Smart Solutions

E-service co-design methodology

How to co-design digital solutions for local communities?

The idea of a smart village is often associated with the use of digital tools. The e-service implementation planning methodology helps local stakeholders to jointly plan and prepare the implementation of digitally supported services in the framework of an existing smart village strategy. On the surface, at least, many digital technologies appear, ‘self-evidently’, to have a high utility value for addressing challenges frequently faced by local communities. This can sometimes lead to a tendency to see the problem as requiring just a “digital tool” to enable addressing such challenges. The reality, in many cases, is quite different. Often, technology enfolds its full potential only in conjunction with human services, whether provided on a voluntary basis or in form of paid services. In fact, desired outcomes can frequently not be delivered by technology alone, but by people utilising digital technologies for providing services to others, for instance, when it comes to supporting older people in rural communities.

In such cases, the desired “tool” for addressing local challenges can frequently not be delivered by digital devices or software products alone, but by incorporating specific roles played by volunteers and/or professionals into a digitally supported service scheme. Beyond merely implementing software products, the desired digital “solution” therefore tends to require the agreement of reliable collaboration processes – in terms of clearly defined roles and responsibilities – among local stakeholders who may have a role to play in delivering desired services with help of technology. In this sense, digital solutions to local problems tend to be strongly context bound. This often makes it difficult to replicate locally developed digital services models elsewhere, at least not without noteworthy adaptation efforts.

These aspects require careful consideration when it comes to successfully putting smart village strategies into practice which focus on the utilisation of digital technologies. The challenge is to pursue digital innovation and social innovation at the same time. Against this background, empirica communications and technology research has developed a multi-staged methodology to help local stakeholders in co-designing digitally supported services that server their needs, and to operationally prepare their practical implementation under day-to-day conditions.

How does it work?

The methodology consists of three subsequent steps, as summarised in the schema (developed by empirica).

Copyright: empirica

(1) Ambition Focusing:

Taking the initially defined smart village strategy as a “point of departure”, at this stage the focus is on arriving at a shared understanding among all stakeholders concerned on what the “point of arrival” should be when it comes to utilising digital technologies for addressing local challenges. Key questions requiring careful attention include:

  • What non-technological problem is to be solved with help of a digital tool?
  • What exactly is the digital tool expected to be used for by relevant stakeholders to solve the problem?
  • What benefits are expected to flow from utilising the digital tool to the different stakeholders involved?
  • What does it take to get a suitable digital solution fully up-and-running?

All stakeholders should jointly reflect on the above aspects in a structured manner. As a tangible output, a joint ambition statement should be generated spelling out as clearly as possible in what way digital tools are envisaged to be utilised for addressing local challenges, and what concrete benefits are expected from the planned use of technology in this context.

(2) Maturity Assessment

All stakeholders should critically reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the envisaged e-service approach. Local circumstances that might make it difficult or perhaps even impossible to put the current ambition into practice should receive particular attention. A range of quite different factors may potentially impede the successful implementation of the initially stated ambition. The stakeholders should “take a step back” and critically reflect on whether the initially stated ambition is indeed mature enough before any concrete steps are taken towards implementing a digitally supported service solution. Their joint assessment should be documented in a structured way. As a result, it may become necessary to revisit the initial ambition in the light of potential “road blockers” identified at this stage.

(3) Operational Implementation Planning

Next, concrete tasks required to be conducted for successfully launching and running the envisaged digital service solution in the given local context must be identified (task planning). A joint effort should also be made to identify any risk factors potentially delaying or even preventing the successful completion of the identified tasks, together with respective counteracting measures deemed feasible under the given local circumstances (risk planning).

Who is the tool for?

  • The e-service co-design methodology is essentially for villages leaders (e.g. mayors and their team, village advisors, village associations, municipal boards or local stakeholder groups) who would like to harness digital solutions for addressing local challenges in the framework of an existing smart village strategy.
  • Relevant stakeholders in the community should be engaged as much as possible at all stage of the process, e.g. by means of moderated stake holder workshops. Generic documentation templates are available for each step, which can be adapted to specific e-service areas and local conditions.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t take for granted that all stakeholders share a common understanding on what they are generally aspiring to when attempting to harness digital technology for putting a smart village strategy into practice.
  • Don’t assume that digital technologies as such offer quick solutions to local problems but be aware that it takes committed people to be able to solve problems with the help of digital technologies.
  • Don’t shy away from the effort it takes to co-develop a viable digital solution step by step together with all stakeholders.
  • Bring together a core team of committed individuals who are willing to take responsibility for the preparation, conduction, and documentation of the individual methodological steps in the co-development process.

How was the tool already used?

The methodology has been gradually developed by empirica over the last 20 years. Initially, the focus was on developing digital solutions to support older people and people in need of care in local communities. Over time, the methodology has been extended to other areas of application, such as digital solutions for citizen participation in local policy processes.

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