Sustainable technologies and products should conform to ecological requirements as well as be attractive for customers. But positive effects for the environment can only be achieved when ecological products are successful on the market and when they are widely used. From our point of view the market success of sustainable products should rather be achieved by involving users and other relevant social groups as early as possible and by considering their ideas in the design, than by marketing campaigns in the dissemination phase. From this perspective it is of crucial importance that future innovation processes consider not only ecological criteria (like the use of renewable materials, durability, options for recycling and reuse, energy efficiency etc.) but also social aspects.
Content and aims
The aim of this project was to develop user-centred prospects in two different fields of innovation. One case study dealt with ecologically and socially sustainable ways to use fuel cell technology in the Austrian context. Within the second case study new product ideas for Wood-Plastic-Composites were developed. Both examples were selected in close consultation with the programme management. This selection was mainly made due to the fact that some R&D projects had already been carried out within the framework of the programme "factory of tomorrow".
This project investigated the practical experiences with user involvement in ongoing and completed R&D projects using an online questionnaire. Subsequently the current technical, socio-economical and ecological situation in the two innovation fields were described. On this basis a series of workshops based on the strategy of "Constructive Technology Assessment" was carried out in the field of fuel cell technology. Within the second case study the Lead User approach was used to identify new product ideas for Wood-Plastic-Composites.
Online survey: Our results show that future users have been involved in most projects of the programme "factory of tomorrow". Mostly these users are companies, which are formally integrated as project partners. Projects including the involvement of endusers are rather rare. In general the surveyed project managers are satisfied the applied integration processes. They think that this strategy has positive impacts on the project results. On a more general level integration of users is seen as a valuable strategy, but there seems to be some uncertainty concerning appropriate forms of integration for different tasks and goals.
Thematic results from the workshops: Based on the results of the pilot study we were able to identify the use of fuel cell technology and hydrogen at the municipal level as a very promising field of application. According to experts and users (in our case the city of Graz) in the municipal context, the largest sustainability gains could be achieved by an introduction of fuel cell technology to the transport system (fuel cell vehicles, e.g. in public transport, municipal utility vehicles, logistics systems for transporting goods to the inner city, on the longer term also private cars). Also backup systems, such as fuel cell use as a load balance for renewable energy sources, were seen to have a significant potential. Future applications will most likely be realised within the framework of pilot projects. Therefore a number of requirements for municipal pilot projects in the area of fuel cell technology were discussed within the workshop series.
For the innovative field of Wood-Plastic-Composites the participants of the first workshop identified 15 different groups of possible applications. In the following lead user workshop two of these ideas were developed in greater depth: a "multi-functional furniture for children" and the concept "WPC new". Whereas the first product idea is primarily oriented on the specific material properties of WPC and the general trend toward modular furniture systems, the second idea - "WPC new" - could be seen as a strategy to raise the awareness of the material.
Process related results: In both case studies it became clear that the process of user identifi-cation is determined to a large extent by the point of departure. If a specific technology - rather than a field of application - is chosen as the point of departure, it is much more difficult to find appropriate future users. This also implies that the articulation of user needs is more difficult. In similar projects one should therefore explicitly deal with the question of how to find appropriate spokespersons on the user side in technology-centred processes. Another option would be to work with areas of application from the beginning instead of technologies.
Univ.-Doz. Dr. Josef Hochgerner
Zentrum für Soziale Innovation
DI Judith Feichtinger
Zentrum für Soziale Innovation
Project or cooperation partner
- Dr. Michael Ornetzeder
Institut für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung, ÖAW
- Dr. Harald Rohracher, Mag. Anna Schreuer
Interuniversitäres Forschungszentrum für Technik, Arbeit und Kultur
- DI (FH) Helmut Loibl
Fotec Forschungs- und Technologietransfer GmbH
- Dr. Asta Eder
Kompetenzzentrum Holz GmbH
- DI Stefan Weinfurter, Simone Strobl
Institut für Marketing & Innovation, Universität für Bodenkultur Wien