How the Well Living Lab decides what to study

As the saying goes, you can’t boil the ocean. So where do you start to transform health and well-being in indoor environments? The scientists at the Well Living Lab took on this question and formulated a three-year research plan to guide the direction and development of research studies for 2018-2020.

They gathered in a cozy round-tabled conference room at the lab to discuss the question from each other’s areas of expertise – behavioral science, building science, clinical practice, environmental science, biomedical engineering and computer science. With computers and notepads in front of them and the lab’s infrastructure room outside the glass walls of their meeting space, they began to sketch out a plan. They quickly filled the room’s white board with ideas.

Each scientist spoke from his or her perspectives and knowledge base. Each had studied research literature for gaps and each had extensively read about aspects of the human condition they believed the lab could help improve. Each had contemplated outcomes that could be achieved from Well Living Lab research. They informally rated topics according to which could potentially have the biggest impact for people’s lives and for environmental improvements. They landed on five research themes: health, stress and resilience, comfort, performance and sleep.

Going further, they debated the types of spaces in which people live, work and play to determine which types of building typologies to focus on. Less research had been conducted for homes than the workplace, but they determined both needed scientific attention.

Next, they asked which environments matched up best for study of the various themes. Should comfort studies be about homes or offices? What about stress studies or performance studies? Where could the lab achieve the biggest impact?

They also considered the specific aspects of the various themes that the lab could realistically study. For instance, stress can be brought about by the individuals a person works with or organizational structures or company politics, which aren’t areas the lab can influence. But other aspects such as noise levels or amount of privacy a person has at work would be within the lab’s scope and capabilities. Feasibility was part of the equation as well, pondering what can be studied in a simulated real-world environment and how.

The Well Living Lab’s scientific advisory board, experts from around the world in some of the most prestigious academic institutions, provided input, asked questions and helped hone the direction through feedback and critical analysis. Mayo Clinic experts and Delos leadership also weighed in to solidify the plan. The researchers asked for input on the importance of the themes and received feedback on both broadening the scope in some areas and narrowing it in others. That input allowed the team to refine and complete the plan, with an ambitious, yet realistic roadmap.

From start to completion, the plan came together in about three months. The three-year research plan outlines the broad ideas of study and protocols and experiments are built from it.

As the researchers reflected on the time spent mapping their future work, one of the most valuable aspects of the experience was what they gained by working together. “We learned from each other and about our specialties, we learned each other’s professional vocabularies. It was an advanced course in learning how to bring our fields together. The most salient aspect was creating a collaborative cohesiveness. We excelled in learning from each other,” says Carolina Campanella, Ph.D., behavioral science, who coordinated the plan’s development.

Now the researchers gather to identify the actual experiments, based on the plan, the scientific literature and what people actually care about. With a solid plan, teamwork, innovative structure and technical capabilities, the Well Living Lab is poised to discover ways in which the indoor environment can improve people’s lives.