‘Developing an App Could Be the Wrong Place to Start’: User Reflections and Ideas about Innovation in Municipal Substance Abuse Services

  • Vidar Bakkeli Work Research Institute, Oslo Metropolitan University , Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research
  • Arne Backer Grønningsæter Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research
Keywords: user involvement, co-production, technology, follow-up care, addiction, peer support


Introduction: There has been an increased focus on the search for innovative ways to use technology to improve services among many public welfare services. However, this focus has been less apparent among municipal substance abuse follow-up and aftercare services. Historically, this is a field that has had weak user involvement. Therefore, we have explored user ideas and reflections on whether and how technological innovation can improve these services.

Method: We conducted four group sessions with a total of 14 users of substance abuse follow-up services (five women and nine men) in the southern part of Norway in June of 2014 and February of 2016.

Results: The users who participated in the study pointed out that face-to-face interaction with service practitioners is an important dimension of these services. Some expressed fear that more technology might lead to services that are less relational or more standardized and that such developments might lead to reduced availability. They pointed out that enhancing individualization, continuity and service collaboration might be more important than prioritizing technology-oriented innovation. Nevertheless, the users viewed technology as positive and useful when it improves service accessibility and communication between service providers and users. More generally, the data also shed light on users’ service experiences. The analysis of these data shows that access to support from peers who have had user experiences was found to be particularly valuable.

Discussion: We contribute to the literature on co-production and user involvement by highlighting user perspectives on the risks, uncertainties and possibilities for the use of new technologies in service delivery. Based on these findings, we develop the ‘co-production triangle’. In this model, the relationship between the service provider and the user is expanded to include skilled peers as a third actor.

Keywords: User involvement, co-production, technology, follow-up care, addiction, peer support


Angouri, J. (2015). Online communities and communities of practice. In A. Georgakopoulou & T. Spilioti (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of language and digital communication (pp. 323-338). Abingdon: Routledge.

Antonsen, E. B. (2008). Et stykke på vei, men likevel langt igjen? [On the way, but still far to go?] Tidsskrift for psykisk helsearbeid, 5(4), 345-354.

Askheim, O. P. (2009). Brukermedvirkning - kun for verdige trengende? [Service-user participation in decision-making – only for the worthy?] Tidsskrift for psykisk helsearbeid, 6(1), 52-59.

Barnes, M., & Cotterell, P. (2013). Critical perspectives on user involvement. Bristol: The Policy Press.

Barry, A. (2001). Political machines: Governing a technological society. London and New York: Athlone Press.

Bell, D. (2001). An introduction to cybercultures. London: Routledge.

Beresford, P. (2013). From ‘other’ to involved: User involvement in research: An emerging paradigm. Nordic Social Work Research, 3(2), 139-148. https://doi.org/10.1080/2156857X.2013.835138

Bjelland, C., Solheim, A. K., & Rørendal, M. (2016). Hasjavvenning på mobilen [Getting off marijuana on the mobile phone] Rus og Samfunn, 9(6), 34-37.

Bovaird, T. (2007). Beyond Engagement and Participation: User and Community Coproduction of Public Services. Public Administration Review, 67(5), 846-860. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2007.00773.x

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Cairns, J., & Nicholls, J. (2018). Co-production in substance use research. Drugs and Alcohol Today, 18(1), 6-16. https://doi.org/10.1108/DAT-02-2018-0002

Crawford, M. J., Aldridge, T., Bhui, K., Rutter, D., Manley, C., Weaver, T., . . . Fulop, N. (2003). User involvement in the planning and delivery of mental health services: a cross-sectional survey of service users and providers. Acta Psychiatr Scand, 107(6), 410-414. https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1600-0447.2003.00049.x

Crawford, M. J., Rutter, D., Manley, C., Weaver, T., Bhui, K., Fulop, N., & Tyrer, P. (2002). Systematic review of involving patients in the planning and development of health care. British Medical Journal, 325(7375), 1263-1265. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7375.1263

Dahle, K. A., & Iversen, H. H. (2011). Hva er viktig for pasienter innen rusbehandling? [What is important for patients in drug addiction treatment?] Nasjonalt kunnskapssenter for helsetjenesten.

Dyrstad, K., & Ose, O. S. (2014). Kommunalt rusarbeid og innlemming av statlig rustilskudd i den kommunale rammen [Municipal drug addiction work and inclusion of state grants in the municipal budget frame] Sintef.

EMCDDA. (2017). European Drug Report: Trends and Developments. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction.

Forshaug, A. K. (2015). User involvement in design of health care services. In G. Bingham, D. Southee, J. McCardle, A. Kovacevic, E. Bohemia, & B. Parkinson (Eds.), Great expectations : design teaching, research & enterprise : proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, Loughborough Design School, University of Loughborough, United Kingdom, 3rd-4th September 2015 (pp. 226-231).

Hamari, J., Sjöklint, M., & Ukkonen, A. (2016). The sharing economy: Why people participate in collaborative consumption. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 67(9), 2047-2059. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.23552

Haugjord, K., & Wivestad, A. (2016). Vår DIGITALE verden [Our digital world] Rus og Samfunn, 9(6), 30-33.

Johannessen, A., & Eide, S. B. (2015). Evidence from social service enhancement projects: Selected cases from Norway's HUSK project. J Evid Inf Soc Work, 12(1), 7-31.

