lab is not only part of an international movement to transform governance rules in support of socially and environmentally impactful projects, but also an essential lever for Montréal in achieving its collective objectives, which are constantly updated in the interest of this transition.

The relevance of a regulatory experimentation lab

Complexity and uncertainty are inherent in any innovation process, which is why the laboratory grounds its regulatory experimentation space in real-life contexts, sound risk management and citizen participation.

“All too often, boroughs are forced to apply for variances that will allow them to develop innovative projects, and this is done on a case-by-case basis. But this strategy has its limits, hence the relevance of exploring regulatory innovation that will support the ongoing implementation of innovative socio-ecological initiatives within their territory.”

Pénélope Seguin, Social Innovation Project manager – LICER project

Complexity and uncertainty are inherent in any innovation process, which is why the laboratory grounds its regulatory experimentation space in real-life contexts, sound risk management and citizen participation.

Photo credit: Maxime Lapostolle

In this way, LICER helps alleviate pressure on regulatory bodies to “know and foresee everything,” while also serving as a collective innovation hub to support and host citizen initiatives with a strong potential for positive impact that challenge municipal regulations.

This is a win-win approach, both for those involved in implementing promising initiatives within their local environment, and for the City, which wants to maximize the potential for innovation and citizen leadership as part of its socio-ecological transition.

“If you don’t rely on social R&D and experimentation, what method are you using? Hunches? Intuition? It will soon seem absurd, I think, not to have a mature and systematic approach to experimentation.”

Geoff Mulgan, Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy, and Social Innovation at University College London (UCL) and ex-Chief Executive of Nesta (UK’s innovation foundation).

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The LICER in a glance

Photo credit: Maxime Lapostolle

To learn more

The following tools will help you boost your knowledge of this field of practice and see what LICER has learned so far:

Do you have any questions about the LICER? Consult the frequently asked questions (FAQ)

1- What is regulatory innovation?

The field of regulatory innovation seeks opportunities to transform the regulatory framework to facilitate the deployment of initiatives that have a strong potential for positive and sustainable societal impact. This happens through the creation or actualization of an existing regulation to eliminate regulatory barriers in the implementation of a project, or by formulating a process that controls the development, application or adaptation of a regulation with a view to positive change.

LICER focuses on regulatory innovation because it is an essential lever for increasing our capacity for collective action in hosting and deploying ongoing socio-ecological initiatives in step with the lives of Montrealers.

To learn more about regulatory innovation, check out our “To learn more” section.

2- Is the current regulation ill-suited?

The regulation in itself isn’t exactly “ill-suited,” but it isn’t always in step with the reality of current societal transformation. Some regulatory frameworks are set up based on outdated considerations and they are still applied, even though our collective needs and wants have evolved. As a result, innovative citizen projects often encounter regulatory barriers that prevent them from being carried out. To remedy that, regulatory bodies will usually grant a variance, but that can be quite costly in terms of time and resources and in the end it only bypasses the constraint.

The advantage of regulatory innovation is that it goes beyond dealing with issues on a case-by-case basis by proposing a more flexible, relevant and sustainable approach.

3- What are some examples of a regulatory innovation project?

As part of a series of interviews with several international players, LICER identified a few initiatives that are currently being developed:

  • In England, NESTA is studying new regulatory practices that are more flexible, experimental, inclusive and collaborative. The goal is to encourage regulatory bodies to adopt regulations that reflect the movement for change generated by the major crises of our time, namely the climate crisis.
  • The City of Amsterdam is developing a digital tool that will allow public stakeholders to quickly identify the regulatory levers or barriers within the circular economy (Amsterdam Circular Economy). The objective is to increase public stakeholders’ operational capacity to bring in regulatory tools that support the deployment of the city’s circular economy strategy.
  • The vTaiwan Project is an online platform that hosts a series of expert debates and public conversations to build consensus around new regulatory or legislative practices. The goal is to mobilize collective intelligence in a decision-making context.

4- Who are LICER’s participants?

