A conversation with Liz Sanders, Founder of MakeTools, Columbus, Ohio, USA
Working as a consultant, Liz Sanders explores participatory design and other collective forms of creativity to find ways of addressing the challenges in society today.
It is her perspective that it is in the initial stages of a process or project where the important things happen; this is where the biggest possibility of influencing the outcome lies. Tools for participatory design are best put to use here because that is where you want the influence and perspectives of the relevant stakeholders.
“You can call these stakeholders users, citizens, employees, bosses or anything you want, but when involving anybody it is important to remember to look at people as people, regardless of their given role. You are working with them, not on them!” Liz says. People are behind anything we create, and people are more complex than simply users of some product or service. To truly create something together, you must embrace this. What you want to bring forth is the whole person. Tools, therefore, is just the beginning. What you are really aiming for is for people to work from their mindsets.
A tool is a really good place to start, because tools have clear guidelines. In a participatory workshop or project setting where people have little or no prior experience of working beyond roles and designing together, giving them a tool to work with gets them started thinking in participatory terms and therefore also working together. For those seeking this by themselves, starting from the tool level flattens out the learning curve towards full understanding. One experiences the participatory process on your own through hands-on activities.
When people then have worked with tools for some time and they get the general idea of the patterns and thinking behind them, they begin to work from another level; the method level. Methods can be thought of as the approach for performing an action, whereas tools provide the action frames. When working from here you are able to act more freely than if you were simply following the rules or guidelines of a tool. One knows why the tools are pointing in this or that way and when they would be appropriate to use.
The last level you want to reach is the mindset level. At this point people have embodied the thinking through their actions and their own experiences. Learning by doing. It is when working from this level that you create the biggest impacts. At this point people are really getting the full potential of participatory design, because now they know why they are using those methods and tools. They are not just participating, they are being participatory.
This three-level model of course does not exclusively apply to participatory design processes, but is a model for learning and becoming aware of where you are working from in general. Liz tells how she has often experienced confusion in organizations or project groups that stems from people not knowing that there is a bigger picture behind the tools they use and therefore they apply them in an isolated fashion. Instead of saying: “Here’s the tool!”, try to say: “Here are some things to get started!”
Working with participatory design means both seeing the tools you use as not just a tool but also a step towards greater understanding, and also seeing the people you involve as not just a user or employee but also as a whole person. Truly believe that people are creative and insist on inviting them into the process. This way you get the absolute best out of both.
A conversation with Jannie Friis Kristensen, Experience Design Lead at HeadFitted and former Head of Innovation at InnovationLab, Aarhus, Denmark
Jannie is educated from Information Science at Aarhus University, a place considered by many the cradle of participatory design. According to Jannie, user-driven innovation is a term that is a bit misunderstood. The users don’t have the answers, they merely offer perspectives. Your job is to listen to them and build the relationship.
Jannie explains. “Instead of talking about user-driven innovation, maybe it makes more sense to talk about use-driven innovation. Involving people needs to be a praxis, not a stand-alone event. It should be an iterative process towards greater understanding with multiple prototypes along the way. Development is an interactive process.”
That is why it is better as a company to involve people, not as a single event but over the course of time, so the praxis is developed. Start up should include processes both within the users and the employees of the company; otherwise it is just a one-time one-way communication.
It matters in the small things. For example, when you need people’s feedback and thoughts around a product, put the product in their hands and then give them a week to reflect and play around with it. Don’t just ask for their quick opinion on their way out of the door! If you only give people one chance to answer, they will try to tell you everything and it can be difficult to know what their priorities are. That is why user-driven innovation gets a bad reputation, the knowledge is not acquired and processed in a sensible way.
When organizations complain and say that user-driven innovation doesn’t work and that they only heard what they already knew, they should remember that to get quality output you also need quality input. You need to feed the users something they can be inspired by and work from.
