The methodologies for identifying innovation needs and opportunities must be assessed from a utilitarian, and not only a technological perspective
The emergence of social networks and the corresponding analytical tools have opened up unprecedented possibilities for the exploitation of people generated information
Smart Cities will certainly be the new environments in which individuals will have move in the short-term. When we refer to these cities, terms such as video-management systems, sensorisation and smartgrids are ones which frequently appear.
In fact so much is often spoken about technology that sometimes it seems to be forgotten that a Smart City is, firstly, a city. A city that, by making heavy use of the new technologies’ potential, can be confused with a technological and inhuman city, but as Ramón Roca, president of the SMART CITY room at the Fira de Barcelona exhibition centre mentioned in a recent interview, smart cities place the individual at the centre of everything.
With this idea in mind, the next question would be how to consider people in the development of the goods and services that comprise parts of the cities.
The People Orientated Innovation Model
The People Orientated Innovation Model puts people at the centre of the process, since they are who can and must add value to the different phases of the innovation process.
The participation of all types of agents is necessary in each of these phases. These agents, including professionals, should establish connections with each other in order to be able to develop sustainable and viable projects.
From the perspective of the People Orientated Innovation Model, it is necessary to go into detail about the different agents in view of their characteristics and the role they play within the model:
- PEOPLE: considering their characteristics, needs and preferences, and the ways in which they are grouped into communities such as families, neighbourhoods and cities as well as groups of friends, clubs, associations and social networks etc. and their habitat use including housing, other buildings and settings for public or private use, and goods and services for the development of their activities in education and training, culture, transport and mobility, work, sport, tourism and leisure, rest and restoration, and for healthcare and welfare etc.
- COMPANIES: including those which produce goods and services, distribute and sell them, keep them and, once they have been thrown away, recycle them, and those that offer consulting services (belonging to the advanced tertiary sector) to identify needs and opportunities, to analyse the best solutions, including defining the appropriate business models for exploitation, designing, advising on production, distribution and marketing.
- PROFESSIONALS: covering those who work in the different types of companies mentioned in the previous section and those from public or private organisations related to education and training, health and social services, sports, mobility and transport, work, culture, tourism and leisure. Professionals should act as advisors and influence individuals to select, access and use such goods and services.
- TRAINING, INVESTIGATION and TECHNOLOGICAL CENTRES: as diffusers and generators of knowledge and the methodologies that are used in the processes taking place in the People Orientated Innovation Model.
- PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION: and other private organisations acting as regulators of the characteristics, distribution and provision of the goods and services circulating in the market to ensure their provision, safety and effectiveness.
Methodologies for detecting the needs and opportunities of People Orientated Innovation
Detecting people’s needs has a strategic value, since it constitutes the basis on which to identify innovation opportunities to exploit through the development of new solutions that are able to meet them. In order to detect these needs in various fields, methodologies and tools have been developed that respond to different purposes, since people’s needs are diverse in nature and origin, and bound to personal relationships, as well as to the environments in which we live, to leisure activities and free time, to security, etc.
In addition, some of the methodologies that identify people’s needs are also useful in other stages that make up the People Oriented Innovation process.
The variety of approaches, the volume of existing techniques and technologies, and the different stages of the innovation process in which it is possible to apply them contribute to increasing confusion in the selection and use of such methodologies to obtain really useful information.
The methodologies for identifying innovation needs and opportunities must be assessed from a utilitarian, and not only a technological perspective, given that the technologies they support are constantly evolving. This does not detract from its own technological progress which makes valuable information increasingly available. In fact, the technology embodied in portable equipment, which is ever lighter and less invasive, has enabled the creation and use of new techniques that provide information of interest in identifying needs and opportunities. In addition, technological development itself has generated new scenarios in which people are included. For example, the emergence of social networks and the corresponding analytical tools have created unprecedented possibilities for the exploitation of people-generated information.
There are a number of methodologies specifically designed to identify needs related to smart cities. Within these methodologies the characteristics, needs, limitations, aspirations and lifestyles of people provide clues for identifying innovation opportunities with real guarantees of market success. The choice of the methodologies and the technologies to be implemented must be based on: (1) the realism required in the context of study, (2) the depth of the information to be obtained, (3) the level of user involvement needed, (4) the supposed financial cost, and (5) the study time required (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Relationship between level of user participation, settings and possible methodologies
Applied to the definition of people’s needs, the techniques encompassing ethnography are those that can allow you to get quality information designed to discover a population’s local needs. These techniques allow the direct study of individuals or groups of people over a certain period of time, through fieldwork using observation or interviews as a basic tool to learn their patterns of consumption and behaviour.
With the emergence of Web 2.0 and powerful information search tools, methodologies have been developed that make up netnography, an online version of ethnography, which provides free analysis of individuals’ behaviour on the internet. These tools are suitable for us to create a larger scale map of where our cities’ services need to evolve.
In addition to the information obtained from specific groups or from digital fingerprints, it may be necessary at times to "go to the gemba", to reduce the field and get the information directly from interactions between the people and city elements. Among the methodologies used under real conditions, living labs should receive a special mention. The living labs principle is to bring the recording and analysis tools traditionally used in a laboratory into people’s daily environments and to turn everyday situations into sources of innovation. This principle is supported by the existence of technologies that are sufficiently reliable and developed to go unnoticed. The methodologies used in a living lab, compared with those used in laboratory studies have a higher technological component in order to extend these studies to a larger population much less invasively and in the most automated way possible. The living lab concept also has its namesake on the internet in online living labs. We will be in one situation or the other depending on the scenario in which we find ourselves, whether real daily life scenarios such as the home, work, leisure and entertainment environments, or online in virtual scenarios including social networks, portals, blogs, forums etc. which are used as interaction and communication channels between people, and which reflect their views, needs, desires and concerns.
An example that illustrates the potential of these new sources of information is the combination of technologies which, on one hand, can determine the journeys taken by individual people and, at the same time, record their activity levels or tension. In this way it can be possible to not only get to know their mobility patterns in certain areas, such as in a city but also the predominant emotions or stress levels of people moving around them.
Smart cities should always be people-centred so that the deployment of associated technological solutions responds to the real needs of the people. The identification of people’s needs is a key step in the ability to add value to the innovation process, but it is highly complex as a consequence of the uncertainty and ambiguity concerning what is sought. There are a number of methodologies and tools to identify these needs and their proper use will allow us to design really smart cities.
The information in this article can be found in its expanded form in the books of papers on the forums about Innovation, Economics and Quality of Life at: http://www.foro-icv.org/documentacion
By José Solaz
Market Innovation Director, Biomechanics Institute of Valencia