July 29, 2012

User (and open) innovation: three days in Boston

Monday marks the beginning of #oui2012, the Open and User Innovation Workshop 2012. It marks the 10th annual meeting of the conference founded by Eric von Hippel and his colleagues. This year the workshop is being hosted by Harvard (as it was in 2008), but has grown from 55 papers to 140 120 and more than 200 participants.

The plenary sessions include talks by some of the usual (Eric von Hippel, Carliss Baldwin) and not so usual (Michael Tushman, Shane Greenstein) suspects.

The various tracks/session groupings are
  • User entrepreneurship: 6 (Monday); Toolkits: 4 (Tuesday); Lead users: 8 (Wednesday); other user innovation: 4 (Wednesday)
  • IP: 7 (Monday)
  • Innovation contests: 6 (Monday) and Crowdsourcing: 10 (Tuesday)
  • Search and open innovation: 6 (Monday)
  • Online communities: 7 (Monday); Firms & communities: 4 (Monday)
  • Open innovation in firms: 8 on Tuesday, 12 on Wednesday
  • Policy & government: 6 (Monday)
  • Motivation: 6 (Tuesday)
  • Evaluation: 4 (Tuesday)
  • Innovation theory: 3 (Tuesday)
  • Open source software: 5 on Tuesday, 6 on Wednesday
  • Innovation in health and medicine: 6 (Wednesday)
  • Mass customization: 3 (Wednesday)
The 30 papers in sessions that mention either “firms” or “open innovation” are a rough proxy for OI papers, although I think at least half of the innovation contest/crowdsourcing papers are more OI than UI. So perhaps one-fourth of the papers are about OI, perhaps half have a UI theoretical (or philosophical) framing, and the rest are either both or neither.

With growth comes growing pains. Some of the crowdsourcing, open innovation and lead user authors are in competing sessions, which will make it more difficult to follow all the relevant research. Also, with a variable number of papers per session, it will be harder to jump between competing sessions (as was encouraged in 2008). As with any conference, some of the groupings are approximate: my paper (being presented Tuesday by co-author Jonathan Sims) on firms working with online communities is not grouped with either one. At least paper I’m presenting Wednesday (comparing open source in software and biology) is with OSS if not the other biomedical papers.

A number of my academic friends are surprised that (since 2008) I make a point to attend OUI every year but often skip the Academy (including this year). Even at its larger size, OUI is more focused on open and distributed models of innovation whereas even the TIM track of Academy is a hodgepodge of just about everything. The sessions of OUI offer a body of researchers on OSS, community, cumulative and related innovation processes that are only rarely found at even the best Academy session.

So I’m looking forward to returning to Boston, hearing interesting work and meeting old (and new) friends. Of course I’m also hoping to use the knowledgeable feedback to improve my own work, but that will at most be only 45 minutes of nearly three days of sessions.

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