“We need a new corporate culture.” Jannie says. “We need to learn to ask questions and listen. Maybe it is a cultural thing, something we pick up in school where we are constantly told to answer? I don’t know. I do know, though, that it is hard to get past that locked image you have of yourself and truly take in new perspectives. If you ask your users, and you listen, you often find that they have a different perspective of who you are and who you thought you were in their eyes. To bring their perspectives onward into an innovation process you need to take in what they say. You can’t bring a perspective with you unless you are able to hold it yourself.”
It is Jannie’s opinion that if you just give companies a bunch of tools for user-driven innovation, it is hard to get anything out of it. Tools work in the hands of those who use them. Some companies involve users as the most natural thing in the world, some can learn, and some will probably never learn. That is just how it is. It is a matter of figuring out from case to case what it takes to successfully involve users in your company. “And if it is relevant,” Jannie adds, “don’t involve users if you are unsure what you are going to use their perspectives and insights for.”
A conversation with Jerri Chou, Head Strategist at Lovely Day and Co-founder of All Day Buffet, The Feast Social Innovation Conference, and TBD, New York, USA
“It’s bubbling up all over the place!” Jerri starts. Usually innovation is about getting ahead to get money, but what we are seeing now is a shift. There’s an increasing focus on socially-based or open innovation. Businesses are opening up for their innovation processes and make them participatory. Business is going social..
People are trying to adopt the open innovation approach in many ways, but mostly it takes the form of getting inputs and then designing something for the users such as contests or idea generation workshops/platforms. “That’s because it’s the most crackable for organizations to engage with,” Jerri says. She continues. “You don’t see a lot of innovation in business contexts that is actually driven by the users today. Right now it’s mostly about getting ideas.”
Of course, there are also plenty of exceptions to be found. An example is X PRIZE who work with bringing about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. Their innovation process starts with an open challenge and a prize that teams signing up then compete to achieve. Design is done by the participants in an elimination style which results in disqualified groups splitting up and recombining with those who move forward to leverage best practices and learnings from failure.
Another is LEGO, where users can play around with their own designs online, and then get the bricks needed to build it shipped to their home afterwards. This is beneficial not only for the users who have the possibility to dream up whatever they want without limitations, but also for the company who gets invaluable insights into what excites their users as well as a constant flow of new design ideas. “There are many different ways of engaging open innovation,” Jerri states.
Kickstarter is also an interesting place to look. First of all it is functions very well for it is transparent and accessible. Also, it convenes people around ideas and helps them come alive. It would be interesting is to see a model that combines something like Kickstarter with something like OpenIDEO - a platform where people would upload a project and the community would help strengthen the concept or design and then finally fund it and launch it.
Jerri herself is working with an online platform in collaboration with Nokia that is called change-connections.com. This is a conversation around how the future of communication technology can help people around the world live better lives. The method applied here has been to first have a series of conversations with experts, and based on those start new conversations where everyone interested is invited. The dialogue is ongoing and spreading like rings in the water.
Here is an important point to notice. You can’t request people to join an open innovation process, you can only invite them. You have to put yourself in their shoes and try to work out what the incentive for them would be. “Think of it as a party invitation,” Jerri says. “People will only come if they find it interesting and fun.”
What motivates people is purpose. Using open innovation benefits products and services related to what people are passionate about. It helps fulfill their needs, whether it be moms about their kids, tech geeks about open source, or social entrepreneurs about new business models.
With all the new means of online communication available today companies have potential for direct access to markets. When you open up to people into your organization, a conversation starts that generates insights on both sides. In that sense opening up can maybe even become a replacement for, or at least a very big part of, branding strategies.
But opening up for innovation also opens the question of copyright. Companies invest their money and time in the innovation process, but the people that get involved from the outside are also investing themselves and will feel ownership towards whatever is created. There is a challenge here that so far hasn’t really been solved. There is a growing gap between the tools available now, like patenting and copyright, and how innovation processes happen.
Open innovation could benefit by learning from the music industry. Generally business needs to innovate itself when it comes to patenting and copyright. If, for example, instead of treating people like pirates, companies might treat them like fans. This change could unleash innumerable possibilities. Look at the success Nine Inch Nails had with putting their latest album out for free. It sold more than 2 million copies in two months, peaked in charts around the world and received hours and hours of airplay. The commercial limited edition album version sold about 100.000 copies. They have understood how to leverage fandom.
