Fear, frustration or enthusiasm? – understanding user perspectives helps to develop better digital services

Tomi Niemi's doctoral dissertation at the University of Vaasa sheds light on the concept of digitalisation from a user’s perspective and helps to identify opportunities and obstacles related to digitalisation and the use of digital services.

Digitalisation is currently progressing at a rapid pace, but what exactly does digitalisation mean? According to Tomi Niemi, the answer depends on whom you ask.

– From the user's point of view, the concept of digitalisation is a vague one, with a lot of uncertainty. The accelerating pace of digitalisation and the use of technology can create not only optimism but also fear, resistance and frustration. For example, young people are already familiar with a “digital detox”, says Niemi, who will publicly defend his dissertation on Friday 25 August.

If the aim is to make digital services and solutions more functional and acceptable, it would be important to take users' views into account in a broad and diverse way when developing services.

In his doctoral dissertation, Niemi created a model of participatory-deliberative design, which helps to bring various perspectives into the development process. The co-creation model enables gathering users’ perceptions to create novel ideas and form a common consensus about the dealt matter. The model combines participatory design and the theory of deliberative democracy and collates the principles into one co-creation approach.

The digitalisation discussions in rural areas surprised the researcher

The data for Niemi's doctoral dissertation was also collected with an emphasis on user participation and co-creation. In practice, this meant group discussions in different rural locations and group discussions between individuals and clients in a healthcare organisation.

– We created co-creation events with representative groups to have a common discussion on digitalisation and generate ideas on how to utilise digitalisation for service development.

Niemi reveals that in rural areas, where many elderly people participated in the group discussions, attitudes towards digitalisation were surprisingly positive. In addition, some municipalities were very advanced in terms of digitalisation, for example, through the construction of a fibre-optic network.

– They also took pride in this. Investments in new technologies were seen as enabling a future for the municipality and making it more attractive to young people, students and families.

Affordance theory brings more insight into the opportunities and obstacles of digitalisation

According to Niemi, the most important theoretical contribution of his dissertation is the introduction of affordance theory, familiar from psychology, into research in administrative sciences and the development of digital services. The theory helps to understand the factors that enable or hinder insights related to digitalisation.

Affordances describe what a person or user would like to see in their environment and what possibilities and usages they can perceive, for example, by examining an object, technology or service. For example, someone might be observing a smartwatch and see an object that displays time, while another detects a fashion accessory, and for some, the smartwatch represents an adventure-enabling artefact.

– People have different competencies, diverse perspectives and different cultural backgrounds. They see the meanings and possibilities of things differently, Niemi explains.

According to Niemi, the results of his research contribute to unexpected situations, such as the digital leap during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as to more common situations and surroundings, as in the case of the digitalisation of welfare services.

Doctoral dissertation

Niemi Tomi (2023) The Affordances of the Digital Medium: Users' perceptions of digitalization. Acta Wasaesia 511. Doctoral dissertation. University of Vaasa.

Publication pdf https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-395-092-4

Public defence

Tomi Niemi's doctoral dissertation in the field of social and health management "The Affordances of the Digital Medium: Users' perceptions of digitalization" will be examined on Friday 25 August 2023 at noon at the University of Vaasa. 

The public defence will be held in Finnish. Professor Marko Seppänen (University of Tampere) will act as an opponent and Professor Harri Jalonen as a custos.


Further information

Tomi Niemi holds a master's degree in administrative sciences from the University of Vaasa, with a major in social and health administration. He also holds a bachelor of science in paramedicine from the Turku University of Applied Sciences.  Niemi lives in Vaasa. He has worked as a doctoral researcher, project researcher and teacher at the University of Vaasa.

Did you like the article?