Socio-cultural Research as the starting point for innovation
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
Companies and brands’ need for innovation, in their continuous search to differentiate themselves, be superior and add value, has undoubtedly influenced the need for evolution and innovation in traditional processes of Research.
Along with technological developments and digital culture, this must has led to a huge variety of ways of approaching the consumer using new and exciting analysis tools. All of these elements form part of the philosophy of the user as the centre for innovation.
In this article, we will focus on co-creation, an energetic and creative methodology that guarantees new solutions for concepts, products, or services and experiences.
Co-creation is part of the philosophy of open innovation, which was introduced by Henry Chesbrough in the early 2000s.
First and foremost, it is a process, which is defined by the following attributes:
- Collaborative: the user, client and stakeholders work together on the challenge. This challenge appears as a new business opportunity, either for concepts, products, services, experiences, etc.
This is a time/space where the client enters into a dynamic dialogue with the user and other agents relevant to the challenge/objective presented.
The user is always at the centre, so their insights into trends or consumption/use are present throughout the entire process. This ensures that their needs and incentives are maintained throughout the process and perspective is not lost.
On the other hand, this experience is an opportunity for the client to provide information and adjust content, refining their needs for understanding.
Stakeholders also play an important role as they provide a complementary view from their different disciplines. Knowledge has long ceased to be individual.
- Creative: it is the end, but also the means from which new, disruptive, or innovative inputs can be obtained. Creativity is the mantra for any phase of the co-creation process. The environment, techniques and design tools used encourage lateral thinking, always boosting creativity and disruption.
- Reiterative and iterative: co-creation isn’t a strictly linear process, rather it is cyclical, and the sub phases are repeated continuously, going from divergent to convergent moments in various phases of the project. Each point in the process is used as the starting point for the next iteration.
The process can be represented in different ways, but it is usually as follows:
But where is the Research?
In other design disciplines, qualitative Research is limited to the first research phase or the empathise phase and occasionally used when validating results.
Based on my own experience and after working hard at Quid, qualitative research is the work methodology that should be part of every stage of co-creation. A qualitative approach is the only approach which makes it possible to understand the cognitive, social, and emotional factors necessary to create behaviours and opinions and give them a meaning. On the other hand, this perspective allows us to be important facilitators in all of the processes and dialogues in the co-creation model, which require us to be in a permanent state of “listening” and “analytical” and continuously “decisive”.
The production of speech, the use of different tools and the forum for action are different in each phase.
This qualitative Research can take the form of personal interviews or focus groups. Both techniques are possible during the first phase of empathising/understanding the customer. Choosing which one you will use often depends on subject matter and the research/creation objective. Ethnography is a particularly relevant branch of anthropology that we can use to understand the usability of consumer buying processes and observe cultural behaviours and references.
However, in my opinion, the main technique in innovation is a discussion group or focus group. These techniques are very useful for highlighting socio-cultural trends.
Beyond the discussion of techniques, the power of qualitative Research in this type of creative process is unquestionable. I will focus on qualitative Research as a starting point for co-creation.
At Quid, I developed a model that generates insights which can be used to build an innovation process. The technique is innovative and unique: “the social/cultural line”.
This is the integration of socially and culturally relevant insights with the objectives or challenges presented by brands. It is based on the following basic principles:
- Innovation cannot be understood without an understanding of the socio-cultural context.
- It is essential that we understand social trends if we want to make constructive progress concerning the goals we want to achieve, particularly if one of companies’ main requirements is to differentiate and produce an innovative value proposal.
- In order to co-create, you need to know what and how to co-create.
- For this generation of insights, qualitative research makes it possible to determine what is culturally relevant and thus create engagement with the consumer/user.
In short, we shall base co-creation on cultural, consumer and product/brand insights to create a legitimate and lasting value proposal.
We won’t start with the product/brand, in fact quite the opposite. We will start with understanding social trends, what’s coming next, culturally relevant stresses, the kind of society that we are moving towards, in order to create the meaning, value and significance that a product or brand must have.
If we think about a disruption in the food health sector, for example, starting the process by looking at what could be done in the future will lead us to creative, or very imaginative, ideas. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be relevant or feasible. We could create a new diet that’s made up of coloured pills, like we’ve seen in films hundreds of times, but does this mean that healthy food brands will make a significant turnover? Does it respond to relevant customer insights? Maybe not. This is not innovation.
Alternatively, if we look at the near future and what the world will look like, what type of food we’ll be eating, we can be more creative in integrating our food products into new ideology and society’s new values. In other words, if we know that consumers are concerned about natural ingredients in products, the sustainability of the planet, or the product’s traceability, then we can conceptualise new ideas so that these kinds of products can create engagement and be relevant to the consumer and society.
Innovation is about learning from trends and integrating that knowledge into the evolution of society in the future.
In short, if we want to create innovations that are relevant to consumers, we have to use qualitative methodology that is based on learning from the user and trends as the basis of the co-creation process.
The Research process is a necessary requirement for innovation that is disruptive today and sustainable over time.