Performing temporary spaces for user driven innovation

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1. Summary

The partners in the alliance are coming from DTU, DKDS and CU having a common focus on user involvement in innovation. The research takes the outset in the identification and performance of temporary, provisional spaces where a variety of actors are assembled with the aim of fostering innovation through an engagement with existing and imagined practices. In contrast to most previous work on user-driven innovation our approach does not hinge on the existence of established communities of users, which designers can ‘tap into’ and inter-act with. Our research will explore situations where the staging of temporary spaces for innovation can lead to the creation of new practices and emerging artefacts through open-ended interaction.

The alliance’s draws on actor-network-theory, practice theory, social learning and design research underpinning that innovation entails series of translations. The research is organised in three phases:

1.         Drawing on the partner’s earlier research complemented by an overview and analysis of contemporary approaches to user-driven innovation the alliance’s methodology will be refined.

2.         The core of the research will be organised within four projects each emphasising a specific mode of inquiry and covering a number of different sites for user engagement. The projects study how users and innovations are co-constructed within temporary spaces and will produce a repertoire of methods that can help understanding and support co-creation.

3.         The activities will be finalised with a synthesis and outline of how to stage and improve design education, design practice, and innovation management.

The alliance collaborates with international researchers and facilitates exchange through publications, seminars, and international conferences. All partners are engaged in education and professional training opening for continued interaction with students and practitioners in design and innovation.

2. Objective of the project

The alliance will accommodate research and outreach activities with the aim of developing a repertoire of methods capable of enabling user-driven innovation as the performing of temporary spaces under conditions of uncertainty. This development will utilize the achievements in the sociology and history of technology (STS). The objectives of the alliance encompass:

·            explore and describe contemporary methods and approaches in user-driven innovation;

·            develop an understanding of the co-construction of users, processes, and artefacts throughout the design process;

·            refine a research methodology connecting ethnographic studies of practices, interventions in design laboratories and informed design competences bound together by translation processes;

·            carry out projects based on a research methodology and produce a repertoire of methods to be used in staging processes of user-driven innovation and the co-construction of artefacts;

·            facilitate a number of research projects creating sites for experimenting with the concept of temporary spaces through a series of inter-active case studies; and

·            synthesize and position the repertoire of methods into recommendations for the staging of user-driven innovation within public and private companies and organisations.

3. The main results of the project

The alliance is organized as a close and innovative collaboration between three research groups based in Copenhagen. The partners contribute with distinct competencies from ethnology, design research and socio-technical analysis to the cooperation. The partners have defined an overarching theoretical vocabulary, a common list of hypotheses, and a workshop-style organization, which will enable joint efforts on the empirical, experimental, and educational dimensions. Moreover, the alliance will engage a number of internationally recognized researchers within the broad and fast-moving field of user-driven innovation and will organise international research activities generating a solid foundation basis for world class research and publications positioning Danish research in this growing international field.

The societal contributions of the alliance will be equally strong. It will instigate a systematic investigation and reflection on conditions, processes and methods which contribute to user-driven innovation in Danish companies and organizations beyond existing user configurations. The novel and transformative approach taken here is based on the identification and enactment of temporary and provisional spaces engaging users not yet identified and in the process of being constituted to enable new types of use and practice and corresponding innovative designs. The research approach will have a substantial ‘dialogical’ tone investigating temporary spaces for user-driven innovation in close collaboration with leading practitioners in a number of different sectors of society. Together with these practitioners, the alliance will develop new concepts and tools for user-driven innovation.

Finally, the planned activities include continual efforts to bring strategic research into master-level educational programmes in the partners’ institutions. The next generation of professionals in user-driven innovation will thus benefit in a very immediate way.

