Accompanying research for ‘Real-World Laboratories’ in Baden-Württemberg

The research approach of real-world laboratories is on the one hand oriented towards the transdisciplinary principle, particularly the interdisciplinary, problem orientated cooperation between different scientific disciplines and on the other hand towards the idea of an intensive participation of stakeholders within the societal action space defined as “laboratory” (often towns or districts). In this context, the main idea is mutual medium to long term learning in something like an experimental setting.

Real-world laboratories are seen as a novel form of networking and cooperation between science and society. The approach of real-world laboratories is aiming to facilitate the connectivity of scientific findings for politics and economy and also to support society’s capacity to act towards sustainable development. With a funding program for a total of seven real-world laboratories, Baden-Württemberg is playing a pioneering role as this approach is not yet very prevalent. Since January 2015 the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of the State of Baden-Württemberg (MWK) has been funding seven real-world laboratories. Amongst others, topics are sustainable mobility structures, sustainable urban development, the national park of the northern Black Forest or sustainable clothes consumption.

Research Approach

So far there is no generally accepted definition of the term real-world laboratories. The connection with the established term real experiments is also unclear. With respect to methodological issues the situation is similar. Repeatedly reference is made to transdisciplinarity and established methods but it is not stated clearly if and how these can be adequately applied within the context of real-world laboratories or if a broader methodology is called for. Against this background the MWK assigned a consortium with the accompanying research which is composed of the Leuphana University Lüneburg, the ISOE – Institute for social-ecological research and the Wuppertal Institute with an accompanying research (support and investigation) concerning the seven existing real-world laboratories in Baden-Württemberg. The research partners also closely cooperate with a second accompanying project which is based at the University of Basel.

The aims of the accompanying research are:

  • to support the laboratories by providing structured and practice orientated basics for research in the laboratories, targeted inputs and internal/external networking
  • identification, description and structuring of the applied methods for the execution of the conceptual ideas for real-world laboratories
  • to identify general quality features of real-world laboratories in their capacity as transformation projects and thus providing a contribution towards the transferability of processes and results of real-world laboratories
  • national and international networking for the exchange of good practices.

Cooperating partners

  • Leuphana University Lüneburg, Chair of Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research
  • Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy
  • University of Basel, Program Man-Society-Environment


Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of the State of Baden-Württemberg (MWK)


Bergmann, Matthias/Niko Schäpke/Oskar Marg/Franziska Stelzer/Daniel J. Lang/Michael Bossert/Marius Gantert/Elke Häußler/Editha Marquardt/Felix M. Piontek/Thomas Potthast/Regina Rhodius/Matthias Rudolph/Michael Ruddat/Andreas Seebacher/Nico Sußmann (2021): Transdisciplinary sustainability research in real-world labs: success factors and methods for change. Sustainability Science


2015/01 – 2018/06