One problem with the user-innovation model is that it can run into intellectual property rights protections. But the potential for creating new companies has led the government of Denmark to establish user-driven innovation as a policy. It found that Danish companies tended not to push for technological innovation, so user innovation may be the way to help them compete more effectively in a global economy.
The Danish government’s October 2005 report – User-Driven Innovation – Results and Recommendations highlights not just technology innovation — but product design. They specifically look at three industries in the US: electronics, medical devices and fashion. The results were seven recommendations:
1. Establishing an interdisciplinary education in user-driven innovation.
It is recommended that an interdisciplinary education be established, uniting academic disciplines necessary to analyse and assess customer needs and customer experiences.
Academic disciplines include psychology, sociology, ethnography and anthropology; disciplines that all relate to people, communities and society. A common deniminator for the disciplines could be human factors. The education may be designed as a superimposed course and could be offered as a graduate or master degree. The programme should be tied to a faculty, whose academic record creates a platform for research and education in human factors and related tool subjects.
2. Research. It is recommended that a university research institute supported by significant government funds that could spear-head research in the areas of human factors and consumer behaviour be established. High-quality research could also support a human resource master degree.
In the academic disciplines that constitute human factors, research constantly gains new insights. It must be expected that research in factors that motivate human behaviour may provide valuable insights. Often research is carried out in the cross section between the various disciplines.
The research institute should be established in a university with a strong record in human factor research.
3. Educational programmes in existing education. It is recommended that a short, yet comprehensive, educational programmes in the area of human factors be established. Innovation is more and more becoming a team-discipline, which necessitates the involvement of various professional skills and cultures. If user-driven innovation is to make a significant impact it is vital that different academic groups have a profound knowledge of human factor disciplines.
4. Life-long training. It is recommended that an extensive life-long learning programme in the area of human factors be established. Public co-financing of new courses in human factors could be tied to the supply of such programmes.
The organisation of life-long learning in human factors should be carried out in close cooperation with regional companies. The regional companies should also co-finance the strengthening of their employees’ skills.
5. Knowledge- and innovation centres. It is recommended that universities and other knowledge institutions in close cooperation with private companies establish knowledge and innovation centres, where interdisciplinary research teams can work with user-driven innovation and new technology in areas of interest to the Danish business community.
Basic research provides the core foundation for the research efforts, but should be supplemented by applied research when fulfilling the full potential of the basic research.
As new technology became a key competitive element, new institues emerged whose core purpose were to make proper use of basic research in natural science. The Academy for Technical Science is one such institute.
The increased focus on customer understanding will be an important source of competitiveness in the future. This is supported by recent developments in leading business clusters around the world. The practical use of human factor knowledge will be a key competitive factor in the future.
This may be approached in a variety of ways. The latest initatives coming out of Stanford are inspiring. Stanford University has set up 3 knowledge and innovation centres; Bio-X, Media-X and d.school. The centres are built on an interdisciplinary approach and aim to strengthen co-operation with the business community with regards to specific innovation projects. Bio-X focuses on biotechnology; however, the research efforts are combined with other research areas. Media-X is primarily focused on media research, but will also involve other research areas. d.school is a design centre which aims to combine design knowledge with customer understanding.
The university provides access to the necessary facilities but leaves it to interdisciplinary teams to compete for research facilities. The university then selects the most promising research projects. The three centers place emphasis on co-operation with private companies on specific innovation projects.
Other US universities have applied a similar approach. CITRIS at Berkeley is currently planning a research- and innovation project with the Alexandra Institute at Aarhus University, which in time will involve the participation of Danish and US companies.
The creation of interdisciplinary knowledge and innovation centres should take into account unique Danish skills and the structure of the Danish business community.
We recommend that a number of knowledge- and innovation centres that combine research on human factors with natural science, technical and commercial disciplines be established. The centres could potentially cover areas such as foods, health, medicine and medical devices, electronics, IT, energy and environmental technologies, fashion and housing. It should be made a condition that research and knowledge building is interdisciplinary and that the centres cover concrete innovation projects with the participation of private companies. To secure a coupling a knowledge building and business demands, the establishment of knowledge and innovation centres requires co-financing from the business community as well as from local authorities.
6. Networking. It is recommended that autonomous network organisations that may promote a networking culture within Danish business clusters be established. This will necessitate a public-private partnership, as public institutions often assume important roles in knowledge networks.
The networks are increasingly important to a company’s knowledge and competence building. Strong networks are thus important factors in economies, where innovation has become the key competitive element.
The analysis confirms that large companies and companies in strong business clusters have a proven track record in the area of user-driven innovation.
The analysis confirms that the Danish networking culture is underdeveloped as compared to the world’s leading business clusters. While this is hardly surprising, it underlines the need for a stronger Danish networking culture. A stronger Danish cluster creation will increase the proliferation of user-driven innovation.
The report highlights specific examples of autonomous international networking organisations. This is in line with several business analyses which shows that the presence of autonomous networking organisations is a precondition for the creation of strong networks.
Companies and knowledge institutions with a commercial interest in network knowledge sharing are not capable of running the network. The risk of a conflict of interest is too large. This also applies to traditional industry organisations, since they are supposed to manage their members’ interests. In Denmark and abroad we find examples of independent network organisations that have been established as public-private partnerships, but there appears to be a demand for additional networks.
7. Networking architects. It is recommended that courses in regional development and cluster creation be offered.
It requires a specific set of skills to successfully run a network. Among other things networks require interpersonal skills, as well as more down-to-earth tools. The increased focus on networks and the emergence of networking organisations underline the need for developing and communicating tools for network facilitators.
The seven recommendations presented above will strengthen the innovation efforts of Danish companies. User-driven innovation is merely one element in the renewal process that companies will have to address across the entire value chain. However, when looking at the markets where Danish companies compete, user-driven innovation remains one of the key factors in increasing competitive powers. A dedicated effort may propel Denmark to become one of the world’s most advanced countries in the area of user-driven innovation.
I was especially pleased to see the attention given to “knowledge centers” such as the Stanford University d.school. Too bad it doesn’t get the same attention from policymakers here in the US.
It should be noted that the Danish strategy is not just based on user-driven innovation, but on entrepreneurship (see the July 2005 presentation)
One other organizational part of the Danish strategy is the
Danish User-centered Innovation Lab (DUCI lab) — a collaboration between faculty at Copenhagen Business School, Aarhus School of Business and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, based at Copenhagen Business School. Supported by both companies and the government, the lab works directly on best practices in user-driven innovation (Erik von Hippel is on the lab’s staff).
It remains to be seen whether Denmark will be successful. Fitzgerald notes:
Skeptics argue that Denmark is both small — population, 5.4 million — and a backwater of innovation, and thus has little to lose in trying something new. They might also point out that even in Denmark, Mr. von Hippel’s ideas are up against more conventional forms of user-aided design, such as sending anthropologists to study how people use products in their daily lives. Companies then translate their research into new designs.
I have to say that, however, that those “skeptics” may not know what they are talking about, especially if they describe Denmark as an innovation backwater. Not only is that incorrect, but the latest EU Innovation Scorecard listed Denmark as an innovative leader, while the US was ranked as an innovation follower.
Maybe Denmark is an innovation leader because of its innovation strategy that embraces bottom-up innovation? Maybe the US should think about that? Just maybe . . .