an effectuation-style  

living lab project  



This living lab set out to develop a product to enhance sustainable fish consumption. The scope quickly narrowed down to an extraordinary fish: the eel. The European eel population has declined dramatically over the past 50 years. Due to its unique characteristics, there is no sustainable fish replacement for eel. Therefore the Future Fish team embarked on creating a sustainable plant-based eel alternative to be tested and consumed in the city of Amsterdam.

This living lab is part of REVEALING THE CITY, a collection of living labs by MSc MADE students in 2020. 


4 PRODUCTS  1 living lab

During this living lab project, we realised four end products - our solutions to the challenges and opportunities we encountered on the way. Firstly, at the core, was the development of an eel alternative .  Secondly, we executed a baseline assessment  of the market and thirdly, we developed a specific business-case . Finally, as a conclusion to the project, we developed a self-study educational module  on the relationship between food, the sea and the city. This fourth product has been shaped by the coronavirus situation and allows others, in quarantine, to share our journey and get inspired.


We took two very different approaches towards developing our sustainable alternative to eel. The first focussed on replicating eel as closely as possible. By working together with an experienced product developer and several chefs, we were able to create a plant-based product that resembles eel to a large extent. Over the course of several development and feedback sessions we fine-tuned the product’s taste, structure, smell, and texture. This product is now ready for tasting. 


Our second approach was directed at saving the eel, while simultaneously increasing vegetable consumption. In collaboration with a successful food entrepreneur, we worked on devising a product that is made from a single vegetable and contains no additives, preservatives or artificial flavourings. Although this product is still in development, we believe it shows high potential.


We would like to acknowledge that despite of our best efforts, the products we developed are not without their own sustainability concerns, e.g. sustainable sourcing of ingredients and high energy consuming preparation methods. It is our ambition to tackle these challenges in the near future.



The coronavirus crisis and lockdown led us to transform our exhibition plans into a five-part educational module. Each part is in Dutch and they can be used as a series or individually. The modules take secondary school pupils through our journey from food in the city and from the sea, to what sustainable (fish) consumption actually means, the life of the eel, and the search for alternative food products. 


We hope this educational product will contribute to the quarantaine situation in a positive way. We want to motivate students at home to learn about our food systems, the oceans, fisheries and the eel. But most of all, we hope to inspire them to think about what the future of fish, and food in general, should look like.



These might seem like a surprising set of end products - and to be honest it was a surprise to us as well. However, this is exactly what happens in a living lab with an effectuation approach.  

Effectuation is an entrepreneurial approach where there is no end-goal and learning is done underway based on agile interventions during the process. There are five key elements that define effectuation; 

 1) the bird-in-hand: reason from means 

 2) lemonade: leverage contingencies 

 3) crazy quilt: co-create in partnership

 4) pilot in the plane: strategically intervene

 5) affordable loss principle: focus on downsides

Here are a few examples of how these principles played out in our living lab.

Bird-in-hand  We started small with the resources within our network. We have knowledge of the food domain but are not food product developers nor fish experts. Therefore, we set out to find partners in these fields.

Lemonade   "When things go wrong, you turn them to your advantage."

The coronavirus outbreak prevented our food experience and product launch from taking place, but we developed online educational modules that are still experience-based and provide feedback as well.

Co-create  We searched for potential partners and involved them by giving them a stake in our mission. The Good Fish Foundation and two local food developers came on board and enthusiastically co-created with us.  

Pilot in the plane  We attempted to strike a constant balance between complete control and letting go. When jury members were skeptical of updating a culinary tradition (without having tasted the prototype) or eel producers said that the real cause for eel decline was the growing bird populations, we considered what they said but didn’t deviate from our path.

Affordable loss  "Reason from what you’re willing to lose, rather than from what hypothetical success looks like." In other words, how much of our time or personal savings were we willing to lose and still be okay with it? Our minimal budget encouraged us to be creative, take a DIY approach and carry out lots of preliminary testing rounds. We invested eight months in this project and more hours than academically required. However, we consider this to be an affordable "loss" because we are excited about creating our own food products and possibly starting our own company.


TEAM  & coach

We are passionate about affecting change in the food system. Our ambition is to create a sustainable and transparent food chain and involve a wide variety of actors. Our skills include impact measurement, entrepreneurship, education and design for experience. Our aim during the living lab was to activate a network willing and able to deliver a plant-based eel alternative. We have been coached by Dr. Lisa Ploum who is an expert in the fields of entrepreneurship and educational sciences and was able to guide us on many different fronts of the project.

COACH Dr. Lisa Ploum

"This living lab project has truly embodied the effectuation approach. The team has been able to re-iterate and continuously learn from others during the project. This has resulted in different products that each have value for different stakeholders. Seeing these young professionals grow throughout the process has been a great experience!​"

Josephine Schuurman 


"Thanks to the VISwijzer I dared to go from vegetarian to a sustainable pescatarian again."

Daniël van Duijn

"How can it be that fish are so often left behind in the protein transition while everybody talks about meat replacements?​"

George van der Raaij

"I never imagined meat substitutes could taste so good until trying dozens at the HORECAVA 2020.​"

Rianne Stelwagen

"I became the kind of person that is eager to tell my friends at a

friday-bar what an extraordinary animal the eel is."


PARTNERS  community


“There is nothing like eel. So the pressure on eel will remain even though the stock has diminished to only 1% of what it was 50 years ago. If there could be an alternative for eel this would be a great way to relieve the pressure."


CONTACT & connect

During this living lab we collaborated with various partners and it is an understatement to say that it would not have been the same without them. Would you like to team up with us to continue with this project or start something new? Feel free to send us a message with your ideas!

Also, feel welcome to join our mailing list


Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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