Funded by Academy of Finland 2011-2014

Project Description

For decades it was assumed that advances in technology (and innovation in general) stem only from research and development intensive firms or research institutions. Contrary to this still dominant belief, research has shown that a significant share of industrial or consumer products have been developed and significantly modified by users. Success stories such as Linux, Mozilla, Wikipedia have added to the high hopes about the potential that user innovation could hold in “democratizing innovation” and enhancing productivity. The high hopes are, however, only partly based on what research has established about user involvement in innovation to date.

The user innovation pathways to utility (UIP) project focuses on one of the key issues, which has received insufficient attention to date, namely, how user contributions to innovation turn to have more general value and utility and what impediments to their proliferation and refinement exists? In other words, what are the pathways users’ inventions and their more minor contributions must travel before they become societally valuable. Research on this topic within economics, design research, sociology of technology and innovation studies all identify this topic as important but have only begun to address the question.

We have elected to focus on three complementary cases:

Case 1 Pathways of user contributions to innovation in the evolution of social media site,

Case 2 Pathway of user-led innovation in producer-led organization,

Case 3 Pathways of user innovations in greener energy generation and consumption.

The findings of the case studies will also be compared in order to address the main aims of the project.

We will employ multiple data sources (qualitative interviews, field observation, artefact analysis, analysis of media content and internet mediated communication, design experiments) and scales of analysis as we move from work by individuals to networks and organizations.

UIP produces relevant information in regard to citizens and organizations engaged in user innovation as well as for renewing existing corporate practices and public innovation support mechanisms—this is presently particularly timely as several OECD countries, Finland included, are drafting new policy support actions targeting user innovation.