Stakeholders and End User Innovation
How can we better innovate to provide more sustainable products and services? It is a question asked by many companies, large and small, in a world where sustainability challenges are ever more compelling. While not yet being an extensive practice, EU-InnovatE has provided an opportunity to shed light on how firms across Europe are working with their customers – the users of their products and services – to innovate towards more sustainable lifestyles.
From the 18 case studies which we explored during our research including companies such as BMW, Unilever and IKEA we have generated a wide range of findings on how firms innovate involving their end users. One of the more striking findings is that such innovation tends to always occur in collaboration with a number of other stakeholders.
Collaborating with unusual stakeholders
Surprisingly, these stakeholders may not necessarily be the ones that might be expected in typical innovation processes. Stakeholders such as public authorities, universities, foundations and other non-profit or civil society organisations can proactively facilitate the innovation process. This begins with public authorities stimulating many of the projects such as the Mayor of Paris’ call for proposals for a zero carbon cycle-share system, or the offer of funding from the Austrian government to develop an electric powered mobility solution. Later on providing valuable licensing and regulatory support to create a context which enables the innovation to develop and be implemented.
Facilitating end user integration
The end users in all of our cases were involved in the development of the sustainability-oriented products or services. Stakeholders such as civil society organisations (CSOs) and academic institutions played a valuable role in facilitating the integration of end users and a variety of other relevant groups into the innovation process through workshops and participative forums. In addition, private firms specializing in gathering and processing customer feedback were often used by innovating firms to gain valuable input from end users.
To tap into new opportunities, ROCKWOOL – a company famous for its insulation products – started developing refugee shelters with walls made of fireproof insulation. Accessing refugee camps, even for testing products that might improve refugee living conditions in the future was challenging due to strict protection of people’s privacy in such difficult life situations. In order to help the shelter development move forward a Danish CSO called Orange Innovation helped the company to reach out to refugee aid organizations to get their initial feedback, and facilitated the testing of shelters among Roskilde music festival guests, which typically hosts so many people that their density and temporary overnight arrangements resemble that of the refugee camps.
Extending impact and changing lifestyles
The nature of many innovations for sustainability reflect broader lifestyle changes for end users. Stakeholders such as universities, CSOs and public authorities played a key role in sensitizing and informing the public of broader sustainable behavior changes and helped to build credibility and trust around the emerging innovative solutions.
Stakeholders specialized in different aspects of sustainability, either social or environmental can help to promote the product or service and can also extend the sustainability impact in different areas to provide a more holistic sustainability lifestyle solution. One such example is that of the company EcoVeritas with its project CuinaVeritas. Not only have customers been invaluable to the development of a new range of products which use ingredients which would otherwise be wasted due to their appearance or seasonal excess, but collaboration with a CSO has supported the company in extending its social impact by getting physically disabled people back to work.
Multiple stakeholder collaboration with end users
To respond to the question posed by many companies of how to better innovate to provide more sustainable products and services, our research suggests that end users play a valuable role in the development of such products and services. An international construction company Skanska together with IKEA wanted to make home ownership a reality even for lower income households. They developed BoKlok housing which is affordable due to the highly efficient lay-outs and interior planning. This was only possible through early integration of direct end user feedback (focus groups) about apartment lay-outs. Integration of other relevant stakeholders, such as city planners and construction material developers ensured access to public transportation and wood-based modular building materials for high quality environmentally friendly construction.
The involvement of end users goes hand in hand with collaboration with a range of different stakeholders which play a variety of different roles in the innovation process. Not only do these stakeholders fulfill companies’ needs but they are also proactive in stimulating, initiating and extending the impact of sustainability-oriented innovation processes.
This blog post was originally posted in EU InnovatE blog.
Authors: Jennifer Goodman, Angelina Korsunova, Minna Halme