LICER brings together a range of participants from different networks, sectors and intervention levels (academics, citizens, private, public, municipal, national, etc.), including:

  • Montreal’s public service representatives from various departments, services and boroughs who contribute their knowledge and expertise to LICER’s social R&D process.
  • Montréal in Common, an innovation community led by the Ville de Montréal, is dedicated to experimenting with concrete solutions to issues around mobility, food accessibility and municipal regulation to improve quality of life in the city’s neighbourhoods. LICER collaborates with Montréal in Common’s partners, including Solon, the Laboratoire sur l’agriculture urbaine (AU/LAB) and, by extension through its close collaboration with AU/LAB, the Carrefour solidaire Centre communautaire d’alimentation. The latter thus extend the experimental scope of their respective projects to the scale of regulatory experimentation that is specific to LICER.
  • Research partners from the Maison de l’innovation sociale, including ENAP’s Cité-ID LivingLab, and Dark Matter Labs.
  • Citizens who want to share their perspective on implementing projects that address mobility and food security issues, or who want to take part in co-design workshops on the positive transformation of sustainable living environments.

If you’d like to take part in LICER’s activities, join LICER’s list of potential participants here.

5- What are LICER’s key steps?

LICER was launched in 2020 and its process will unfold in two main phases until 2024. After having structured the project, engaged with key stakeholders and undertaken a series of research and analysis activities on regulatory issues and the process of regulatory innovation and experimentation, 2022 and 2023 will be devoted to different experiments aimed at testing and evaluating the integration of new sustainable practices around mobility, food security and the alternative use of public space on a local neighbourhood scale.

Several experiments will be conducted in succession, which will allow LICER to reinject knowledge and continuously improve our practices. This approach will also help strengthen collaborations between concerned stakeholders, that is, between participating project leads involved in the experimentation process, public administration and local citizens. Each experimentation is comprised of the following key steps: co-problematizing the planned experimentation to identify overall regulatory issues that could impede innovation; codesigning the experimentation to meet learning objectives specific to the desired innovation; deploying the experimentation in a real-life context; and evaluating and transferring knowledge.

In 2023-2024, the LICER team will examine how to adapt the most effective elements of the regulatory innovation system to Montréal’s municipal context, with the goal of creating an ongoing culture of experimentation and regulatory innovation that supports socio-ecological transition.

6- How can I get involved?

In 2022, LICER is launching community feedback and codesign activities to gather public perspectives on innovative projects and get citizens involved in developing a framework for new approaches to food accessibility or mobility. For example, as part of our co-design workshops, citizens groups might work on urban planning concerns or governance frameworks that are most likely to help democratize urban greenhouse farming practices. To participate and contribute to LICER’s promotion of regulatory experimentation, sign up here.

Public participation in these activities is central to our approach. It helps us foster dialogue and coproduction, and gauge the level of public interest in public space experimentations, while educating people on the implementation of regulatory innovation.
The LICER team wants to hear from you!

7- Who do we contact for more information?

Contact a member of the LICER team at licer@mis.quebec. They’ll get back to you soon!

If you’d like to take part in our initiative, join LICER’s list of potential participants and subscribe to our mailing list to receive the latest news from MIS and Raccords, our quarterly digital newsletter on social innovation.

8- How was LICER born?

Reflections on regulatory innovation were first initiated at the federal level by the Network of Regulatory Experimentation—“RegX”. Launched in April 2019 by the McConnell Foundation, Dark Matter Labs, MaRS Solutions Lab and the Community of Federal Regulators, this network aims to collate regulatory innovation initiatives across Canada, examine their concept, then broadcast best practices and contribute to international discussions on the subject.

At the municipal level, the RegX contributed to the Ville de Montréal’s bid to participate in the Smart City Challenge by including a regulatory component. Winner of the $50 million first prize, which is intended to fund innovative projects to improve the quality of life of citizens, the City has set up its innovation community, Montréal in Common, which includes the LICER, the Civic and Regulatory Innovation Laboratory. The MIS was appointed to lead the LICER.

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