Martina Caic
Author - Martina Caic

While user-centric approaches to service innovation proved to be effective, innovators often omit that the focal user is not the only one influencing the decision for or against a new service. For example, when examining the introduction of social service robots in an elderly care setting, the final decision is influenced not only by the elderly (the focal actor), but also by family members, friends, GPs, nurses, and other professional service providers.

Usually, there is a web of actors around the user: they have their own views on benefits and risks of a new service, and can even be show-stoppers for the decision. Thus service designers need to be aware of varying perceptions within a network of users to strategically avoid hindrances to innovation acceptance.

Network of users

Managing user experience is a difficult task per se, yet it becomes even more challenging when there is a network of users to handle. Information about their varying, at times contradictory needs and expectations can be overwhelming. However, it is crucial for service designers to collect, understand, and integrate this information in their service offerings. Our research shows that such a network-conscious approach adds another layer of complexity (i.e. managing multiple user experiences), yet is essential for the smooth introduction of new service innovations. For instance, the pain points of one network actor might undermine the value experienced by another one. In the context of our introductory example, while robot monitoring capabilities reassure a nurse about an elderly person’s condition (e.g. by detecting falls), they might also give rise to serious privacy concerns for the elderly person and his or her family members. Hence, we advocate a ‘network-aware’ approach aimed at offering tailored value propositions and better orchestrate network value co-creation.

Co-authors: Dominik Mahr, Gaby Odekerken-Schröder, Stefan Holmlid, Roy Beumers.

Mappings of network contexts: before and after the introduction of social service robots in an elderly care setting.
Mappings of network contexts: before and after the introduction of social service robots in an elderly care setting.

Insights from generative sessions

Service design methods need to account for networks to better understand what the value (i.e. benefits and risks and their interplay) is for the network actors. Therefore, we propose contextual interviews drawing on generative methods1 as a valuable source of network insights. Empathic listening and visual artefacts help service designers explain network complexity. In particular, network visualisations (i.e. mappings of network contexts) are useful in eliciting users’ tacit knowledge and uncovering value co-creating streams. Allowing users to freely show their understanding of network dynamics through mappings and shared narratives clarifies their perceptions on ‘how it is now’ and ‘how it will be’ after the introduction of a technology-based service.

Specifically, there are three stages that are essential for a successful network approach:

  1. Organise generative interviews/workshops: use tangibles (e.g. cards, markers, post-its, canvasses) and ask users to map out a particular network context. Through easy-to-understand visuals or prototypes, introduce your service innovation. Finally, ask them to visualise a new condition, again using different generative prompts. Repeat such interviews/workshops with different stakeholders (e.g. focal users, other service beneficiaries).
  2. Empathise with your users: do not presume your users’ experiences, but instead motivate them to express their own views through a set of ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions, followed by deep-probing ‘why’ questions. Your service innovation can radically disrupt their network contexts; thus, pay attention to how it transforms the value for not only the focal user, but also for other actors.
  3. Abstract your findings: exploit both narratives and visual artefacts. Network mappings offer a very vivid representation of both current contexts and future scenarios. Listen to your users’ data-rich stories, and try to understand what they wish to communicate through their visualisations. Can you identify clusters of similar mental models? Are their maps instrumental to values they express as their priorities?

User research on social service robots

We collaborated with the elderly care unit of the Zuyderland hospital (in The Netherlands), Cáritas Coimbra (Portugal) and the GrowMeUp2 project, whose main aim is to increase the quality of life and the years of active and independent living of seniors (65+) with only minor physical or mental health problems. They are developing a social service robot that understands social cues through facial and voice recognition, and assists seniors with health monitoring and household activities to prolong their independent living. With the aim of understanding how this disruptive service innovation affects the care-value networks of the elderly, we conducted contextual interviews through generative cards activities. To better capture the complexity of the network, we engaged different actors: the elderly, formal caregivers (i.e. professional care staff), and informal caregivers (i.e. family members and friends).

Identified elderly personas
Identified elderly personas

We first asked our participants to map out their care-value network by selecting the contributing actors from a deck of 'network actor cards', then to freely rearrange the cards according to their perception about actors’ organisation, and finally to share the narratives on each actor’s contribution to value co-creation. Next, we introduced the social service robot through photographs and cards explaining different robot functions. Lastly, we asked participants to map how they imagine the future care-value network – now containing the social service robot – to be organised. By using probing questions, we delved deep to uncover how the robot will complement, enhance, and strengthen, but also hinder, replace, and diminish the value co-creating relationships within the ‘current’ care-value network.

The analysis of collected visual and verbal data reveals clusters of users based on the values they hope to realise from their care-value networks, robot functionalities they emphasise as important, and forms in which they visualise their network contexts. We paid special attention to how different network actors envision the change in value co-creating relations, in particular whether the social service robot plays a value-enabling or value-hindering role in their care-value networks. In more practical terms, all captured insights helped service developers bridge the potential experience gaps before they arise and to better tailor the service innovation to the advantage of multiple network actors. For example, we identified clusters among the elderly participants that we captured in three personas, namely Emotional, Functional, and Social Senior. Each persona has its unique characteristics with respect to value priorities, interest in different robot functionalities, and in the way they visualise their network contexts. These insights offered guidance to service managers (e.g. the assisted living facility managers) on how to better carve the social service robots’ introduction strategy and communication materials.

Main takeaways

By engaging multiple stakeholders, our findings enable service designers to better understand the value co-creation and relationships among the multiple network actors. This, in turn, helps service innovators offer more meaningful value propositions and better tailor their communication to the different audiences, and thus improve the success of new services. This holds strong promises that the immense financial amounts invested in new technology development will result in solutions that will accommodate the needs of multiple service users, and hence gain wider market acceptance.

In our case, adopting the network-conscious service design approach has proven to be a powerful tool for detecting both positive and negative drivers of future service experiences. We do not claim that one method is superior to others, but rather invite service designers to develop a toolbox full of approaches for gathering network insights and designing network solutions.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 642116.

1 Sanders, E. B.-N. (2000). Generative tools for co-designing. Collaborative Design, London: Springer Verlag.
2 GrowMeUp:

This article is part of Touchpoint Vol. 9 No. 1 - Education and Capacity-Building. Discover the full list of articles of this issue or flip the preview to get a sneak peek at more fascinating insights on this topic! Touchpoint Vol. 9 No. 1 is available to purchase in print and PDF format. Become a SDN member, or upgrade your community membership to be able to read all articles online and download the full-issue PDF at no charge.




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