Co-creating solutions for soil health in Living Labs


Target Orgs:Companies, Government, Municipalities, Other
Category:Countryside, Digitalisation, Economy, Green Transition, International cooperation, Science

European Commission

Total budget:36.000.000
Due date:20.09.2023 Single-stage
Grant min-max:
Own contribution:%
Keywords:Agricultural Soils, Bottom up, Clusters, Co-creation, Communication, Demonstrati, Exemplary performance, Farm, Knowledge exchange, Lighthouses, Multi stakeholder, Multiactor, Network, Place based, Real life, Soil challenges, Transdisciplinary, Urban Soils, living labs
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Activities under this topic respond directly to the goal of the Mission ‘A Soil Deal for Europe’[1] of setting up 100 living labs to lead the transition to healthy soils by 2030. They support the specific objectives of the Mission ‘A Soil Deal for Europe’ dealing with urgent soil health challenges (see in particular specific objectives 1 to 6 and 8). Activities should thereby contribute to meeting the European Green Deal ambitions and targets, such as those related to food and nutrition security, climate, biodiversity, environment and rural areas[2].

Project results are expected to contribute to all of the following outcomes:

  • Living labs across Europe are fully operational and have established themselves as places for co-creation and testing of solutions for soil health in rural and urban areas.
  • Increased capacities for participatory, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary R&I approaches, allowing for effective cooperation between research, practice and policy to tackle soil health challenges.
  • Practice oriented knowledge and tools are more easily available to land managers and contribute to an enhanced uptake of solutions for soil health and related ecosystem services.
  • Strengthened collaborations between actors across territories and sectors and increased consideration of effective solutions for soil health in regions where the selected living labs are operating.
  • Policy makers in the EU and Associated Countries are more aware of local needs with regard to soil health and can use this knowledge to design more effective policies.


While more research is needed to restore and maintain healthy soils in the EU, an important barrier still encountered to accelerate the transition towards a climate-neutral and green European Union is the gap between science and practice, between knowledge and implementation. The Mission ‘A Soil Deal for Europe’ proposes a novel approach to research and innovation in the area of soil health, including the implementation of living labs. Living labs have the potential to empower a green transition towards healthy soils by developing solutions in a co-creative manner and involving actors in real life settings at territorial level to achieve large-scale impact.

Nowadays, there exist various definitions and conceptualizations of living labs. However, three components are recognizable within the now well-established living labs research concept, which include (a) co-creation with a large set of stakeholders, (b) carried out in real-life settings and (c) involving the end-users[3]. For the purpose of the Mission ‘A Soil Deal for Europe’, Soil health living labs are defined as “user-centred, place-based and transdisciplinary research and innovation ecosystems, which involve land managers, scientists and other relevant partners in systemic research and co-design, testing, monitoring and evaluation of solutions, in real-life settings, to improve their effectiveness for soil health and accelerate adoption”.

Living labs are collaborations between multiple partners that operate and undertake experiments on several sites at regional or sub-regional level[4]. Individual sites could be e.g. farms, forest stands, urban green or industrial areas, enterprises and other entities, where the work is carried-out and monitored under real-life conditions, regardless of the land size, tenure (land ownerships) or the type of economic activity.

Lighthouses, in contrast, are defined as “places for demonstration of solutions, training and communication that are exemplary in their performance in terms of soil health improvement”. They are individual, local sites (one farm, one forest exploitation, one industrial site, one urban city green area, etc.) that either can be part of a living lab or be situated outside a living lab.

According to the Mission Implementation Plan, living labs involve partners from different backgrounds, disciplines and/or sectors and are composed of 10 to 20 experimental sites. However, depending on the specific context (e.g. the land use(s), the soil health challenge(s) addressed), applicants can propose living labs with fewer experimental sites. By working together on themes of common interest, the various partners involved in a living lab will be able to replicate actions and solutions, compare results, exchange good practices, validate methodologies and benefit from cross-fertilisation within a local/regional setting.

More specifically, each of the funded projects should:

