To enable genuine interaction between consumers and companies, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has been developing tools and methods for web-based co-design for years. The new methods give consumers more power to make a difference, and provide companies with a direct connection with the users of their services. Owela (Open Web Lab), a platform for user-driven innovation, was developed as part of the doctoral dissertation work of VTT's Research Scientist Pirjo Friedrich. Through this platform, companies can monitor the experiences of the users of their services in real time and use the information thus obtained in development of the services.
Users have long been able to participate in companies' design and innovation processes through social media. However, practical collaboration has proved difficult because users lack relevant tools and motivation. The multifaceted Owela platform consists of a blog-based discussion platform, user diaries, real-time online chatting, online surveys, and polls, all of which can be used flexibly for various design and innovation purposes.
In particular, Owela provides excellent support for co-design, with company representatives and users engaging in genuine dialogue with each other online. Thanks to this continuous dialogue, the company can receive feedback from its customer at short notice, along with ideas for product and service development.
Owela has already been used for more than one hundred co-development projects, and feedback from client companies has been positive. Applications of Owela include research projects, for example, with users given access to a certain online service for a trial period. During this period, users report their experiences with the service through Owela and provide suggestions for further development and improvement. "Company representatives can thus monitor the operation of the service in actual use and in real time. They can quickly react to any surprises or problems that may arise during the trial," Friedrich says.
Genuine power to influence motivates consumers
Through social media, users can easily participate in the development of services when it suits them. When a company uses social media to develop its services openly in collaboration with users, users' feedback must be taken seriously. To ensure their motivation, the users must also be given a certain amount of power in decision-making.
A model for agile user-driven software development was also developed as part of the dissertation project. "When web-based co-design is combined with agile software development, users can follow closely as their ideas are turned into a functional application. Thus the motivation remains high both for users and for developers who receive feedback from the users on a constant basis," Friedrich explains.
Besides companies, Owela has benefited cities, municipalities and ministries using the platform in the development of services aimed at citizens. Owela is most often used to develop digital services. However, the subjects of co-development projects have ranged from town planning and foodstuffs with health effects to children's safety and applications for nanotechnology. At the moment, the platform is being used for discussion concerning topics such as school meals and ecological construction.
The dissertation can be found online at http://www.vtt.fi/inf/pdf/science/2013/S34.pdf
Owela platform's website: http://owela.fi
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