4. Background and hypothesis of the project

Research on user-driven innovation has mainly focused on situations where ‘the user’ and ‘the use’ is in an already configured state; Studies of lead user innovation (von Hippel 2005) investigate users, such as surfers or open source developers, who are innovative within their strong and well-established communities. Studies of professional user-producer relations also take the well-established community of practice, such as the work practice of dairy technicians or medical doctors, as their point of departure. In these studies, the user can give expert advice, precisely because he or she is competent within a well-established practice (Christensen & Lundwall 2004). Even in processes of participatory design, the interests, the needs, the abilities and the identity of the user is often taken for granted to a large extent

However, many activities resulting in innovations are more temporary, more provisional, more varied, and more volatile than the examples above. Furthermore many innovative concepts, arrangements, designs, and products generate new practices (Mackay 2000). Taken together, this points to the need for practical and theoretical spaces for user-driven innovation, which do not build on existing patterns of use and users, but nurtures the emergence of new configurations of use, users and artefacts (Oudshorn & Pinch 2003). It suggests the importance of spaces for assembling, combining, exploring and generating new constellations of designs, products, meanings and practices. We call these spaces and the corresponding sites of interaction ‘temporary spaces’. We also recognise that potentially fruitful interactions are not just limited in time. Temporary spaces are characterised by being provisional and volatile networks of actors and artefacts, yet having the crucial function of bringing together those actors that have in common the capacity to engender innovative ideas and include often marginalised users, non-users, or users-to-be in triggering a redefinition of established practices and in enabling transformative ideas.

Our purpose is to create a research alliance dedicated to the task of tracing, enhancing, improving, and reflecting upon emerging design practices, in close dialogue with practitioners. The activities are organised with the following hypotheses as the outset:

·            Deliberately designed ‘temporary spaces’ of innovation can produce novel designs and transform and redefine existing user configurations around emergent types of practice and artefacts.

·            Active interventions through structured ‘design laboratories’ can trigger actors to engage in redefining their focus and practices.

·            A close examination of the staging, structuring and equipment of the temporary space is crucial to understand its potential to translate existing practices and their limitations into the generation of novel ideas, artefacts, and configurations in subsequent practices.

In the work, we will draw upon Science and Technology Studies and especially actor-network theory (ANT). ANT has developed a material-semiotic vocabulary (Latour 2005) and a series of exemplary case studies of power, knowledge and innovation (Latour 1996; Callon 1986; Law 2002). ANT is an analytical tool well suited to trace how temporary spaces of innovation translate, assemble and creatively combine and reframe a variety of resources and practices (Elgaard Jensen 2008) creating new alignments and reconfiguring relations. In this respect it is more than simply a descriptive framework as it facilitates engagements with socio-material processes (Vikkelsø 2007). Moreover, ANT was developed in, and remains in, close and productive dialogue with the other theoretical resources, which we will mention in the following.  We therefore expect considerable compatibility and synergy between our theoretical sources of inspiration.

We will draw on practice theory (Shove et al 2007; Suchman 2007) and the related tradition of social studies of learning (Schön 1983; Weick 1996; Wenger 1998). These sources provide exemplary studies and a theoretical vocabulary for understanding action and agency in sense-making practices, situated negotiations, and processes of reproduction and transformation that a.o. makes it possible to address the ‘interface’ between personal trajectories and collective attempts to develop shared discourses and practices (Wetherell 1998; Davies & Harré 1990), and will support the analysis and transformation of users’ roles before, during, and after participation in a temporary design space.

Lastly, the domain of design research is highly relevant to our alliance due to its specific investigations of the relation between design and use (Redström 2006), of critical design interventions (Dunne 2006), and of co-creation (Sanders & Stappers 2008) as well as concepts of performance, rehearsal and liminality within performance studies (Turner 1987). Design research is closely and productively linked with design experimentation, and there has been a series of interesting attempts to conceptualize co-design processes in terms of language games (Ehn 2006) and co-designed objects as boundary object (Star 1995). Design research has also engaged directly with and reflected upon specific forms of temporary innovative space (e.g. Design laboratories, see Binder & Brandt 2008).