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Design Customized Support for Innovative SMEs

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DCS-iSMEs (Design Customized Support for Innovative SMEs)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2021-09-30

Design Customised Support for Innovative SMEs/ DCS-iSMEs” is a project approved under the Innosup-06 Call of the HORIZON2020 programme. The overall objective of this project was to exploit previously developed tools and to capitalize KEPA’s experience in both Entrepreneurship and Innovation support, in order to evaluate, through a pilot application based on the RCT method, a Design-driven SME innovation support scheme and service.
KEPA, being responsible for the implementation and monitoring of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) programmes in the Regions of Central and Western Macedonia during the last 25 years, has observed that many of the actions funded do not have the expected RoI. The SMEs and the beneficiaries have stated respectively that there is a lack of an “after-sales service” approach on behalf of the managing authorities on further actions to ensure their investments, after the completion of programme’s financial support. During the last 7 years, KEPA has been actively promoting the Design Thinking methodology, aiming to enhance the SMEs’ sustainability, competitiveness and innovativeness, by participating in numerous projects and, hence, building its capacity. To support this cause, KEPA established a new initiative for the promotion of Design; the Hellenic Design Centre (HDC). HDC is the culmination of KEPA’s efforts to enhance Design Thinking methodology in the economy of Greece.
The main aim of DCS-iSMEs is to set up a brand-new innovation support service that will enable both the country to make a profit out of its investments on SMEs and the SMEs themselves to further improve their operation by applying Design Thinking. The core output of the project has been a feasibility study, operating as a “proof-of-concept” on the validation of the suggested service, that will in turn support its promotion to the related market. For the evaluation of the service, hence, the elaboration of the feasibility study, KEPA implemented an experimental pilot based on the principles of an RCT approach.
DCS-iSMEs was structured and implemented under the framework of the RCT methodology, which as a type of scientific experiment, was mostly applied in the form of clinical studies in science (medicine). It aims to reduce certain sources of bias when testing the effectiveness of new treatments; this is accomplished by randomly allocating subjects to two or more groups, treating them differently, and then comparing them with respect to a measured response. One group—the treatment group—receives the intervention being assessed, while the other—usually called the control group—receives an alternative treatment, such as a placebo or no intervention. The groups are monitored under the conditions of the trial, designed to determine the effectiveness of the experimental intervention, and efficacy is assessed in comparison to the control. There may be more than one treatment groups or more than one control groups.
European Commission identified the potential of the RCT application in social sciences and launched the respective call of Innosup-06 (Horizon2020), under which DCS-iSMEs was approved. As mentioned above, the aim of this project was to evaluate the benefits of a brand-new Design-centred service for the support of SMEs’ development and innovation. The method to evaluate the suggested service and justify its feasibility was the pilot application of an experiment based on the RCT approach and framework.
The selected model and course of action were selected based on the needs of the SMEs, the principles and tools of Design Thinking, the values of the RCT method, and the objectives set for the project. The general outline of the project included:
- Design and description of the service to be tested
- Launching of the call and allocation of SMEs in the 2 Groups
- Provision of the services per Group
o Phone calls and online interviews for the Design Clinic (both groups)
o Private meetings/workshops for the Design Customised Mentoring (Treatment Group)
- Evaluation of the service provided through a second round of online interviews.
As mentioned above, the intervention was fully and successfully applied, in terms of the provided services. The only changes concerned the necessary adjustments, following the COVID restrictions.
Originally KEPA was looking for data on both categories, in order to better justify the effectiveness of the service and of the application of Design Thinking. The scope of these interviews was targeting to a structured discussion to understand how the SMEs respond not only to Design Thinking, but also to innovation. COVID-19 created challenges that completely shifted the priorities of the SMEs, which had a significant impact on the evaluation of the intervention.
Design Thinking is a methodology and approach that can be very useful for enterprises of all sizes and sectors. As mentioned by several participants, Design Thinking services allowed them to gain new views and aspects on their businesses, allowing, thus, for a transformation not only for products but also for internal operational procedures.
Nevertheless, Design Thinking is still developing and, especially for Greece, it is still an unknown field. The business support experts, mechanisms, and organisations are not yet aware of its benefits, leading not only to limited resources or funds towards its application but also to a rather low level of expertise engagement.
Through the pilot action under DSC-iSMEs project, KEPA had the opportunity to conduct a small-scale experiment on the benefits stemming from the supported application of Design Thinking methodology and tools. Due to the limited time of project duration, KEPA selected a type of Design Sprint, called Design Customised Mentoring as the service to be tested and suggested to experts in the field. The experiment showed that Design Thinking was very useful and effective, when provided and supported by expert Designers, as opposed to the non-provision of any additional support apart from the general guidelines and presentation of respective tools.
In this regard, the general conclusion, is that the service as such is effective and can be profitable for both experts and SMEs.
Design Thinking is a developing process and methodology, adaptive and considerate of all the changes that might occur. Especially in ages of great uncertainty and massive circumstances, as the COVID era is currently producing, it is very important to have tools that allow for different perspectives and innovation.
On what concerns the experiment method; meaning the RCT approach for the collection of information and data, it was a remarkably positive experience for KEPA. It is a method that KEPA will seek to use again given the opportunity. The lessons learned from this process and experience are related mainly to the target groups and the sample of the experiment. In order to get reliable and useful, qualitative and quantitative data, the sample has to bear specific common characteristics:
- The SMEs should be part of the same sectors and sub-sectors where applicable
- The SMEs should be of the same size
- It will useful for the challenges to be limited to one or two, in order to reach reliable conclusions
- The indicators researched should be defined before the selection of the sample, in order to guarantee the provision of the necessary information.
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