Blog: Researching with the need first

As a researcher it has been a great privilege to work in the Biodesign Finland programme. One of the most striking aspects of the Biodesign innovation process I first paid attention to is the impeccable focus on identifying a concrete need first. But what does this have to do with research?

For a good while I have considered myself as a scientific innovator. My research focuses on development new medical ultrasound technologies. I belong to one of the many technologically oriented applied researchers to whom it is natural to explore creation of new solutions. The logical next step would be identifying, where the real need for the solution would be. There is nothing bad in this approach, but there is a risk: one begins to solve problems that are not deeply understood or validated, at worst the problems do not even exist.

The Biodesign process is quite the opposite with the solution-first -innovating. In Biodesign the idea is to look first for needs, then for more needs and finally for even more needs. During the first 1-2 months of a Biodesign project, we suppress on purpose the discussion of solution ideas, but instead focus on learning how to identify needs well. Biodesign addresses even how to select the “one winning need” from an ocean of needs. When the need is carefully selected and justified, the team starts to develop different solution concepts from which the team selects a winning concept. While the few months needed to get here might seem like a long time, in the time perspective of the medtech commercialization, which can take years, careful validation of the need is probably time well spent.

There is a lot to learn from the Biodesign concept. Where applicable, I am now exploring how to best apply key concepts of Biodesign in positioning research questions, researching with the needs first. This makes the life a bit more tough in the short term - but I would be surprised if I would ever regret this phase of needs identification in the long run.

Heikki Nieminen

The author is the Project Manager of Biodesign Finland and an Assistant Professor in Biomedical engineering.