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
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
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,"
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 /Documents/2013_S34.pdf
Owela platform: http://owela.fi