We’re facing a paradigm shift. One must understand that people will always modify a product. We need a new way of thinking if we want to monetize open innovation. The models that start-ups and social enterprises are creating are cracking how things can and will work in this new paradigm and they will eventually come to challenge the big guys. They are open in thought and method and are more related to the laws of the internet than the laws of business. Terms like network, social rewards and co-creation are finding their way into the business vocabulary more and more. Companies can’t shift overnight, but will have to do it eventually.
A conversation with Dalhia Hagege, Consultant at bluenove, Paris, France
Open innovation is a fairly new concept in France. Not more than two years ago, it wasn’t part of the business world’s vocabulary. Now innovation departments in companies are more and more interested in scouting, meaning using innovation companies like bluenove as trust agents to build relationships within their innovative ecosystem. bluenove has focused on becoming the French leader in open and collaborative innovation. It helps companies define the need and then build and communicate with a community that is capable of innovation.
“You can’t have just one person getting input!” Dalhia argues. “Innovating with consumers is all about creating community. But it’s important to note that although it can lead to innovation, it’s not guaranteed. You have to be able to respond to the inputs you get. You have to have a pipeline from the community to the company.”
Working with open and collaborative innovation is a process that runs in two parallel tracks. In one track, you work with building the community, understanding the people in it, their incentives and expectations and try to tap into the community rhythm, proving activities and frames for dialogue. In the other you build the pipeline from the community, based on the existing innovation processes in the company. You figure out which employees to appeal for and who to involve in the community so as to better give the right persons the right ideas and be able to implement new solutions.
The impact of working in those two parallel tracks is that you can’t measure a project alone on how innovative it has turned out. There’s another scale in play as well, and that is the brand conversation that takes place between the company and the community. There are benefits to reap both in terms of better outcomes and better PR or mutual understanding.
Dalhia also talks about the 1-10-100 rule of communities: The top 1% most active members will create content. The top 10% will respond and comment. And the total 100% will simply look at the content. To create momentum in a community, you focus on mobilizing the 1%.
The communities bluenove build may be made of several actors: There is of course the users or customers, but also start-ups, universities and public labs can have a role to play. Suppliers and employees beyond the R&D department of the client organization may also take part.
Getting companies on board can sometimes be a bit hard, because a thing to understand is that innovation is a touchy issue in many places. Many large corporations deal with legal issues of copyright, and so, they’re hesitant to open up to a large crowd. There is a relatively high level of fear of people stealing the innovations. But if you don’t open up, you won’t get new inputs.
A conversation with Chris Barez-Brown, Author, Founder of Upping Your Elvis and former Head of Capability at ?WhatIf!, London, UK
Chris frames innovation as a process to get from insight and ideas to impact. Through his experience he has gained a lot of insight into this process and how it works when it’s working best.
“What helps open innovation work is to give a really good brief and insight to the people you are involving. If you don’t, it’ll probably just turn out as rubbish in the end!” Chris says. “Otherwise people get confused and their inputs are pretty much useless or on the wrong brief”
Another key to success is to have a process or system to handle all the inputs. For example Coca-Cola once did a project where they got 300,000 ideas. “After that, 2 people had a bad six months!” Bottlenecks are dangerous not only for your work flow and work load, but also for your reputation. If you don’t respond to people when it’s still relevant for them, they probably won’t help you again. And working with open innovation, you rely on energetic and voluntary help. People want to be part of something bigger. If you appeal to people’s emotions you can bring something bigger than yourself to life. And you should always remember to recognize people for that.
Also remember to make it easy for them to participate; people don’t want to risk getting something wrong if they’re doing it as a favor in the first place. If you have too narrow a template for participation, people will be nervous and therefore won’t share their perspective and insights you need. The frames should be open enough for content and ideas to bounce off each other.
Chris has an example of what such frames can look like. “I recently joined a client’s phone-based open innovation session. First an issue was introduced, followed by some educative stimulation for the conversation. Forty people joined the call and it was messy! Instead of harvesting everything that was said, what people had found valuable would be emailed back to the facilitator at the end of the session. It worked in a fabulously chaotic way as each participant wanted to be there and filtered the quality themselves.”
