Knowledge about customer behaviour, culture and daily life as a driving force for innovation
The danish businesses industry is in need of knowledge about their customers early in their innovation processes in order to make the processeses sharply focused and commercialisable.
HumanImpact is the first Danish systematic attempt to add specialized humanistic knowledge about customers to Danish businesses. The project is based at the Faculty of Humanities, runs until July 2022 and is supported by The Danish Industry Foundation with 8 million DKK.
|Copenhagen Centre for Health Research in the Humanities||Cross-Cultural Studies||Digital information and communication|
Astrid Pernille Jespersen
Klaus Bruhn Jensen
Marie Roloff Groth
HumanImpact is run by the University of Copenhagen in corporation with The Danish Chamber of Commerce, Confederation of Danish Industry and Symbion. These organizations ensure that the project is relevant to Danish companies. Furthermore, the University of Copenhagen together with the University of Roskilde are investigating how new humanistic knowledge is being introduced in companies, along with testing new formats of knowledge exchange between university and industry.
The objective of HumanImpact is to link Danish corporations with leading humanistic research environments at the University of Copenhagen in order to strengthen the innovation capacity and competitiveness of the companies.
Humanistic research within linguistics, history, media science, philosophy and modern culture studies is characterized by being able to deliver sharp and in depth mappings of cultural streams and behavior. This is essential knowledge when companies request expertise on consumer choices, barriers for new products and services, media usage, correlations between identity and consumption amongst many other things.
Historically there has been a tendency that knowledge about customers has exclusively been regarded as a matter of marketing – as a thing that comes after a product has left the developmental stage. This means that innovation often ends up concentrating on the development of new products and services, which only then will be tested and adapted according to customer needs.
A broad recognition that innovation is done best when based on knowledge about customers and their culture, behavior and values is gaining foothold. However, the abilities to create and use advanced knowledge about customers as a base for innovation are still limited within the Danish business industry. For this reason, new humanistic corporate research that tests, cultivates and communicates the necessary knowledge to Danish companies is needed. HumanImpact wants to create new beacons that show how Danish companies can lift their innovation through systematic collaborations with humanistic researchers.
Dean Julie Sommerlund and Associate professor Mark Vacher who both have many years of experience managing innovation and corporate research lead the project. Julie Sommerlund is responsible for collaborations with companies and the work that entails demonstrating how humanistic knowledge becomes an integrated part of the innovation processes in Danish companies. Mark Vacher has the organizational responsibility, the daily contact with the project team, and is furthermore testing different formats of how education can be integrated in corporate research projects.
Developing activities and business collaborations takes place through close cooperation with The Danish Chamber of Commerce, Confederation of Danish Industry and Symbion. These organizations add to the project a comprehensive business network and specialized knowledge on innovation, business development and entrepreneurship.
The primary target group for HumanImpact are small and medium Danish companies conducting innovation projects where new knowledge on customer preferences, needs or behavior is necessary.
The project is open to larger companies in cases where the business needs the exact knowledge and competencies that HumanImpact possess. The dialogue with companies show that the interest in the project spreads out across many different businesses.
The most important activity of the project is corporate research. The goal of the project cannot be obtained through any other activities than research, as the problems that the companies are facing cannot be solved with existing knowledge, methods or technologies. As an example, new knowledge is required when the innovation projects entail the development of ‘care robots’ which are intended to be used by both health care workers, nurses and elderly people – customer groups that have fundamentally diverse needs and requirements. Corporate research in Denmark is currently carried out through a business Ph.D. scheme (ErhvervsPhD-ordningen) – a model that is both financially resource intensive and time consuming. Small companies most commonly do not have the required resources to enter these types of collaborations. With HumanImpact we wish to send humanistic researchers out into the Danish companies that have not traditionally had the opportunity to enter collaborations with researchers.
Corporate research is carried out physically both at the company grounds and in the research centers because the physical meeting is a crucial factor for successful collaborations. Existing corporate research models often force the researcher to choose between company and university.
HumanImpact creates a common platform, which is meant to form the basis of an entirely new way of conducting corporate research. HumanImpact has three flexible humanistic corporate researchers at postdoc-level. They represent the basic activity of the project, working daily to connect companies and research centers. The excellent senior researchers at HumanImpact, based in recognized research centers at the Faculty of Humanities will guide each corporate researcher continuously to make sure that the newest and most advanced humanistic knowledge is transferred to the participating companies. Knowledge and experiences will be systematically collected following each collaboration. This takes place through the construction of a shared database where information on the financial and organizational performance of the participating companies will be gathered.
The database enables a systematic and evidence-based evaluation of each collaboration, while simultaneously providing a wide range of companies with a best practice model. HumanImpact will thus not only introduce a new way of creating long lasting collaborations between humanistic research and Danish companies, but also perform an in depth evaluation, accumulation of knowledge and compilation of experiences across collaborations which can benefit Danish companies in the future.
The final outcome of HumanImpact consists of systematically testing and validating a new way of conducting corporate research: flexible corporate researchers as a link between humanistic research and Danish companies. This outcome will be realized through the following sub outcomes:
- Business collaborations between Danish companies and humanistic corporate researchers that adds specialized knowledge about end users.
- Open events where humanistic research is communicated widely to a large amount of Danish companies.
- Workshops for specific businesses in which specific challenges are addressed based on the corporate research of the humanistic researchers.
- Scientific publications, conference contributions and an anthology communicating the results of the project.
- A platform that collects experiences, methods and knowledge about collaborations between Danish companies and humanistic research.
The expected outcome of HumanImpact is an increase in competitiveness among the participating companies. This takes place in two different ways. First, knowledge about end users is communicated and incorporated in the companies, both through each collaboration but also in the form of more general communication activities such as events and work shops. Second, HumanImpact wants to create a permanent cooperation between the companies and humanistic research. This will ensure that companies can absorb and employ the knowledge and competencies they need also in the future. All together this will provide Danish companies with a permanent and durable lift of competencies which can increase their competitiveness and growth.
By the end of the project
- 18 Danish companies have entered collaborations with humanistic corporate researchers
- 300 companies have participated in events organized by HumanImpact
- 100 companies have participated in workshops for specific businesses
Furthermore, the project has following goals for each collaboration:
- Within one year a minimum of 80 % of the companies have finished or created a new business development project following the collaboration with a humanistic corporate researcher.
- Within one year a minimum of 50 % of the companies have identified new business partners that are able to help them strengthen their innovation capacity.
- A minimum of 50 % of the companies understands fully how humanistic knowledge supports their efforts within innovation and business development.
- Within one year a minimum of 80 % of the companies have experienced a substantial increase in value creation following the collaboration with a humanistic corporate researcher.
Each business collaboration will be evaluated immediately upon completion using a standardized evaluation guide developed in collaboration between the project partners. One year after, a follow up evaluation is proceeded. This evaluation includes a question guide and a personal conversation between the project management of HumanImpact and the company.
The results of HumanImpact will be communicated throughout the course of the project. Communication activities are an essential part of the project as integration of knowledge in Danish companies is one of the main goals of the project taking place through open events and business specific workshops.
By the end of the project a conference will take place at the Faculty of Humanities, gathering companies, political decision makers, interest groups and researchers. Overall experiences from the project will be presented. HumanImpact will present results to researchers and research centers through a range of peer reviewed articles in international scientific journals. The participants of the project will furthermore create a collective anthology presenting the scientific experiences from the project.