User Research and Demand Research: What’s the Use?

An enquiry into the how and why of telecommunications studies
  • Michael Tyler
Part of the Nato Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 6)


This paper is an introductory contribution designed to stimulate discussion at the NATO Symposium on the evaluation and planning of telecommunications systems. It argues the case for a searching reappraisal of the quality and relevance of the growing volume of social, economic, behavioural and policy research into the implications of new telecommunications services and information technologies. The need for such research to underpin policy-making and planning through economic analysis, rational design, demand forecasting and many other approaches is generally acknowledged. A reappraisal of the field along the lines sketched in the paper would, it is suggested, show that the practical impact of the work has so far been slight and that serious deficiencies of strategy and method remain, despite considerable research achievements. An ‘agenda’ for the effort to develop this field of research and enhance its impact is suggested.


Technology Assessment Demand Forecast Telecommunication Service User Research Practical Impact 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Notes and References

  1. (1).
    Some authors write ‘need’, but mean ‘demand’ more or less precisely in the sense defined by economic theory: the amount of a service or a product that can be sold in the market under some given pricing arrangement. Others — including a significant but diminishing band within public telecommunications administrations—have in mind an approach that can be termed ‘paternalistic’ or ‘socially planned’, according to ideological preference. Yet others leave the meaning of ‘need’ totally unclear.Google Scholar
  2. (2).
    Ederyn Williams (1974). Is ‘Human Factors’ answering the important questions about telecommmications? In: Human Factors in Telecommunications, Proc. of the Seventh International Symposium, Montreal.Google Scholar
  3. (3).
    The work of the CSG in the formative period up to 1975 is well summarized in a report, ‘The effectiveness and acceptability of person-to-person telecommunications systems’ republished by Post Office Telecommunications in the U.K. as Long Range Research Report 3 in May 1975. The Annenberg Schools, the Harvard Program and the Alternate Media Center all piablish informative Annual Reports.Google Scholar
  4. (4).
    The Femmeldetechnisches Zentralamt (Central Technical Office for Telecommunications) of the Bunderministerium fur Post und Femmeldewesen (PTT Ministry), Federal Republic of Germany.Google Scholar
  5. (5).
    (5) Notably the Box-Jenkins time series methods which are used extensively in telephone companies and administrations for forecasting connections and traffic. S.R. Brubacher, ‘Forecasting in Bell Canada: Applications and Extensions of Box-Jenkins Model Building Techniques’. Proc. Int. Forecasting Conference, Windermere, 1977.Google Scholar
  6. (6).
    (6) Tyler, M., and Cartwright, B. (1974). Forecasting long-term for Telecommunications Services: methods and problems. Paper presented at the Aston Conference on Telecommunication Economics. Long Range Studies Divisions, Post Office Telecommunications (mimeo).Google Scholar
  7. (7).
    I use the word innovation as shorthand for any addition to—or fundamental change in—the range of telecommmication or information-processing services offered to the user, their detailed attributes, or the policies, prices and conditions associated with their use.Google Scholar
  8. (8).
    A comprehensive review of the teleconferencing work is given in Tyler and Cartwright, op. cit., and in the CSG report referred to in note 3. The MIT work is typified by: T.J. Allen and P.G. Gerstberger (1967), Criteria for selection of an information source. Report No. 284–67.Google Scholar
  9. Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, September 1967.Google Scholar
  10. (9).
    See for example R.R. Panko, ‘The outlook for computer mail’, and R. Pye and E. Williams, ‘Teleconferencing: is video valuable or is audio adequate?’, both in Telecommunications Policy, Vol. 1, No. 3, June 1977.Google Scholar
  11. (10).
    A useful discussion of some of these issues can be found in: B. Stapley (1974), A comparison of field trials of teleconferencing equipment. Communications Studies Group, University College, London. Working Paper P/74244/ST.Google Scholar
  12. (11).
    Tyler, M. et al. (1977). Review and recommendations on the assessment of demand for new telecommunications services: Interim Report. Communications Studies and Planning Ltd. in association with PA International Management Consultants Ltd., PO/77001/TY, January 1977.Google Scholar
  13. (12).
    Hough, R.W. (1976). A state of the art survey and preliminary analysis. Prepared for the National Science Foundation by the Telecommunications Science Center, Stanford Research Institute, Menlo Park, California.Google Scholar
  14. (13).
