January 24, 2013

What we know about inbound open innovation

While this blog is intended as a resource for the open innovation community, like any blogger I reserve the right to advertise my own work. In 2012, most of my research was about open innovation. Much of this is still in progress, including three book chapters on OI in IT, and a new conference paper on OI in the life sciences. (Regular readers know I have also been working on co-editing a special issue on open innovation.)

Two papers accepted in 2012 were part of an ongoing collaboration with Marcel Bogers.

The first was published in March in Creativity and Innovation Management (Bogers and West, 2012). It offers a summary of what we know about distributed innovation, specifically open and user innovation, although it also touches on cumulative innovation and related topics. It’s the published version of the paper that Marcel and I presented at the 2009 Open and User Innovation Conference near Hamburg, and is up for a best paper award.

A Review of Research on Open Innovation

Even more exciting is our recently accepted literature review (West and Bogers, 2013) — forthcoming in the Journal of Product Innovation Management that has been posted to SSRN. It’s the largest (or at least most exhaustive) open innovation paper that I’ve ever written.

We looked for open innovation papers in SSCI in the top 25 journals for innovation management from 2003-2010. We identified 287 potential papers, and then we added four other highly-cited publications using Google Scholar. We coded these 291 publications and found 165 were actually about open innovation. We provide the full list of the 165 publications as a JPIM online-only supplement, (for now) in the SSRN paper, and on my website.

As spelled out in Table 3, 118 were about inbound open innovation, 70 about coupled (as defined by Enkel et al 2009) and 50 about outbound OI; obviously some touched on more than one topic. This provides a quantitative measure of what many have suspected for the last 10 years — academics (like practitioners) are more excited about inbound than outbound OI.

From this review, we developed a four phase process model on how firms bring external innovation (inbound or coupled) into the firm. The research is front-end loaded, focusing on obtaining external innovation (searching, enabling, filtering, acquiring). Less work has been done on the later phases: integrating (which is mostly absorptive capacity) and commercializing (e.g. measuring value capture). The fourth phase (interaction) considers the reverse flows that come from collaboration and feedback with external parties.

What was particularly noticeable was the absence of business models and firm-level outcomes from inbound open innovation. On the former, the work of Chesbrough and Rosenbloom demonstrated (before the 2003 book) that firms needed to align their innovations to their business models if they hoped to profit from them. On the latter, if inbound open innovation is about accelerating innovation, then firms should be able to see benefits on the bottom line, even though (we’d all admit) it takes more work to quantify such outcomes.

It was wonderful to see the process model cited at the London conference last June. We hope that the paper provides not only a cite to the body of open innovation — as review articles often do — but also (as with Dahlander & Gann) some insight on how to make sense of these hundreds of articles.


Bogers, Marcel and West, Joel, “Managing Distributed Innovation: Strategic Utilization of Open and User Innovation,” Creativity and Innovation Management, 21, 1 (March 2012): 61–75. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8691.2011.00622.x

West, Joel and Bogers, Marcel, “Leveraging External Sources of Innovation: A Review of Research on Open Innovation,” forthcoming in the Journal of Product Innovation Management, January 2, 2013, available on SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2195675

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