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VLICHT v.z.w.
Heverlee, Belgium.
Professor Arthur Spaepen.

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This publication is dealing with the report of Belgium on experiences of user participation in R&D oriented work.


In order to draw up an inventory of user participation in R&D, a questionnaire was designed by VLICHT based on the recommendations of the handbook: "User fit: a practical handbook on user-centered design for Assistive Technolgy, TIDE". The questionnaire was only sent to the Flemish part of Belgium (including Brussels). Manufacturers of technical aids for the disabled were included n the mailing list as well as large telecommunication companies, university projects developing prototypes of products for the disabled, and one organisation comparing existing products. In total 95 companies or organisations were mailed, 25% of the organisations responded.

The result was that end-users participate mainly in the problem definition stage and the evaluation stage (specifically the usability evaluation). To carry out functinal specification of the product is performed internally. One organisation consults the consumer for cases where the technical possibilities don't match the functional requirements, and one university project evaluates products with the end-user at this stage. To evaluate the technical characteristics of the product or prototype, a few companies ask users to test the product for a while. One university project tests the functionality of the product with able bodied users first. Most other companies test the technical product attributes themselves. None of the respondents involve direct end-users in the construction or standardisation stages. Experts are consulted at almost every stage. These experts are usually the product developers of the company. Often, indirect end-users (such as family and carers, etc.) are consulted at various stages or R&D.

Various methods to carry out R&D are used in the different stages. In the problem definition stage mostly interviews, questionnaires, direct observation, group discussion and brain storming are used. Also task analysis techniques, empathic modelling and study of literature are mentioned. The second stage, functional analysis, is carried out differently by all respondents, using matrices, logical rules, etc. To evaluate the product's usuability direct observation is most frequently used. Also field experiments, questionnaires and interviews are used. Laboratory tests are only carried out by the university projects.

None of the respondents involve user organisations or user panels in their R&D process, which is accounted for by the fact that a user organisation on aids for disabled people doesn't yet exist in Flanders. User advice is mostly gathered from years of experience and contact with consumers. Only a few work groups of carers exist acting as a forum for discussions on products. The only channel of communication for user feedback to product developers is through the casual and informal communications of these work groups with manufacturers.

There is no company which used specific strategies to select users to participate in the various stages of R&D. Companies who develop custom-made products are mostly contacted by the individual users themselves. Only one organisation in Flanders reported to carry out evaluations and comparisons of products for handicapped people in the area of visual impairment.

Concerning training, just a university project group, testing highly technical aids for the visually impaired, reported to train the participants before they perform the test. This training varies from a short explanation on the product functioning, to a thorough training on how to use the product. NOne of the other organisations provide training for the participants.

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