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Studies in Media, Innovation and Technology (SMIT)

Research Group

Main organisation:Research Council
Lifecycle:1 Jan 1970  →  Today
Organisation profile:

The research centre for Studies on Media, Information and Telecommunication was set up in 1990 by Prof. Dr. Jean-Claude Burgelman at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, within the department of Communication Studies. In 2000, Prof. Dr. Caroline Pauwels became director of the centre. SMIT research focuses on socio-economic and policy aspects of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and underlying infrastructures. It combines both fundamental (PhD's) and applied research, and has been active in short and long term, as well as national and European research projects. Over the last 15 years the centre has known a steady growth both in terms of personnel as in terms of research output. The centre endeavours an interdisciplinary course: the majority of researchers are communication scientists, but within the projects they work in close conjunction with sociologists, political scientists, lawyers, economists etc. In search for structural trans-national collaboration, it has concluded a research agreement with the Dutch TNO-STB in 2001. ICT and the advent of an information and knowledge society leads to new forms of organising work, education, leisure, social interaction, political participation, health, well-being etc. In this way, ICT do impact on every aspect of the life of the 'networked individual'. The latter being at the core of SMIT's research agenda, projects are articulated under 4 main topics: citizenship, health and well being, media and communication, and culture/leisure. In order to contribute to the rise of a 'user-friendly' Information Society, SMIT indeed has a triple, intertwined research scope. * First, the social shaping of technologies must be studied, as well as their 'domestication' (making a technology one's own) in daily practices and routines. By studying user-related aspects of technology appropriation and domestication, SMIT aims at formulating recommendations ex ante technological engineering. * Secondly, for a user-friendly information society to emerge, policy and regulatory options and foresights are studied and evaluated on their inherent strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. * Thirdly, SMIT studies the way ICT influence corporate and institutional behaviour, objectives and output (content, innovation of services). Moreover, SMIT performs in-depth analyses on how ICT affect the overall business modelling of converging multimedia and multiplatform industries. A micro, meso and macro level underlies different research projects. On a policy level, SMIT research indeed focuses on sub national (local (city), regional (Flanders)), national (Belgium) as well as trans-national (EU, worldwide) initiatives, and their underlying (in)consistency. On a corporate and institutional level, research ranges from attention for SMEs to trans national industrial conglomerates involved in telecommunications, computing and media.... As far as the social groups are concerned, SMIT's research projects encompass how both individuals, specific target groups (micro-enterprises, elderly people, youngsters, NGO's...), and Civil Society as a whole use ICT in the organisation of their different activities. Schematically, this constitutes the SMIT's research agenda. Through its research, SMIT is seeking to fill a number of empirical and theoretical gaps in communication science research, attributing equal importance to both theoretical (evaluation, explanation) and empirical verification/falsification (facts and figures). Moreover, a normative stance underlies all research projects: research setups should avoid technological, social and economic determinism. It seems indeed right to stress that SMIT believes that not everything that is technologically possible or economically viable, is socially relevant or worthwhile pursuing. Concepts as equal opportunities for all, social inclusion, bridging the digital divide, community building, cultural diversity... are at the core of SMIT's research concerns. SMIT research, in its methodological articulation, and depending on the topic under scrutiny, combines user, policy and business analysis (see scheme) with both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. In order to develop new methodological tools, a continuing dialectic between theory and empirical research is one of the centre's high-level objectives. Over the years, three methodologies have become the core of SMIT's research agenda: * user analysis, encompassing * policy analysis * business modelling 1. User analysis Understanding the everyday use of ICT through socio-technological research is one of SMIT's key objectives. We investigate how sociological and economic trends influence ICT developments and vice versa. This process of 'mutual shaping' between society and technology is at the core of the research approach. On the one hand this implies a thorough examination of how and why new media are adopted and used. On the other hand this also requires an investigation of how these media technologies can influence and support developments on different levels in society. Our mission is to translate these findings to industry and policy settings. For this we envisage three main outputs. First of all the research on ICT usage feeds into technological design and development decisions, preferably early on in the R&D process. Second a