New book chapter: User Involvement in Future Internet Projects

We have a chapter in the FIA 2013 book to be published by Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) next month [1]. In this chapter we address user involvement in the Future Internet community. We were interested to find out whether current FI projects support user-led innovation and in this way empower ordinary people, citizens and non-commercial entities. To determine actual attitudes and practices of those working in the Future Internet industry towards user involvement we involved participants at the 2012 Future Internet Assembly (FIA) in Aalborg, Denmark by organising a focus group and by distributing a survey.

Using a small number of participants, the focus group discussed in what way end-users could or should shape the Future Internet. It investigated whether current Future Internet projects are user-centric and what kinds of methods are used to give users an active role – a voice – not just as commentators on new developments, but as innovators and shapers of technology. The focus group discussed whether FI projects need to assign as much importance to the needs of ordinary users as to the requirements of industrial players. We asked what is more important: user needs or technical possibilities. We also examined whether involving users stifles creativity and innovation. The survey asked similar questions as the focus group.

Overall, the research participants value continuous user involvement, arguing that it will maximise the societal benefits of Future Internet solutions. However, a large number of survey respondents admitted to being not very knowledgeable about standard user-centred design tools and just over half of the FI projects they work on apply a user-centred approach. Those who do employ such an approach consider it to have a positive impact on the project’s output, often leading to major new insights which influence the final product.

While it is common knowledge in the HCI field that user involvement correlates both with higher acceptance of new technologies as well as with better designed devices, it is important to recognize that some technologists are of the opinion that user involvement is a hindrance which creates more work, stifles creativity and innovation, or is too expensive. It is therefore essential to first of all create awareness of the benefits of user-centred design within the Future Internet community to persuade developers of the advantages of adopting such principles; our paper tried to make that contribution.

Addressing the practicalities of user involvement is the next step in making the Future Internet community more user-centred. There is a need for practical guidance and advice on how developers should conduct user-centred design. Furthermore, there is a need to “create easy and context-specific access to common technical and non-technical resources and capabilities that can be shared for complex experimentation and innovation projects” [2] integrating for instance FI testbeds and Living Lab environments. The challenge remains to move beyond the idea of the ‘user’ as a problem or barrier, and instead to investigate ways to work effectively with technology users and consider them as key stakeholders and co-creators in the design of the Future Internet.

REFERENCES

[1] Oostveen, A., E.T. Meyer and B. Pickering (2013) User Involvement in Future Internet Projects. In: A. Galis and A. Gavras (Eds.) Future Internet Assembly 2013: Validated Results and New Horizons. Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) Vol. 7858, pp. 310-322.

[2] Schaffers, H., Sallstrom, A., Pallot, M., Hernandez-Munoz, J., Santoro, R. and Trousse, B.(2011) Integrating Living Labs with Future Internet Experimental Platforms for Co-creating Services within Smart Cities. Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Concurrent Enterprising.

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