Creativity in groups is all about the people; not the tools. Really there are only two things in play if you want to innovate with people: dust and matter. Dust is the stimulus you provide to people; the input. Matter is the ideas that come out the process; the output.
There are three levels in which to pay attention during the group innovation process: On the mental level, it is important that the participants feel safe. The brief must be clear and the facilitator must source that the process is in good hands and everybody can just lean in. On the second level, the emotional, it is about having fun, about learning, and about growing. The third level is the spiritual. Here you must pay attention to the participants’ values and beliefs.
The atmosphere you create through the physical frames are also important. A stimulus-rich environment will create the right energy, a higher level of fun, and foster more ideas.
On the topic of users, Chris has a point. “An important thing to note is that even though users may be experts and can provide great insights, they are not necessarily good at getting ideas. You need to ‘peel back’ to get new ideas from them; ask into and understand beyond what is being said.”
This can be helped by proper feedback systems. “If business is an experiment and innovation is its biggest driving force, then feedback and learning loops are at the heart of it.” Chris has a method for this he calls Funky Feedback. There are five steps: 1. You check in with yourself and the person with whom you are working, make sure the shared intention is good and clean and that you are in “the right state” for giving and getting feedback. 2. You share the raw data you have observed about the other (“You produced many ideas.”) 3. You share your interpretations of that data (I think that was a big help and inspiration for all of us participating!”) 4. You share your reaction to the interpretation (I love that and I have confidence in you participating in innovation processes”) 5. The other person reflects upon the feedback and internalizes it.
As a concluding thought, Chris puts it all into the larger perspective. “It is life! It is who we are! We humans have survived this long because we constantly seek new ways to improve things.” In other words, innovation is inevitable. But there are more or less effective ways of doing it.
A conversation with Tommi Vilkamo, Head of Nokia Beta Labs, Helsinki, Finland
Nokia Beta Labs is a lead user community where Nokia can prototype and get feedback on new applications for mobile phones. It has evolved from a blog Tommi started in 2007 to a living community with over 700,000 people having signed in so far. Through Beta Labs, Nokia has tested over 80 applications out of which almost half has made it further up the system. The end goal is of course to launch new products, but Beta Labs is also just a playground where things can happen on a spontaneous basis. Nokia is learning to become better at listening and the users are learning to give better feedback. Beta Labs is only one out of several open innovation initiatives from Nokia.
Even though a lot of Nokia employees spend their free time in the community, running Beta Labs itself on a daily basis is only a small team, acting as a spider between hundreds of Nokia engineers and thousands of users. They are the community gardeners, planting, growing and harvesting from the community. They observe what the community does and listens to what it thinks. “The more than 700,000 community members are an invaluable resource both in terms of innovation and user insight,” Tommi says. “And even though it’s hard to measure the specific financial benefits, there’s no doubt it’s a good investment.”
Then, of course, there are Nokias people creating application prototypes and feeding them into the system. They are the ones really running the show, generating the content that sparks the conversations - the social objects. These social objects can be anything from architecture to football teams to donuts, but you can’t have community without social objects! They frame the conversation.
In online communities, as well as in other areas, the term long tail plays an important role in understanding how people engage. Only the top 10% most active users will generate 80% of the content, and the rest will generate the remaining 20%. Put in a graph, it looks like a tall neck with a long tail. This is also known as the Pareto Principle. In Nokia’s example, with more than one billion users worldwide, even reaching only the top 1% will still create a community of one million people. There is power in numbers.
In Tommi’s work, users can be defined in three different categories: lead users who are the ones on the cutting edge of using our applications, beta testers who are providing insights and information through blogs, and “normal” users who can validate if new innovations will have success in the marketplace. As Beta Labs is a lead user community, Nokia has reached out primarily to tech media and blogs for engaging and inviting people, but are involving the other types of users as well. “However, a community like ours is mostly good for innovation, not validation,” Tommi explains.