critical reflection on the interplay between society and ICT supports social, economic and technological policy decisions. Third the user research looks at how the role of 'the user' changes and reconfigures business models of converging ICT and media industries. In order to examine the ICT user we use different techniques, with a focus on qualitative methods. The interpretative approach is ideal for understanding why and how the (potential) user makes sense and behaves in certain ways, when being confronted with (new) media technologies. For this we ground our research on analytical induction, which involves different techniques like in-depth interviews, focus group interviews and ethnographic observations. These techniques are complemented with quantitative methods, like logging analyses and (online) surveys, to enable triangulation of empirical findings. The most optimal set-up for examining everyday use of ICT is confronting (potential) users and (demonstrators of) communication technologies in a real life setting. This kind of test and experimentation platform is called a 'living lab'. It is an experimentation environment in which technology is given shape in real life contexts and in which (end) users are considered 'co-producers'. Setting-up and conducting living lab research is one of SMIT's core expertise domains. 2. Policy Analysis Policy considerations have always been at the heart of our research on media, ICTs and telecommunications policy. SMIT sees policy analysis as an overall analytical framework to understand government policy--both in its actions and inactions--and regulation. In our studies on policy formulation we often start from a political economic point of view and look at how policy comes about, how different stakeholders influence policy and how different layers of policy formulation interact and what the consequences are. We complement this analysis with more evaluative approaches, both formal--assessing outcomes and impacts against formal objectives and goals--and normative--assessing outcomes and impacts against theoretical and moral frameworks. SMIT has--both at the fundamental and more applied level--worked at different policy levels, from the regional (Flanders), over the national (Belgium, Holland, South Africa), to the supranational (EC) and international level (WTO, World Bank, ECA, etc.). In terms of our prescriptive studies we mainly rely on methods and insights related to our political economic studies, user studies and business modelling. In 2003 e.g. we conducted a preparatory study for Cultuurnet Vlaanderen, looking at user aspects of ICTs and cultural participation, formulating recommendations for a segmented approach. In 2004 e.g. we formulated a best-practice study on eDemocracy in Europe and recommended lessons for Flanders for viWTA/Flemish Parliament, etc. More recently SMIT is starting to extend its methodological toolkit in the direction of foresight studies making use of more qualitative research methods, both in its policy and business modelling studies. E.g. in 2005 we elaborated scenario's on home care in Flanders for the next 10 to 15 years on the basis of scenario brainstorms with stakeholders. 3. Business Modelling Increasingly, innovation in ICT services is carried out by networks of private (but also public and semi-public) actors. A common business model is a prerequisite for the success of such innovations. Interest in the concept of business models has been closely linked to the rise of Internet-based e-commerce. The (additional or alternative) channels offered by the on-line environment spurred firms to devise new ways of interacting with their customers, be it end users or other companies. Through various forms of disintermediation and re-intermediation, more direct or value-added ways of interaction between firms and customers seemed to become possible. In the telecommunications sector, interest in the concept of business models has been fuelled by the (partial) unbundling of technical functions and economic roles, caused mainly by technological developments and regulatory pressure, and the expectation of a range of new value-added telecommunications services. For telecommunications firms, the main questions to be solved by new business models are those connected with shifting firm boundaries and the complex provision of new services. The growing notion of a telecommunication system as a complex structure of cultural, process and technology components engineered to accomplish organisational goals, creates the need to analyse just what happens in such systems. This integrated view is what sets business models apart from other models for business design, i.e. process models, business cases etc. Therefore, we define "business model" as a description of how a company or a set of companies intend to create and capture value with a product or service. A business model defines the architecture of the product or service, the roles and relations of the company, its customers, partners and suppliers, and the physical, virtual and financial flows between them SMIT helps private and public actors to increase the value of ICT innovations through: * Analysis and benchmarking of existing business models * Scenario construction and development of new business models * Analysis of viability and potential implications of future business models

Keywords:Information Technologies, Science Communication, New Media, Communication Policy (3Rd World), EC, Belgium, Regional, Telecommunications
Disciplines:Media studies, Information sciences, Communications