  • Set up four to five living labs (or more, as applicable to the land use(s) and purpose of the project) to work together on thematically related soil health challenges, addressing the same or several land use types. The living labs should be located in at least three different Member States and/or Associated Countries. Proposals should describe the rationale for cooperation across the various living labs and explain how the work undertaken will contribute to one or more of the Mission’s specific objectives[5]. Living labs on carbon farming are excluded from this topic as a dedicated topic for carbon farming living labs is opened in this work programme[6].
  • Establish, based on the projects’ goals and objectives, a detailed work plan with the activities to be undertaken in an interdisciplinary way, ensuring the co-design, co-development, and co-implementation of locally adapted solutions.
  • Carry out participatory and transdisciplinary research and innovation in living labs to seek practical solutions to problems/challenges identified, taking into account the relevant drivers and pressures. Moreover, activities should address challenges to the scaling up and the transferability of solutions. Proposed strategies and solutions should be adapted to the different environmental, socio-economic and cultural contexts in which the living labs are operating. Living labs working in the area of agriculture are expected to promote sustainable practices, applied across a range of farming systems and benefit both conventional and organic farming.
  • Identify sites that demonstrate high performance in terms of their actions and results on soil health improvement and that may be converted into lighthouses.
  • Establish for each living lab a baseline for the selected soil health challenge(s), in order to allow for an accurate assessment of the conditions and changes of soils in the different sites over time and for monitoring of progress towards the objectives of the respective living labs and the project overall. As appropriate, make use of the set of soil health indicators presented in the Soil Mission Implementation Plan. To this end, funded projects should work closely with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) to contribute to their efforts on soil monitoring and the development of the European Union Soil Observatory (EUSO).
  • Monitor and carry out an assessment of the effects of the developed innovative practices or introduced solutions on soil health and related ecosystem services. This should include a demonstration of the viability (e.g. technical, economic) of the proposed solutions.
  • Propose strategies (e.g. financial, organisational) to ensure long-term sustainability and continuity of the living labs beyond the Horizon Europe funding, including the identification of possible business models and actions involving local authorities, business communities, SMEs, investors, entrepreneurs.
  • Document in an easy and accessible way the developed solutions in order to facilitate their uptake by land managers and transmit the acquired knowledge to relevant actors.

In line with the nature of living labs, proposals must implement the multi-actor approach. The list of stakeholders will vary depending on features specific to each living lab and can involve different types of actors such as researchers, land owners or land managers, industry (e.g. SMEs), public administrations, representatives of civil society (e.g. consumers, environmental NGOs). Care should be taken to describe the capabilities and roles of the different partners involved in the project, depending on their area of expertise. For example, while some partners may lead the conceptual work and coordinate the work within and across living labs, others may focus on carrying-out experiments, providing advice, testing and validating innovative solutions, or be involved in outreach activities.

To encourage and facilitate the involvement of different types of actors in the living labs, applicants are reminded of the different types of participation possible under Horizon Europe: This includes not only beneficiaries (or their affiliated entities) but also associated partners, third parties giving in-kind contributions, subcontractors and recipients of financial support to third parties.

Proposals may provide for financial support to third parties (FSTP) to implement one or more of the living lab activities described in this topic[7] further to calls or, if duly justified, without a call for proposals. Applicants are reminded to consult the standard conditions for “financial support to third parties” set out in Annex B of the General Annexes including those that apply to FSTP calls.

Proposals should include a dedicated task and appropriate resources to collaborate with other Living Lab projects funded under this topic as well as with projects funded under other Work Programme topics of the Mission ‘A Soil Deal for Europe’ which are relevant to the chosen soil health challenge(s). In addition, proposals should seek for synergies with projects PREPSOIL[8], NATI00NS[9] and NBSSOIL[10]. Additionally, projects should cooperate and benefit from the services of a dedicated ‘Living Lab Support Structure’ to be established by the Specific Grant Agreement under this Work Programme [11].

Cooperation with relevant networks active at local level, such as EIP-AGRI operational groups, is encouraged in order to promote the involvement of key local stakeholders in living labs activities or in the dissemination of solutions. The projects should also build on other existing activities and ensure cooperation with relevant projects and partnerships, such as EIT Knowledge and Innovation Communities (EIT KICs) or the ‘European partnership on accelerating farming systems transition: Agroecology living labs and research infrastructures’, which will also support living labs.

Proposals should demonstrate a route towards open access, longevity, sustainability and interoperability of knowledge and outputs through close collaboration with the European Union Soil Observatory (EUSO).

[1] EU Mission Soil Deal for Europe Implementation Plan | European Commission (


[3] International Agroecosystem Living Laboratories Working Group. Agroecosystem Living Laboratories: Executive Report. G20 – Meeting of Agricultural Chief Scientists (G20-MACS). 2019. Available online: (accessed on 30 June 2022)

[4] For the purpose of the topic the regional/sub regional level will not be defined in administrative terms (e.g. NUTS 2 or 3). Instead, applicants should describe the local context and the area in which the work of the living lab will be carried out.

[5] Reduce land degradation relating to desertification; no net soil sealing and increase the reuse of urban soils; reduce soil pollution and enhance restoration; prevent erosion; improve soil structure to enhance habitat quality for soil biota and crops; reduce the EU global footprint on soils; increase soil literacy in society.

[6] See topic HORIZON-MISS-2023-SOIL-01-09: Carbon farming in living labs

[7] To explore the full range of options including what type of costs and activities are eligible to be funded under Horizon Europe, applicants should refer to the AGA – Annotated Model Grant Agreement


[9] Funding & tenders (

[10] Funding & tenders (

[11] Other Actions not subject to calls for proposals: SGA: Specific Grant Agreement for a Living Lab Support Structure

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