It’s crucial that the community is active, and as described previously, some are more active in it than others. Therefore, there’s always the risk of a minority hijacking the conversation. There’s no guarantee that the leading voices know best what will work outside the online frames. Peter Drucker once pointed out that ideas alone won’t move mountains, for that you also need bulldozers. A community like Beta Labs can provide Nokia with invaluable feedback, but going from idea to implementation, you will have to prioritize and make decisions on your own as a company.
The company and community are linked in an oscillating and spiraling process where input becomes output and feedback becomes innovations. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to build up communities for short-term projects. It must be thought long-term, possibly infinite, as a community will, when it’s functioning well, take on a life of its own. Make it to make it last, then you can use it for making smaller projects along the way - feed it with different social objects.
When gardening a community, you have to understand that the value people are looking for is social. Their motivation for joining is intrinsic and they want to feel appreciated. Mixing money into community building doesn’t do any good, actually it’s often counter-productive. What helps building up the community is responding, recognizing and rewarding people whenever they contribute. In Beta Labs the three levels are: 1) if you post something, you get a response, 2) if your idea is good it will be integrated into a new application, and 3) if your idea is really great and you have been active in the development process you will be featured as the originator in the actual finished application.
Using and building online communities is a two-way street. You get what you give and give what you get. You must understand the members of the community and what makes them tick - what gives them value - and provide it to them. In return you also create more value for yourself. Give the people in it social objects to form conversations around and make it clear what is required for them to be part of this community. Build it to last and think long-term relationships. And most important, start small, but just start!
A conversation with Shaun Abrahamson, Organizer at colaboratorie mutopo, New York, USA
What you see in communities, is that where it of course can’t exist without the people, it also can’t exist without its leaders. An example of a great community leader is Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress. He is a developer, yes, but he is also a very smart communicator. He responds to every comment he gets on his blog, and if he needs to communicate to larger audiences, he posts a video. He has understood both the importance of communication as well as the need to scale the conversation tools you use. Other examples are Craig Newmark from craigslist.com or Tim O’Reilly from oreilly.com.
“Crediting is the key word in leading communities,” Shaun says. “It’s not if contributions from people are working, it’s if they’re credited.” The value of innovation communities should therefore be measured, not only in economic terms, but also in more social terms like customer relationship and human resources.
“Crediting depends on where you want people to pitch in. Apple, for instance, is famous for ‘stealing by observing’, which is a one-way approach to innovation, but in the case of the app store, they have opened up and give people the full credit for the applications they develop. Sometimes getting inspired by observing and testing products based on understanding user behavior is the right solution, sometimes it’s more beneficial to open up and have a dialogue or simply let people build on a platform.” Shaun continues. “Of course then you need to find a fair reward system,” he says and points to Triple Eight as an interesting example of an open model where the designers get a share when their products are sold.
Google Search is also an interesting case in this aspect, as it doesn’t exist without user participation. The more we all upload, the more we can all get back. And who hasn’t felt a little excited when googling oneself and seeing that you’re visible out there on the web. We reward ourselves. But our online behavior also leaves “data shadows” that google can trace and harvest. Google provides a service, and we produce our own rewards. In turn we open up for both Google and others to get insight into our lives.
Doing community-based innovation can be placed in between how many or how good the innovations that come out of it are as well as the potential business value in them, and how much the public sentiment towards your organization and the understanding between you and your stakeholders is improving.
You can see it as a graph with two axes. If you then place yourself with a point up both axes, right in the middle, this is the conversation. This is where open innovation, co-creation, and all the other related derivatives are. Working from this place you can change both behavior and sentiment of your users, increase awareness of your organization, develop products, services and experiences as well as save money.
