February 22, 2008

Considering communities in open innovation

In July 2005, Hank Chesbrough, Wim Vanhaverbeke and I were wrapping up the manuscript for the Oxford book. We had two drafts of all the chapters from the authors, and were on track to finish the manuscript by August (which eventually proved to be October with hiccups merging all the references).

The problem was, we had no final chapter (Chapter 14). So in July we all met in Berkeley (followed by meetings the following month at Academy and again in Berkeley) to decide out how we wanted to conclude the book.

The original goal of the book was to provide an up-to-date and complete orientation to the academic study of open innovation. The three editors wanted to make the ideas and research approaches clear to those new to open innovation research — particularly doctoral students who were just beginning their careers as innovation scholars.

So for the concluding chapter, we tried to come up with a comprehensive framework for open innovation research by categorizing what had been done and what might be done. One categorization was by research design. I was particularly proud of the classification by level of analysis, as summarized by Table 14.1.

However, it turns out that table (and classification) had an important omission. Last spring, when I went to write my keynote for one of the EURAM tracks on open innovation, I realized that we’d left out communities.

There really was no excuse. I’d been researching open source since May 2000, and even had an open source chapter (Chapter 5) in the book. I’m guessing my problem was that my work (until my paper with Siobhán O’Mahony) was always about the firms, not the communities.

I recently got a chance to correct that omission. The best papers from one of the EURAM 2007 tracks are to be published this May in a special issue of Industry and Innovation (the CBS journal). Karim Lakhani and I were invited to write a concluding paper for the special issue based on our respective EURAM keynotes. In looking through the two PPT decks, the common theme that jumped out was that of community innovation — so that’s what we wrote about.

One goal of this year’s paper was to fill the gap of communities as a level of analysis in open innovation. Another was to make sure that those who study innovation communities will think about how it ties to open innovation. But mainly we wanted people to be more rigorous on how they defined and used the concept of innovation communities.

After Wim and the special issue editors gave us some feedback, we finished the paper a few weeks ago; it should be published later this year. We don’t claim it’s an AMR-style treatment, but hope it will stir thinking by innovation researchers on how to combine the ideas of communities and innovation — and to do so in an open innovation framework.

I’ve posted the PDF on my website and would welcome feedback about what we got wrong (or right).


Anonymous said...

Mr. West
i am extremely new to the Open Innovation concept but i am hoping to jump in with both feet shortly. As i have been investigating Open Innovation to understand the world, it occurred to me the social aspect to Open Innovation. I was thrilled to find your article (Google rocks!) and enjoyed reading it very much. I have some comments, albeit they are from a novice so take them with a grain of salt. If you have any time in your busy schedule to respond and "set me straight", i would very much enjoy your additional insight.
Chad (briddellc@tessco.com)

> Immediately i envisioned a www.linkedin.com experience whereby innovation agents (individuals, companies, institutions) could be invited into a network. In contrast to LinkedIn where people's profiles are posted and reviewed, companies could post information about projects in either the research phase or development phase. I am debating the need to invite people/companies into your network vs an open access blogosphere approach...as for-profit companies do have to be considerate to competition.
> this wold be without a doubt, a community with a purpose....profit through product/service expansion to the global market. what is intriguing and facilitated by software would be allowing a true market competitor into the community. Project knowledge of each other may evolve in many fashions...if we share the same concept one could launch first and the other could be a real-fast follower. also, one firm could choose to exit the project because the other is already doing it, in any case the information and risk/reward is improved and isn't business mostly about trading risk for reward?
> i also like the idea as it relates to fostering product expansion to markets not penetrated before. Envision a company with mostly US sales could develop a product that would sell in the EU but has no penetration. Offering/co-developing the product with a similar firm in the EU (one with no penetration in the US) could quickly allow for incremental/non-competitive revenue.
> page 5 postulates some comments about the degree to the extent of collaboration may be and is a really a community or a customer base. I see your point. i refer your thinking back to the idea of "flow of information". Does product transparency in the market serve the market and its constituents and therefore provide value to the community?
> Does OPEN Innovation imply a more idealistic nature of sharing without walls? i consider a more palletable subset of Open Innovation as Networked Innovation which implies a defined Network of agents interacting for mutual benefit of commercializing ideas.

Food for thought...

Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting. Since you are new to Open Innovation, I would encourage you to read Chapter 1 of the Oxford book (available free online, follow the link).

The short answer to your final question is that some people are interested in innovation that is shared by all and owned by no single individual, such as Project GNU in open source. But this is not the kind of innovation that we considered in our communities article, nor in the Oxford book. In fact, Chapter 5 of the Oxford book contrasts open source that is not open innovation and vice versa. Chesbrough's definition is making money from innovation, although many of the community innovation principles would be similar.

To your first point, absolutely one of the most important issues for open innovation is finding a way to match buyers and sellers. If there is no system for doing this, then neither party can use the market to procure/sell innovations and only closed innovation takes place.

What is the right way for doing this? I don't think the problem has been solved. If you want to solve it, there are some difficult questions about measuring the quality of the innovation, and also on telling people about your innovation without having them sell it. EBay or Craig's List wouldn't be enough.

I hope this helps you in your thinking.


Don said...
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