    PA International Management Consultants Ltd. (1973). Eurodata, 1972–1985. Copyright/publisher: Televerket (Swedish Telecommunications Administration) Farsta, Sweden.Google Scholar
  15. Data Transmission Company, Inc. (DATRAN) (1970). Comments of Data Transmission Company, FCC Docket No. 18920 (special carrier enquiry), 1st October 1970. Federal Commmications Commission, Washington D.C., U.S.A.Google Scholar
  16. (14).
    There is an extensive set of reports on the CEPT Business Communications Studies, but this has not yet been published. The CEPT Rapporteur for studies of demand for new services is Mr. B. Cartwright, Post Office Telecommunications/TSS6.1, 88 Hills Road, Cambridge, England.Google Scholar
  17. (15).
    Collins, H.A. (1977). Long range forecasting of telecommunications demand: message services in the U.K. Proc. Public Utilities Forecasting Conference, Bowness-on-Windemere, March 1977.Google Scholar
  18. (16).
    Federal Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (1976). Commission for the development of the telecommunication system. (Kommission für den Ausbau des technischen Kommunikationssystems: KtK.) Telecommunications Report. Federal Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, Bonn, Federal Republic of Germany.Google Scholar
  19. (17).
    M. Dormois, F. Fioux, and M. Gensollen. Evaluation of the potential market for various future communication modes via analysis of communication flow characteristics.Google Scholar
  20. (18).
    See the KtK report: Federal Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, Federal Republic of Germany, op. cit.Google Scholar
  21. (19).
    Many of these reports are not publicly available, but the approach is typified by an early and publicly available report for NASA: A study of trends in demand for information transfer. SRI, Feb. ‘70.Google Scholar
  22. (20).
    Williams, E., and Young, I. (1977). The choice to travel or teleconference amongst loudspeaking telephone users. Working Paper E/77077/WL, Communications Studies Group, University College London.Google Scholar
  23. (21).
    See for example: Porat, M. (1976). The information economy. Institute for Communication Research, Stanford University, report no. 27, August 1976.Google Scholar
  24. (22).
    J.G. de Chalvron, and N. Curien. Information, energy and labour force.Google Scholar
  25. (23).
    See for example: Rohlfs, J. (1974). A theory of interdependent demand for a communications service. Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1974.MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. (24).
    Appendix E, ‘Pricing and the Dynamics of Demand Growth’, in ‘Review and recommendations on the assessment of demand for new telecommunications services’, op. cit.Google Scholar
  27. (25).
    An historical analysis of the causes of success and failure in innovation would be extremely valuable. Some work of this kind has been undertaken by the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at Sussex University in England, with very interesting results summarized in Appendix B of the CS & P report to the U.K. Post Office cited in note 11. Two key points emerge: that a qualitative understanding of the nature and requirements of the market may be more crucial than the possession of a sophisticated quantitative model of demand; and that demand research prior to the extensive introduction of a new product or service is necessary since an ‘ad hocʼ process of modification of a product or service after introduction is more often associated with failure than with success. This should certainly not be interpreted as implying that services should not be modified as necessary subsequent to their introduction. It does suggest that such a pragmatic process on its own is unlikely to converge quickly and reliably enough as the ‘right’ service configuration or marketing strategy to ensure success: prior research is clearly- necessary.Google Scholar
  28. (26).
    See for example: Pye, R. (1976). The effect of telecommunications on the location of office employment. Omega: the International Journal of Management Science. Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 289–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Goddard, J.B., and Pye, R. (1977). Telecommunications and office location. Regional Studies, Vol. 11, pp. 19–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. (27).
    See: Stanford Research Institute (1977). Technology Assessment of telecommunications/transportation interactions. (3 volmes), prepared mder contract NSF-C1025 for the National Science Foundation (Office of Exploratory Research and Problem Assessment) by Stanford Research Institute, Menlo Park, California, in association with Communications Studies and Planning Ltd.Google Scholar
  31. (28).
    Research on the impact of technology on workers’ value- systems is being funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and directed by Dr. John Clippinger at Kalba Bowen Associates, 12 Arrow Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Tyler
    • 1
  1. 1.Communications Studies and Planning Ltd.LondonEngland

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