Service innovations derive from dialogue and collaborative learning with users

Modern economies are based on service- and knowledge-intensiveness. In Western countries, services account for more than 70% of the GDP.

The structures of our service society need a reform, but we also need to consider how we could develop our organisations  to be able to produce renewals and service innovations themselves. The focus should be placed on understanding the grassroots level of development: the development of suitable human competencies and interactions that contribute to the development of service innovations.

Service innovations mean new, creative and efficient ways for organising services and business operations. Technological development and digitalization serves as an important driver for the development of new kind of services. However, the innovation itself is often based on its social aspects, such as a new way of organising the service and renewing the roles of the service provider and user in its provision.

Key issue: collaboration and learning from the users

During my dissertation work, I noticed that collaboration and the ability to learn from service users are the most important prerequisites of generating of service innovations. The results of collaborative learning emerge in interaction between the users, employees and the management.

In earlier studies, the active role of users and learning with them have been identified as major contributing factors for service innovations, but this activity has not been described in concrete terms.

The results of my dissertation describe how essential it is for service providers to understand the goals of the service users’ activities and their everyday problems and to create solutions that better meet them. For example, the Uber taxi service has brought a new, cost-efficient transport service on the market.

In addition, service users are an important source of innovation; they are capable of generating ideas and implementing service innovations in practice. The City of Hämeenlinna, for example, empowered its residents to generate ideas and implement the kind of service reforms they wanted. This resulted in hundreds of service reforms, of which we could mention as examples a life-cycle café for older people and school children, and a sports club for young men in danger of social exclusion.

Path towards the generation of service innovations:

To generate service innovations, organisations should invest in their capability to learn from service users and create services that best serve the goals of their activities. In the following, I describe five theses with the help of which organisations can start developing their operations in this direction:

  1. Respect the service users: For an organisation that intends to generate innovations, it is important to understand the goals of their users’ and to develop solutions to better meet them. The understanding of users’ aims is best established in dialogue: by hearing the users and getting to know their operating environment. The organisation should respect the users and their ideas.
  2. Make deliberate efforts to learn from service users: Service innovations often emerge as novel solutions to mundane problems that can be generalised. Make deliberate efforts to involve service users in both practical decision-making and strategic situations that steer the activities.Lead-users, or pioneers within the field, in particular are important collaborators when seeking a strategic direction for an organisation. The organisation may, for example, take advantage of the views of the pioneers in their strategic work, when foresighting changes in their operating environment and evaluating their past operations.
  3. Encourage collaborative experimentation: Innovative service solutions often emerge as a result of practical learning experiments. Service users can also be mandated to come up with new solutions themselves. This requires that the organisation has tolerance to failure and that it conducts several learning experiments with the users.
  4. Make space for joint evaluation: Changed practices often generate new insights. Innovation requires that these insights are put into practice, since an insight without a practical solution is not yet an innovation. Space must be made for joint evaluation, the kind of learning situations where experiences from collaboration with users can be evaluated in a critical manner and these evaluations are used as a basis for changing the organisation’s operations.
  5. Create systematic practices for collaborative learning: The responsibility for creating innovations lies with both the management and the employees. The generation of innovations cannot be left to random ideation and implementation capacity. Invest in building the kind of systematic learning practices through which the employees and the management encounter the service users and collaborative reflect the results of that collaboration.

My dissertation “Collaborative learning with users as an enabler of service innovation (Yhteistoiminnallinen oppiminen käyttäjien kanssa palveluinnovaatioiden mahdollistajana)” is available online.

Katri Kallio,

Research scientist

Katri Kallio’s viva voce examination will be held at Aalto University on 13 November. 

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