Collaborative learning with users as an enabler of service innovation

Katri Kallio

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


In today's economies, innovations increasingly concern new services and social issues. These kinds of innovations are only rarely created via in-house research and development; more often they emerge in the inter-organizational collaboration with different actors. The importance of the active role of users is recognized and learning has been emphasized as a key process of innovation. However, deeper knowledge about the relationship between learning and innovation is still scarce, and this concerns knowledge-intensive service organizations, among others. This thesis aims to provide new scientific knowledge about collaborative learning in the context of service innovation. It focuses on the activities and practices in which collaboration – with users in particular – takes place and on the ways in which mutual learning can be fostered. The theoretical starting point of this thesis is the theory of expansive learning. It describes how organizations can learn to renew their activity in a cyclical manner by perceiving current contradictions in their activity and by creating a new concept of activity to meet shortcomings in practice. In this thesis, the theory of expansive learning is supplemented with the user- and strategy-based innovation literature to enable its application for the analysis of collaborative learning experiments. Hence, this thesis utilizes theories that strengthen both the bottom-up and the top-down perspectives in learning and innovation. The context of the study is knowledge-intensive service organizations. Concrete activities and practices to co-develop services with users were examined via four case studies in public and private organizations. The methodology of the thesis is qualitative and the case studies were carried out with an action research approach. The empirical material was collected by observations and interventions concerning innovation activities; theme-based interviews of the key developers supplemented the material and focused on the innovation processes and their results. The key finding is that collaborative learning with users is an integral part in innovation activities of knowledge-intensive service organizations, and supports the bridging of the topdown and bottom-up innovation activities if it is pursued in an expansive and reflective manner. This includes understanding the needs of users and the collaborating with them in value creation. More specifically, lead-users can be inspirers and questioners in the search for a strategic direction, and all kinds of users can be collaborators or responsible agents who ideate and implement service innovations in practice. Based on these findings, the thesis supplements the model of expansive learning to include: the strengthening of useragency at the strategic level by means of evaluation and foresight, and the creation of novel activity at the operational level by experimenting with users in practice. This new conceptual model is presented as a 'two-level learning cycle'. The most important theoretical contribution of the thesis is the construction of connections between the research into service innovation and the research into organizational learning. It includes the description of concrete learning activities to enable service innovation with users, and a model based on these activities. As a practical contribution, the results highlight the importance of enabling collaborative learning experiments and their critical reflection.
Translated title of the contributionYhteistoiminnallinen oppiminen käyttäjien kanssa palveluinnovaatioiden mahdollistajana
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Järvenpää, Eila, Supervising Professor
  • Toivonen, Marja, Thesis Advisor, External person
Print ISBNs978-951-38-8350-8
Electronic ISBNs978-951-38-8351-5
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • service innovation
  • organizational learning
  • expansive learning
  • collaboration
  • experimenting
  • users
  • knowledge-intensive services


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