Living Lab Approach
Throughout the first months of the Reveal project, its user partners have to define user requirements for the project with the aim of making REVEAL’s outcomes as relevant as possible for potential end users. Many steps are involved in that initial project phase, including a market analysis, literature studies as well as interviews with potential end-users (more about the work packages here).
SINTEF is one of REVEAL’s partners responsible for collecting requirements and feedback, guaranteeing that the project is aligned with the needs of potential end users of REVEAL developments.
We met with Asbjørn Følstad, senior researcher at SINTEF in Oslo, Norway, in order to find out more about their Living Lab approach.
Q.: First things first: why is it so important to include potential end users at the beginning of development projects?
Asbjørn Følstad: The success of new technology depends on its fit with users’ needs and desires. If you as a user are expected to change your habits and include a new technology in your working or personal life, it needs to serve you better than the technology that is already available to you; or it needs to help you solve a problem for which you do not yet have a working solution. However, users’ needs and desires may not be evident immediately. In particular for specialized professional work, it can be difficult to know up front what kind of technology users need. In such projects it will be particularly important to involve end users as early as possible in order to get a better understanding of the work context of which the new technology is to become a part, and identify the respective user requirements accordingly.
Q.: What are some of the obstacles you have encountered while collecting user requirements?
A.F.: Collecting user requirements is inherently challenging. Some theorists argue, and rightly so, that the complexity of professional work may make it nearly impossible to establish a comprehensive set of user requirements prior to development. There are several reasons for this. Work practices may only be partially explicated through formal work descriptions. Experienced professionals may not be able to summarize all important aspects of their work. And the character of the workplace may be evolving, for example due to technological progress.
Q.: How do you tackle these challenges? What is SINTEF’s approach?
A.F.: Our approach to user requirements gathering is two-fold. Firstly, we see the need to involve users in an initial collecting of user requirements as a starting point for the innovation process. For such an initial collection of requirements, well-tried approaches such as interviews and field studies are very useful. Secondly, we see the need to question and revisit these requirements throughout the innovation process when users are involved in the evaluation of concepts and prototypes. In particular, questioning and revisiting the requirements is important in the development of highly innovative technologies, as the user requirements may be particularly difficult to establish up front. At SINTEF we use an online Living Lab to involve users during the development of concepts and prototypes, for design feedback and renewed insights into user requirements.
Q.: How does the Living Lab approach work exactly?
A.F.: A Living Lab is an environment in which users and other stakeholders are involved in innovation processes in the context of their everyday life. At SINTEF we use an online environment to present early concepts and prototypes to ad-hoc groups of users for design feedback. In such an environment users can tell us how and why proposed concepts and prototypes match their needs and desires, the challenges they see, as well as suggestions for redesign. In addition to providing insights into how a given concept or prototype can be redesigned, such feedback gives us renewed and refined insights into what users actually need, and what their requirements are.
Q.: How do you intend to use the Living Lab approach in the REVEAL project?
A.F.: In REVEAL we intend to involve prospective future users of the REVEAL applications, such as journalists, students of journalism, and enterprise community members in the online Living Lab for feedback on early concepts and prototypes. Doing so, we intend to gain the needed refined insights into these user groups’ needs and requirements. The plan is to identify the Living Lab participants during the first six months of the project. After this, we want to engage them in feedback activities throughout the project’s lifecycle.
Q.: What are the advantages of such an approach?
A.F.: The use of an online environment for user involvement allows relative large numbers of geographically dispersed users to participate, something that makes user involvement efficient and flexible. Compared to face-to-face workshops or focus groups you loose some depth in the individual participants’ answers, but at the same time you get a broader spectrum of constructive and challenging input. In REVEAL, the Living Lab approach will be a way to make sure that the innovations we end up providing are appreciated and considered as valuable by the end users.
Thank you very much for this interview.
If you want to find out more about SINTEF’s online Living Lab, check out their website.
Also, here you can find more information about the Living Lab Approach as a PDF file.
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