What’s also interesting about this graph is that whereas the people who measure on the communication axis are focusing on a free and open exchange of ideas, the people who focus on measuring on the innovation axis will sue you for doing the same! “But why divide?” Shaun asks. “There is synergy in the interplay between the two worlds.” Kickstarter for example is a good place to look at for the synergetic effect: Your project gets funding and you create awareness around it. A favorite recent example is the Glif Iphone 4 Tripod Mount & Stand
As an example of how he and colaboratorie mutopo have been working on both axises, he mentions a project called Betacup they did with sponsorship from Starbucks to make paper cups disappear. Communicating about sustainability issues is complex – for example, while paper cups are very visible part of waste for Starbucks, they are a relatively very small part of their footprint. With Betacup, a conversation was opened up and people could explore for themselves the challenges of arriving at sustainable solutions from pure economics to local differences in recycling infrastructure. The public sentiment showed clear support for new alternatives around reuse, for example, where much of the conversation had been focused previously only on recycling, there is a clear benefit from a communications perspective. The winning design from the conversation is now on trial on America’s west coast, so on the innovation axis value has been created as well.
A conversation with Daniel Walmsley, Director of Technology, Purpose Campaigns, New York, USA
After many years of valuable innovation generated by volunteers collaborating via the Internet, it’s natural that large corporations want to get a piece of the pie. But too often they fail - not because of a failure of engineering, but because they don’t understand the personal passions that drive the contributors.
Daniel: “The new generation of online tools favors overall success over institutional survival. The 21st century is no place for corporations seeking to survive indefinitely no matter what they produce. Instead the tools we have favor more goal-oriented projects that solve specific needs that participants have collectively identified. This is where people will put their energy, their passion, voluntarily. And because it’s so easy to share positive and negative results, this is where innovation happens.”
Daniel points to an online collaboration tool called BetterMeans, intended for building and managing decentralized organizations. “The part that excites me the most about it is that people contribute to projects based on where their energy and motivation is, rather than where a HR manager has told them they must work, yet they are still given strong incentives for delivering useful results. You could call it passion-driven collaboration. It takes all the simplistic approximations of industrial-era capacity planning and throws them out the window.”
If these tools are to be adopted by existing companies, scale helps. “When you’re introducing them to an existing workforce, these tools follow the online rule of 1/9/90. 1% will use it and get it. Another 9% will just use it, and 90% will ignore it. If your company is smaller than 25 people then these tools won’t reach critical mass, and usage will quickly drop off. That’s why it’s good to open up your company to as much external collaboration and innovation as possible.”
Through simple communication tools, like YouTube or 4chan where the media is clearly defined and it’s easy to participate, you can see examples of how ideas can spread very fast - if they are appealing. But it’s hard to predict which ones will really take off. The internet is like one big, collaborative brain. What’s really interesting is how ideas in the heads of people will find their way on the internet and back again into the physical world.
Where ideas successfully make that journey is when they take on their own life. A good example of that is Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s recent Rally To Restore Sanity / March To Keep Fear Alive. The whole thing actually started with a post on reddit.com where a user supposedly had dreamt up the concept. The idea gained foothold and then found it’s way to donorschoose.org where reddit users donated $500,000 to get Stephen Colbert’s attention, as he was already planning a Restoring Truthiness Rally - a mock rally in response to Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor event. They got his attention! All this was not possible before, but with the emergence of social media, it is now. In self-organizing ways, crowds can now empower individuals who then in turn can give something back to the crowd. And it starts with an idea and spreads through passion.
Through his work Daniel has identified some key factors for how you can help ideas spread. “For people to take part of an idea it needs to link into their own purpose; it must give them some sense of belonging. Feeling part of something bigger starts from within. The idea must also lead towards achieving something new and the objective must be clear. Empower people, give them a voice and creative freedom and a movement around your idea could be in the making. And make it fun!”
A conversation with Christian Schneider, Design Thinking Mentor and Tutor and former Design Manager and Director of IDEO Milan, Hamburg, Germany
Christian Schneider was one of the pioneers trying to communicate the user-centered design approach right from its beginning in the early nineties. “It is really about taking a closer look to peoples’ life, exploring and building on your understanding to create applications that make sense. The field has now evolved naturally into what we call design thinking,” Christian says. “It is democratic in thought and its processes applies beyond design.”
To design for relevance you first take a close look at real life and then add technologies. You need both qualitative and quantitative research around the behavior patterns of the users of a given product, service or experience, and you need to do it from multiple angles. The art is to get under the skin of what you are working with, and for that you need patience and at least two persons. You illuminate your insights with perspectives coming from different backgrounds. Design thinking and user-centered design is a team effort.
