Toolkits for user innovation
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Toolkits for user innovation allow manufacturers to " abandon their attempts to understand user needs in detail in favor of transferring need-related aspects of product and service development to users along with an appropriate toolkit". User toolkits are based on the idea that manufacturers possess the knowledge of the solution possibilities, while the users possess the knowledge about needs. This information is sticky and can therefore not be transferred easily between the user and the manufacturer.
User toolkits can be used in a variety of settings, and has been shown to be applicable in systems ranging from production of electronic circuitry to Apache security software (Franke & Von Hippel, 2003).
Content of a toolkit
The process as described by von Hippel has five criteria:
- Learning by trial-and-error
- An appropriate solution space.
- A user-friendly toolkit
- Commonly used modules
- Result easily created by user
Learning by trial-and-error
It is important that the user is able to go through complete trial-and-error cycles when designing the product. This allows the users to see the consequences of the design choices they make, and thereby decide more precisely what they really want. Trial-and-error has been shown by research to be the way that most problem solving is done.
An appropriate solution space
A solution space is defined by the flexibility in which the producer can produce the desired result. Any production process has a set of limiting factors, and these factors define the solution space. If the solution space is large (fewer number of limiting factors), the chance of user innovations are big.
A user-friendly toolkit
The process must be available to the users so that they can use the skills and languages they already know. This frees the users from learning the different design-specific skills and languages associated with manufacturing.
Commonly used modules
Custom designs are seldom made up of unique parts, but instead share a set of standard modules. Therefore a library of standard modules should be available to the user. This allows the user to focus on the unique parts that are truly important.
Results easily created
The result from the process must be easily converted into the language needed for the production system, and be without error. If the result of the process must be manually translated much of the effect of the toolkit may be lost.
- Eric von Hippel (2001). User Toolkits for Innovation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, July, 2001.
- Eric von Hippel and Ralph Katz (2002). Shifting innovation to users via toolkits. Management Science (2002) Vol 48, No. 7 pp 821-833.
- Nikolaus Franke and Eric von Hippel, “Satisfying heterogeneous user needs via innovation toolkits: the case of Apache security software,” Research Policy 32, no. 7 (July 2003): 1199-1215.
- Eric Von Hippel's homepage Books and articles in the creative commons licence available.