Dropped into a GeoVation event earlier in the week, in London, on “Collaboration and user innovation in Transport”.
‘User Innovation’ is product or service innovation that is driven by “affected individuals”. These are people who encounter a problem in their day-to-day lives, say their journey to work; have an idea to make their life easier; and then take it to the next stage – develop a solution that benefits them and the wider community.
A good example of this is Mark Smith, who had a problem travelling around Europe by alternative means to flying. The result – “The Man in Seat Sixty Six” .
Today, due to the power of the Internet and mobile technology, entire communities can quickly form to address a shared issue. The same technology is frequently then used to provide a solution (as in Mark’s case), or to provide a major enabler to one, triggering more systemic changes.
Professor Glenn Lyons of University of West of England, had some very thought provoking things to say about user innovation, but in the context of achieving wider social change, beyond that of a narrow community of interest (my term not his).
It’s not just a case of ‘build it and they will come’. Hehighlighted that if seeking to achieve wider social change, such as more sustainable lifestyles, then beyond a dedicated community, things start to get rather more difficult.
The wider population generally carry on in the same manner each day – same route to work, same form of transport. Most people are Homasimpsons, rather than Mr Spocks, continually evaluating their options and making new choices. Rather, they repeat the same patterns of behaviour, introducing very little change – unless forced by some external event.
In fact change theory tells us that people will change, even habits of a lifetime, but only if the driving force comes from ‘people like me’ – peer-to-peer. Wider social change, or organisational change, needs to be facilitated by people who have strong connections to a wide number of peer groups, or social networks. More on this another time, but for those who can’t wait, seek out the writings of Leandro Herrero, who coincidentally, I went to hear speak the following night.
Back to the GeoVation event, Roland Harwood, Co-founder of 100%Open, an open innovation consultancy, talked about the different forms of collaborative working being used by organisations today, including user innovation. Major corporations are now turning to user innovation to help drive the development of new products and services, including the likes of LEGO.
Helping to design new LEGO products aside, he gave two great examples of innovation, inspired by individuals with a problem to solve:
Colalife – leveraging Cola’s amazing distribution capability to deliver life saving medicines to difficult-to-reach corners of the globe; and
Courier Exchange – connecting people with goods to move, with couriers with empty vehicles on return journeys, delivering (excuse the pun) economic, social and environmental benefits.
The main purpose of the day was to showcase the winners of the GeoVision Transport Challenge. I was particularly struck by FixMy Transport from MySociety; My Personal Travel Plan (by liftshare.com) and Access Advisr.
These are all great examples of pulling together disparate datasets and/or filling the gaps through crowd sourcing; and applying this data in new powerful ways, in an aggregated form.
For me, they also helped highlight the basic problem that organisations often face in the design and operation of their services.
All organisations are naturally bounded by their area of concern, e.g. the provision of bus services. Any collaboration outside this will often be seen as a peripheral activity. But these functional boundaries do not map across well to the social system to which the service forms a part. It seems that often only individuals and communities of interest can truly bridge this gap, putting the fragmented elements back together again and ensuring that the individual services collectively provide the best outcomes for users, the wider community and environmentally.
The presentation slide decks have yet to be published, but when they are, can be found at: http://www.slideshare.net/GeoVation/presentations