Design was always driven by technology: What are the newest materials? What is possible to do with the latest breakthroughs? After what Christian calls the Millennium Clash, fueled by the economical and ecological crises, the world realized that we need to start working in different ways. We don’t need more elitist solutions, but rather qualitative understanding. With globalization, our problems have also become global and our old systems don’t have the capacity to solve them. “We’re getting to a new world order. The Millennium Clash has awakened people’s sense of responsibility and is engaging innovation. We need to overcome our challenges differently,” Christian argues, “and design thinking can do that; not design. Even though design is dealing with many issues, it deals with them only on the surface.”
If you want innovation to happen, you must involve people. You can develop all the packaged and clever concepts and create all the shiny presentations you want, but where innovation really emerges is through the spontaneous interactions between people. If people are connected and stay in contact on a regular and spontaneous basis, ideas and innovations will start popping up. You can’t really plan for it to happen, but you can, however, create frames that promote it. And it happens through connecting people, not institutions.
Keeping multiple perspectives and connecting people, user-driven innovation has an important part to play, but it cannot stand alone. As a method it aims to make obvious the tasks you want to solve. Having your users innovate with you as an organization validates your design choices as well as strategic decisions, but applied separately it has only little value. User-driven innovation is definitely part of the process, but it’s also just part of the process.
There is something on the rise and the emerging field is still trying to define itself. There are no precedents to the situation we’re in now, all of us, so nobody knows for sure what’s around the corner. Working in these lost and unknown spaces requires being open for allowing diverse inputs and seeing and understanding the potentials there are. It is complex work, because whatever we work with, human beings are always involved, and human beings are complex. We must explore this together and leaders and guides are in demand. We need more people who understand emerging behavior patterns, and we need to combine the perspectives to illuminate the insights. It is a network of filters that can provide us with the light we need to see.
A conversation with Jeppe Spure Nielsen, Project Leader of HandiVision at Alexandra Instituttet, Aarhus, Denmark
Innovating and designing with end users is worthwhile, but it starts with culture.
Jeppe and HandiVision is exploring how to develop aids for the mentally and physically handicapped by involving them in the design process. The project has over 20 partners and is aiming to both test known methods for user-driven innovation and develop new ones. “And engaging the end users,” Jeppe emphasizes.
He draws attention to two of the cases he has been working with during the project. One case is that of Egmont Højskolen, an educational facility for handicapped people where they have been working with creating services to provide to companies, such as The Accessibility Police - a concept where the students test spaces and products to see if they live up to their demands. The other case is that of Landsbyen Sølund, which is a community for people with all types of handicaps. Here they have been working on involving the community in testing and designing different services to themselves, for instance a “Snoezelhouse” where the members of the community can go to get their five senses stimulated.
Through the project, Jeppe has identified some obstacles to overcome before he sees user-driven innovation in the health sector successfully implemented. Companies often want to keep their cards close out of fear of others stealing their ideas before they get them patented. Furthermore, the value chain in Denmark for implementing new products in the health area is not supporting innovation. Companies are producing to a big market and are basing their production on what is in demand in the public sector. This also means that new products can have a long way to go before reaching the end users. “There is what you could call a glass wall between the companies and the handicapped,” Jeppe explains.
So far, the project has enjoyed great success with many of the initiatives, and involving end users in the health sector can definitely be a worthwhile way to go. However, Jeppe has a point: “User-driven innovation is just another method. What really is important is that the frames for innovation are there. The innovative culture must come first.” And for that to happen, in the majority of cases Jeppe has seen, the host organization must be lead by people who are open towards innovation. Implementing user-driven innovation starts with the culture and a good place to start with the culture is with the leaders.
And Jeppe has another important point. “When working with user-driven innovation, especially in the case of giving the end users toolkits for designing themselves, it is imperative that the methods are being customized to both the field and the organization with which you are working. They should bridge the company culture and the community culture. And again, before that can happen, the cultures must be open for innovation.”