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Petri Lehto: User orientation – the new challenge for innovation policy

What is a user orientation? What does integrating a user orientation as part of the innovation policy mean in concrete terms? These questions will be examined in the innovation strategy’s implementation stage that is underway.


What is a user orientation?
What does integrating a user orientation as part of the innovation policy mean in concrete terms? These questions will be examined in the innovation strategy’s implementation stage that is underway.

When the national innovation strategy was drawn up during 2008, it was immediately observed that a user orientation, which strengthens the innovation activities of companies in many ways, must in future be integrated as a key part of the national innovation policy as a competitive factor. However, the innovation strategy does not exactly specify what a user orientation is and also does not attempt to set out what integrating a user orientation as a concrete part of the innovation policy means. Answers to these questions are now being pursued in the strategy’s implementation phase that is underway.

User orientation is not in itself a new idea in the business operations of companies or academic research for that matter: a part of business has always been user-oriented to a certain extent, which has been borne out by research. Economic and technological changes have nevertheless strongly enhanced the importance of a user orientation in terms of corporate competitiveness.

Companies can exploit users not only as a source of information but also as producers of knowledge. Individual users and user groups are not, however, only an important resource for innovation by businesses. They are also actors who create innovative solutions independently, taking forward modern society.

Information and communications technology has been especially important in accumulating user information and the production of new ideas, as it has clearly enabled users and user communities to be more tightly integrated into the innovation activities of businesses. As it would clearly seem that a user orientation makes it possible to achieve new competitive advantages, the opinion is that the innovation policy should, for its part, enhance the capacity of companies to take advantage of users as part of their innovation activities.

A user-oriented innovation policy is such a new concept at the international level that it does not yet have a generally accepted definition. However, work to define this has been initiated under the direction of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, which has taken as its starting point the fact that a user-oriented innovation policy promotes innovation on the basis of the needs of users and the systematic participation of users in both the private and public sectors.

Until now, no tools for promoting a user orientation have been systematically developed for the innovation policy. Factors affecting a user orientation, such as the openness, coverage and user costs of the telecommunications infrastructure, have been evaluated from other objectives. Not even education objectives have been considered from this perspective. There are no courses combining business and cultural anthropology, for example, on offer within education. However, user orientation in the mission statement of the Aalto University that is being established is clearly becoming a theme in research and education.

Progress should be made in developing education, but companies should more broadly support consideration of the benefits of user-oriented innovation so that the supply of education meets demand. An important area for development is public support and financial services for innovation, into which a user orientation should be integrated on a cross-sectional basis. Users and communities of users have not until now been considered in any way, for example, in financing programmes for innovations.

User-oriented innovation does not only concern the private sector. It would be possible to implement public services on exactly the same premises. This is still very much virgin territory, however, as the service system is especially producer-centred. User-oriented operating methods would mean including municipal residents in decision-making on services, the introduction of service design and increasing the opportunity to choose service providers. To support all this, municipal information systems should be compatible so that value can be created for municipal residents irrespective of their location.

The need for development is considerable. However, the high level of social capital and educational level together with a flat social hierarchy and low threshold for cooperation are our social competitive advantages, so it will be possible to create a genuine tool for reforming innovation policy from user-oriented innovation activities.

Petri Lehto
Industrial Counsellor
Ministry of Employment and the Economy