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

Introduction

The results of a survey carried out by the ISAK unit show that there are big differences between companies and organisations as to the participation of elderly and disabled people in the R&D in Finland. Quite many of the organisations contacted involve users in one or two of the development phases, very few have taken users in all the phases.
The extent of user participation in the problem definition varies from an organisation to another. There are companies and associations which tell that a product or a service was developed directly from the needs and ideas of users. On the other hand, some companies develop a product with the help of experts and look afterwards if there are appropriate users.
In the organisations of elderly and disabled people ideas and problems come up from the members of the organsation. Some manufacturing companies have found this user reserve of the associations and use it in their research and development work. Unfortunately, this means quite often the testing phase before launching the product.

On local level, elderly and disabled people can participate through different kind of councils and committees. The councils of disabled and elderly people are representing and influencing in the communes and cities. The councils bring forward needs and expertise of these people and work as channels to the decision-making bodies. However, how the subjects proceed in the official system, depends on the acitivity and interest of the politicians.

In the field of analysis and specification in the research and development the participation of users is the lowest. Although users are involved in R&D the analysis phase is carried out by the designer him/ herself, almost without exception. The biggest problem seems to be the different languages of the researchers/ designers and the users. Instead of guiding and educating users to rsearch theories and methods they are excluded from the phases where the researchers consider their competence insufficient.

In the stage of development and testing of assistive technology users are involved mostly. Most companies and organisations want users in the testing of a product or a service before it is launched. Concerning products, this means that users test a prototype which then is improved and redeveloped according to the feedback before the start of a mass production. The products on the market are also improved according to a user feedback.
A uniform method for selecting users to R&D was not found by the interviews. A general way is to select users via an organisation of disabled or elderly people or via local social and health care systems.

Standardisation and harmonisation work is still quite unstructured in Finland and the survey revealed uncertainty among the companies. Many of them did not know the requirements set for the products. Very little user participation was found.

The survey did not find any special training trageted to users and their participation in the research and development. Various kind of education is arranged but it is related e.g. to introduction of devices, use of services, empowerment, etc. The associations of elderly and disabled people arrange education for the members to support them to find new resources of their own and enable them to participate in the decision-making.
Any special funding system supporting participation of users in R&D was not found. Within projects the participation is supported by the project funding.

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