User−Producer Interaction in Housing Energy Innovations

Energy Innovation as a Communication Challenge


Address correspondence to:
Professor Eva Heiskanen National Consumer Research Centre P.O. Box 5, 00531 Helsinki, Finland eva.heiskanen@ncrc.fi


Von Hippel and colleagues have highlighted the crucial role of users in innovation in different industries and types of products. They describe the innovation process in terms of the distinct domains of knowledge that producers and users possess. Producers have knowledge about technical solutions and users about their needs, the context of use, and their own capabilities as users. Both sets of knowledge are characterized by “stickiness”: They move relatively freely within their own domain but are difficult to transfer outside of it.

In the case of radical innovations for sustainable consumption, the problem of “sticky information” is compounded. Both producers and consumers need to reach out of their conventional competencies and search for new solutions. “Societal actors,” such as government bodies or environmental experts, can show the way to such solutions, but this new knowledge needs to be integrated with the “sticky” knowledge about everyday practices in production and consumption.

In the present article we attempt to conceptualize the role and interaction of user and producer knowledge with the knowledge of environmental experts in housing energy innovations. We do so by applying the user−producer interaction framework to a case study on the introduction of low-energy housing concepts in Finland. On the basis of this analysis, we draw conclusions on the potential and limitations of today's practices in the field. For example, we suggest that user involvement can help to enhance the acceptance of low-energy solutions but that the methods for involving users need to be adapted to the particular circumstances in each industry.