Embrace thy users: Practices of user knowledge utilization in innovation

Andreas Benker

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


User knowledge is an inherent part of innovation that organizations strive to include systematically at different stages of their innovation process. However, utilizing user knowledge in innovation processes is a complex phenomenon. It requires organizations to acquire meaningful knowledge about their users, understand how individuals and teams translate user knowledge into new products or services, and apply suitable methods that enable different disciplines involved in the innovation process to utilize it. In this dissertation I am analyzing such practices to utilize user knowledge from three distinct yet interdependent perspectives to get a better understanding of what it means to embrace thy users. The main purpose of this study is to provide a holistic picture on how to tap into user knowledge and disseminate it throughout the innovation process. The dissertation is composed of three essays in which I investigate how user knowledge is embedded in innovation processes from a usability process, absorptive capacity, and sensemaking perspective respectively. All essays are empirical and based on a medical device manufacturing R&D department and an aircraft manufacturer integrating the user perspective into their development processes. Paper 1 describes how usability engineering methods are applicable for medical device development and how different occupations within the R&D team, that is user representatives and engineers, interact at various stages of the development process. In paper 2, I investigate the managerial practices and goals from a medical device and an aircraft manufacturing company for utilizing user knowledge in their system development. The managerial goals of sensitizing employees for the user perspective, identifying and accessing user knowledge, as well as interpreting and integrating it into the innovation process relate to the recognition, acquisition, assimilation, and dissemination of user knowledge within the absorptive capacity framework. In paper 3 the focus of investigation is on the user representatives working in the R&D department of a medical device manufacturer and their role in making user knowledge available to other team members. They induce new meaning about user knowledge from intra- to intersubjective level, given their hybrid function as user-developers and transform this knowledge to a group level, thereby, sensitizing different teams and individuals in the R&D department for the user perspective. My research contributes to literature on user in innovation from a process perspective, meaning the methods and interactions for integrating the user perspective. It elaborates on the absorptive capacity theory by highlighting managerial goals and sub-capabilities for utilizing user knowledge, and draws on sensemaking literature to investigate how people make sense of user knowledge from individual to group level and vice versa.
Translated title of the contributionEmbrace thy users: Practices of user knowledge utilization in innovation
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Karjalainen, Toni-Matti, Supervising Professor
  • Piekkari, Rebecca, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8557-9
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8558-6
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • user innovation
  • user knowledge
  • managerial practices
  • sensemaking


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