Case Study

Co-creation & the IoT

Service design workshops to co-create use-cases for the Internet of things.


  • Co-creation
  • Facilitation
  • Rapid Protoyping
  • Concepting
  • Design requirements

Mobile and sensor technologies offer great opportunities, yet making these means work for social innovation is not self-evident. Based on the Context Mapping method from the Technical University Delft (Stappers (2008)), people centred workshops were designed to co-create the Internet of Things (IoT) together with multidisciplinary stakeholders and end-users. The workshop methodology emphasises people-product interactions and services instead of IoT as a technology. After identifying use cases metaphorical ‘sensors’ and ‘things’ are added to link these with technology to create meaningful solutions within a couple of hours.

"Over 150 participants took part in numerous Co-create The IoT workshops to create meaningful solutions within a couple of hours"

The workshop originated during the Internet of Things Week in Rotterdam (2013), where the first workshop was organised around the topic Social Smart Cities and Mobility. The original workshop kit, consisted of a workshop booklet, picture cards and words, a print out of the map of Rotterdam and object- and sensor images. The artifacts were designed to enable multidisciplinary stakeholders and end-users to co-create use cases around a, for many people, new and incomprehensible technology. The workshop booklet contained a number of tasks that instructed participants to ideate by means of the picture cards and place the object and sensor images on the map of Rotterdam to visualise their ideas in the form of a smart sensor network. Instead of technical sensors, human senses functioned as a metaphor to visualise the registration of sound, vision, taste, touch and smell. The first workshop was held with seventeen participants and was facilitated by two facilitators, one to lead the workshop session and the other to document it. The process and results of the workshop were documented in a Fanzine that was sent to all participants.

First Co-create the-iot workshop First Co-create the iot toolkit First Co-create the iot workshop booklet
First Co-create the IoT workshop during the IoT Week in Rotterdam.

After the successful facilitated workshop in Rotterdam, workshops were embedded in the SocIoTal project an European FP7 Research Project (2014). A second iteration of the workshop was developed. The workshop booklet was changed into a workshop poster with guidelines and space for participants to write down their process, decisions and conclusions. Also workshop templates each symbolising a digital device were added, to understand how end-users would like to interact with interfaces of IoT services. Instead of providing participants with picture cards and words there was decided to just provide them with the picture cards, since the words turned out to be redundant. The picture cards were printed on firmer paper and were cut in advance instead of letting the participants cut them out themselves and consequentially waste valuable time. The object and sensor images were redesigned, especially paying attention to usability, since the previous artifacts were primitive and therefore were distracting participants from the main workshop goal. In this second iteration the artifacts were laser cut and engraved in acrylic plastic. The artifacts were enhanced with actors, to enable participants to replay the scenario they put together with the artifacts.

Mock-up for the second toolkit Co-creative toolkit and actor Second Co-create the iot toolkit
First Co-create the IoT workshop during the IoT Week in Rotterdam.

For the SocIoTal project numerous workshops were held in Santander (Spain) and in Novi Sad (Serbia). The objective of these workshops was to discuss, co-create use cases and distillate requirements concerning societal problems, i.e. air pollution, road accessibility and neighbourhood participation, together with consortium partners, multidisciplinary stakeholders and end-users. For every workshop the picture cards were adapted to the topic of the workshop and if necessary new object tokens were laser cut. In some cases language barriers had to be overcome. For example, at the Level Up Conference (2014) in Tunis (Tunisia), where a workshop was held with thirty-six participants in the age of eighteen to thirty-five, who participated in groups of nine people. During the workshop two translators were present to translate the tasks and to help facilitate the workshop. All workshops were captured through notes, videos and photos. The new artifacts were a great succes. Participants used them as a boundary object to visualise and communicate their ideas.

“The traffic light sees the car, which communicates with the bicycles to create a green traffic flow through the city”

The objects almost became living things talking to each other, since the metaphorical senses made it easy to associate actions with human behaviour. The visualised network enables participants to express their needs more easily while building the IoT network and in the discussion held afterwards. By capturing these needs useful insights to formulate requirements can be obtained. After each workshop the findings were analysed and documented in a formal report that was shared with all consortium members and participants. The reports contained requirements and recommendations for the design and development of IoT applications and services.

Interaction cards with votes Participant filling in the workshop guideline poster Co-create the iot workshop Participants drawring user interface on device templates Co-create the iot workshop result Value propositioning template
Service design workshops to co-create use-cases for the Internet of things (second iteration).

As part of the Coordination and Support Action (CSA) - User Engagement for Large Scale Pilots in the Internet of Things (U4IoT), a European Horizon 2020 project, that is part of the IoT-Large Scale Pilot Programme, a website with end-user engagement tools and methods was developed to train and support Large Scale European Pilot (LSP) projects to engage end-users throughout their projects, among others by means of co-creative workshops (2017). With the experiences gained through the SocIoTal project the Co-Create the IoT workshops were further designed and developed into a third iteration. The workshop method and toolkit were redesigned to be generally applicable for the five LSP projects without having to make adjustments. The five domains that the LSP projects tackle are cities, agriculture, wearable technologies, active ageing and autonomous driving. Each of the projects started in a different project stage and consequently the projects have different needs concerning end-user engagement. The workshop therefore was split into a four phase co-creative cycle, with guidelines for Co-analysis, Co-design, Co-evaluation and Co-implementation. The materials of the Co-Creative Workshop Toolkit were redesigned to match the five topics of the LSP projects - Smart Mobility, Smart Entertainment, Smart Agriculture, Smart Cities and Smart Health. Empowered by the toolkit end-users can communicate on an expert level, whilst LSP experts are enabled to emphasise with the needs of end-users. As part of the training materials, the toolkit is accompanied by a handbook containing a detailed description of the workshop process, also an e-course has been made about the preparation and organisation of the workshop, making it possible for the LSP projects to autonomously organise and facilitate workshops themselves. Several training sessions and co-creative workshops were organised during the first two years of the U4IoT project. During the remainder of the project, that ends in December 2019, the LSP projects will be further supported by means of dedicated training sessions and workshop facilitation.

U4IoT third iteration toolkit U4IoT third iteration toolkit U4IoT third iteration toolkit
Third iteration of the Co-Create the IoT Workshop Toolkit made for the U4IoT project.

The Co-Create the IoT workshops not only were actively applied in European Projects, but the workshops are also used to assist large commercial companies, i.e. Accell Nederland (2016), in their decision-making processes, to distillate requirements and incorporate IoT solutions into their designs.

Publications & Related Work

  • Co-creation as the Key to a Public, Thriving, Inclusive and Meaningful EU IoT

    Van Kranenburg R., Stembert N., Moreno M.V., Skarmeta A.F., Lopez C., Elicegui I. and Sanchez L. (2014) UCAmI & IWAAL, IoT Everywhere: Towards smart objects everywhere.

  • Co-Creative Workshop Methodology Handbook.

    Stembert N. (2017) IoT-LSP Programme | User Engagement for Large Scale Pilots in the Internet of Things (U4IoT) - 10.5281/zenodo.1146240.

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