King, A. (2011). Service user involvement in methadone maintenance programmes: The ‘philosophy, the ideal and the reality’. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 18(4), 276-284. https://doi.org/10.3109/09687637.2010.495098

Lember, V. (2018). The role of new technologies in co-production and co-creation. In T. Brandsen, T. Steen, & B. Verschuere (Eds.), Co-croduction and co-creation: Engaging citizens in public service delivery (pp. 115-127). London and New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315204956-16

Lember, V., Brandsen, T., & Tõnurist, P. (2019). The potential impacts of digital technologies on co-production and co-creation. Public Management Review, 21(11), 1665-1686. https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2019.1619807

Lindgren, I., Madsen, C. Ø., Hofmann, S., & Melin, U. (2019). Close encounters of the digital kind: A research agenda for the digitalization of public services. Government Information Quarterly, 36(3), 427-436. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2019.03.002

Magnusson, P. R. (2003). Benefits of involving users in service innovation. European Journal of Innovation Management, 6(4), 228-238. https://doi.org/10.1108/14601060310500940

Meijer, A. (2012). Co-production in an information age: Individual and community engagement supported by new media. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 23(4), 1156-1172. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-012-9311-z

Meisingset, K. (2016). – Må rydde opp [– Need to sort it out]. Rus & samfunn, 6/2016, 38-42.

Nabatchi, T., Sancino, A., & Sicilia, M. (2017). Varieties of participation in public services: The who, when, and what of coproduction. Public Administration Review, 77(5), 766-776. https://doi.org/10.1111/puar.12765

Needham, C. (2008). Realising the potential of co-production: Negotiating improvements in public services. Social Policy and Society, 7(2), 221-231. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1474746407004174

Nordfjaern, T., Rundmo, T., & Hole, R. (2010). Treatment and recovery as perceived by patients with substance addiction. J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs, 17(1), 46-64. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2850.2009.01477.x

Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services. (2015). The Norwegian National Action Plan on Alcohol and Drugs (2016-2020). Prop. 15S (2015-2016). Oslo: Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services.

Noveck, B. S. (2015). Smart citizens, smarter state. The technologies of expertise and the future of governing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. https://doi.org/10.4159/9780674915435

Osborne, S. P., Radnor, Z., & Strokosch, K. (2016). Co-production and the co-creation of value in public services: A suitable case for treatment? Public Management Review, 18(5), 639-653. https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2015.1111927

Owens, C., Farrand, P., Darvill, R., Emmens, T., Hewis, E., & Aitken, P. (2011). Involving service users in intervention design: a participatory approach to developing a text-messaging intervention to reduce repetition of self-harm. Health Expectations, 14(3), 285-295. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1369-7625.2010.00623.x

Parpan-Blaser, A., & Hüttemann, T. (2010). Key issues and dimensions of innovation in social services and social work. In K. Müller, S. Roth, & M. Zak (Eds.), Social Dimension of Innovation (pp. 183-194). Prag: Linde.

Patterson, S., Weaver, T., Agath, K., Albert, E., Rhodes, T., Rutter, D., & Crawford, M. (2009). ‘They can't solve the problem without us’: a qualitative study of stakeholder perspectives on user involvement in drug treatment services in England. Health & Social Care in the Community, 17(1), 54-62. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2524.2008.00797.x

Patterson, S., Weaver, T., & Crawford, M. (2010). Drug service user groups: Only a partial solution to the problem of developing user involvement. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 17(1), 84-97. https://doi.org/10.3109/09687630802225495

Pollitt, C. (2010). Technological change: A central yet neglected feature of public administration. 3(2), 31-53. https://doi.org/10.2478/v10110-010-0003-z

Pols, J., & Moser, I. (2009). Cold technologies versus warm care? On affective and social relations with and through care technologies. ALTER - European Journal of Disability Research / Revue Européenne de Recherche sur le Handicap, 3(2), 159-178.

Renland, A. (2016). Leder [Editorial]. Rus & samfunn, 6/2016.

Schulte, S., Moring, J., Meier, P. S., & Barrowclough, C. (2007). User involvement and desired service developments in drug treatment: Service user and provider views. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 14(3), 277-287. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687630701267317

Sismondo, S. (2010). The social construction of scientific and technical realities. In S. Sismondo (Ed.), An introduction to Science and Technology Studies (pp. 57-71). United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell.

Slettebø, T., Brodtkorb, E., & Dalen, H. (2012). Brukernes erfaringer og syn på kollektiv brukermedvirkning [User experiences and views on collective user involvement] Fontene forskning, 12(1), 43-55.

Stickdorn, M., & Schneider, J. (2012). This is service design thinking: Basics, tools, cases. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.

Trivedi, P., & Wykes, T. (2002). From passive subjects to equal partners: qualitative review of user involvement in research. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 181, 468-472. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.181.6.468

Van Hout, M. C., & McElrath, K. (2012). Service user involvement in drug treatment programmes: Barriers to implementation and potential benefits for client recovery. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 19(6), 474-483. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/09687637.2012.671860

Verschuere, B., Brandsen, T., & Pestoff, V. (2012). Co-production: The state of the art in research and the future agenda. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 23(4), 1083-1101. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-012-9307-8

Voorberg, W. H., Bekkers, V. J. J. M., & Tummers, L. G. (2015). A systematic review of co-creation and co-production: Embarking on the social innovation journey. Public Management Review, 17(9), 1333-1357. https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2014.930505

Wilkinson, S., & Wilkinson, C. (2018). Researching drinking 'with' young people: A palette of methods. Drugs and Alcohol Today, 18(1), 6-16. https://doi.org/10.1108/DAT-08-2017-0036

How to Cite
Bakkeli, V., & Grønningsæter, A. B. (2020). ‘Developing an App Could Be the Wrong Place to Start’: User Reflections and Ideas about Innovation in Municipal Substance Abuse Services. Nordic Journal of Social Research, 11(1), 86-108. https://doi.org/10.7577/njsr.2185