Research Overview: Co-production, Design and Innovation

Co-production is a core activity of the MEDEA Collaborative Media Initiative. As such it may also be seen as a major research field. Co-production has to do with collaboration between universities, industry, public sector and other actors to create, improve and innovate products, services, processes and strategies in ways that are beneficial for all involved parties.

This article is part of a series describing the research fields we work within: Interaction Design, Media and Communication Studies and Co-production, Design & Innovation.

This page was created on Apr 20, 2010, and last revised on Feb 4, 2011.

The concept is very much in the making, but relates to new ways of collaborative knowledge production going beyond a technology and science driven university “push” strategy for knowledge transfer. The best known models for collaborative knowledge production include Triple Helix suggesting (regional) hybrid organizations like incubators in the intersection between university, industry and the public sphere (Etzkowitz and Leydsdorff 2000), and Mode 2 emphasizing innovation arrangements that support transdisciplinarity, social accountability and use-dependence in a socially distributed knowledge production system (Gibbons et al 1994).

In MEDEA, we specifically focus on co-production as collaborative design and innovation. With Collaborative design and innovation studies we specifically denote a focus on co-production relations in the intersection of the related fields of Participatory design, as an orientation within Design research, and User driven innovation, as a specific orientation within Innovation studies. User driven innovation has more of an economic, managerial and organization theory background and context, whereas Participatory design may be seen towards a background of reflection in not only design research, but also e.g. anthropology and science and technology studies (STS). At Malmö university and MEDEA we have a long-term track record in conducting Participatory design research (Ehn 1988, Gislén 2003, Hillgren 2006, Björgvinsson 2007, Binder et al 2008, Ehn 2008). From this point of departure we seek to expand towards, and integrate with, more managerial and organizational theory approaches to user driven innovation.

User driven innovation and co-production in a managerial research tradition is especially associated with research on “lead users” and “democratizing innovation” (von Hippel 2005) and details the business potential of lead user innovation and the conditions that lead to new products and services. Innovation strategies and phenomena such as ”open source”, and lately even more ”open hardware” and ”creative commons” are also explored in this tradition. In general User driven innovation research may address e.g. business models, organizational design and company structures, the role of leadership and culture, tools and technologies, and intellectual property in open and user driven innovation. A central concept is “open innovation”, which introduced a new innovation model exploring collaboration across company borders combining internal and external paths to market, opening the generation of ideas from only inside the firm and revising the concept of innovation and its locus (Chesbrough, 2003). The revision and an extension of the open innovation model as developed by Pralahad and Krishnan (2008) identify two major changes and challenges, which have emerged in the new business environment. These changes concern on the one hand customer relationships and on the other availability of and access to resources. The company product-centric view is being replaced by co-creation of value and personalized experiences. The use of collaborative media (online portals, social networking sites and search engines) exemplifies such a more customer-centric view on services. Industry is moving from vertically integrated firms to sourcing of critical components from suppliers, and further to global supply chains with access to specialists and low-cost resources. While the view of the individual innovator still prevails, it is becoming increasingly challenged by the collaborative business environment as a basis for innovation. The latter underlines the strategic significance of collaborative media for innovation. The realisation of these benefits requires new perspectives on knowledge and competitiveness, on aggregated team, project, organisational and network levels. User driven innovation and collaborative media tools referred to as Enterprise 2.0 allow for more spontaneous, knowledge-based collaboration (McAfee 2006, 2009). Collaborative media technologies have a potential for companies’ innovation by capturing dispersed and fast-changing knowledge, highlight and leverage expertise, generate and refine ideas, and as ”crowdsourcing” harness “the wisdom of crowds” (Surowiecki 2004). There are also more critical perspectives on participatory innovation (Buur and Matthew 2008).

The idea of Living Labs may also be seen in perspective of the research agenda for User driven innovation. Living Labs are planned as open innovation social and technical platforms and venues that may be integrated with the overall innovation system in a city or a region. As such they invite collaboration between people, companies, public agencies, cultural organizations and NGOs, in new business models opening the borders between users driving innovation, business incubators, research and education. Living Labs as a collaborative design and innovation concept and strategy is at the same time central to Participatory design and an approach that bridges User driven innovation studies and contemporary research within the Participatory design tradition (Björgvinsson and Hillgren, forthcoming, Ehn 2008).

The Participatory design tradition originates out of Kristen Nygaard’s pioneering work in the 1970s on democratization and user involvement in implementation of information technology at the workplace (see Bjerknes et al 1987, Schuler and Namioka 1993). Participatory design is a diverse collection of principles and practices aimed at making technologies, tools, environments, businesses, and social institutions more responsive to human needs. It brings together a multidisciplinary group of researchers, interaction designers, software specialists, practitioners, users, cultural workers, activists and citizens who both advocate and adopt distinctively participatory approaches in the design of information and communication products, systems, services and technology. A central tenet of Participatory design is the direct involvement of people in the co-design of things and technologies they use. A central concern has always been to understand how collaborative design processes can be driven by the participation of the people affected by the technology designed.

Over the years Participatory design has been integrated with new media, interaction design, communication studies, computer supported cooperative work (CSCW), healthcare, architecture, industrial design, art, etc. Especially (design) anthropology and Science and Technology Studies (STS) have had a major influence on the contemporary Participatory design research agenda. Current Participatory design research is also closely aligned with collaborative design approaches within the fields of Service design, Design thinking and Design for sustainability.

Today Participatory design offers design of coherent visions for change, combining business oriented and socially sensitive approaches, initiating participation and partnerships with different stakeholders, using ethnographic analysis as part of the design process, establishing mutual learning processes among stakeholders, conducting iterative experiments aiming at organizational change and providing a large toolbox of different practical techniques to engage stakeholders in co-design activities throughout innovation processes (e.g. Greenbaum and Kyng 1991, Bødker et al 2004, Halse et al 2010).

Hence, taken alone, Participatory design and innovation is a relatively mature research field with the Participatory Design Conferences (PDC) held every two years since 1990 forming an important venue for international discussion of the collaborative, social, and political dimensions of technology, innovation and use. Other academic settings for publication and discourse is spread among disciplines but include major international conferences like DIS (Design of Interactive Systems) and HCI (Human Computer Interaction), as well as academic journals like Co-design, Design studies and Design Issues.


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This page was created on Apr 20, 2010, and last revised on Feb 4, 2011.