The Politics of User-Driven Innovation

On innovative users, do-able needs, and frugal robots



User-driven innovation, participation, healthcare robotics, pre-commercial procurement, interfacing


Users play an increasingly important role in European innovation policy. They are commonly seen as drivers of and active co-creators within innovation processes. However, user-driven innovation remains infused with a number of assumptions about users, technology, and “successful” innovation, which (partly) undermine a more democratic, open approach to innovation. In this contribution, I investigate the interplay between broader policy assumptions in the European discourse on user-driven innovation and its practical performance within an innovation project centring on healthcare robotics. Here, I argue that the politics of user-driven innovation harbours particular assumptions that, in effect, restrict the agency of users while also engendering conflict and contradictory outcomes. Hence, user-driven innovation is not simply about users driving innovation but rather about interfacing users and their concerns with (robotics) developers and their technology. For this, I propose an analytics of interfacing, which draws together literatures on the performative dynamics of participatory processes and more recent work on the political economy of participation. Here, I contend that it is not enough to investigate the construction and performance of publics; rather, it is additionally necessary to follow the manifold practices by which those publics are rendered available for certain technological solutions – and vice versa. Such an analytical approach opens up a fruitful avenue to critically enquire into the politics of participation – sitting in between innovation policy and practice.

Author Biography

Benjamin Lipp, University of Hamburg

Studied sociology, economics and criminology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. In 2019, he received his PhD from the Technical University of Munich. In his dissertation, he investigated the techno-politics of care robots within the European context across domains of innovation policy, robotics research, and innovation activities. In 2021, he was awarded a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Hamburg and Cornell University. He currently studies the politics and use of neuro-technology in chronic pain management in the United States. In his research, he combines Science and Technology Studies and sociology to understand and theorize processes of co-creative innovation, especially in the domain of healthcare ICT.