Look Who's Acting!: Applying Actor Network Theory for Studying Knowledge Sharing in a Co-Design Project

Look Who's Acting!: Applying Actor Network Theory for Studying Knowledge Sharing in a Co-Design Project

Patricia Wolf (Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Lucerne, Switzerland) and Peter Troxler (Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, Rotterdam, Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/IJANTTI.2015070102
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Digital maker communities democratize manufacturing through hands on learning, trans-disciplinary work and open source knowledge sharing. Little is known how knowledge sharing actually happens. This study applied actor-network-theory as underlying theoretical framework to a co-design project in a digital maker community – the teletransportation project. At the core of this project was a basic digital design for a cup that can be 3D-printed. The study showed that the different network types re-assemble around nodes that result from translations (and therefore transformations) of the initial project idea and the code that allowed to 3D-print a cup. It was able to show translations and the circular movement in the network as well as translation costs, time effects, intermediaries and mediators.
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1. Introduction

When talking about value co-creation in innovation processes, management scholars usually conceptualize and study the ways how customers can be integrated as active participants into the design and/or production of a product or service (Prahalad and Ramaswamy; 2004; Sawhney, Verona and Prandelli, 2005). Tanev et al. (2011; p. 133) underline that through the mechanisms of value co-creation between firms and customers – particularly through participation platforms - and co-opetive interactions at multiple interfaces across a value network, customers and end users can “actualize (i.e., create) specific value chain configurations that would fit their proper need, context and preferences.” Similarly, other authors highlight that in value co-creation processes, the customers benefit from participation because he or she can contribute to and influence the design of a product or services (Sawhney, Verona and Prandelli, 2005; Kristenson, Matthing and Johansson, 2008).

The concept of value co-creation that put customers and end-users on par with firms has attracted large interest in the mainstream management literature because particularly value co-creation platforms were perceived as “a natural extension of some of the key aspects of the user-driven innovation paradigm” (Tanev et al., 2011; p. 133). Von Hippel (2005) for example studied and discussed free software projects like the GNU project (see also Benussi, 2005) as example for such user-driven open innovation. For this, he was accused by mainstream open innovation management scholars for not taking into account business models and the “capital that organizations may require to scale their innovations (and how they may earn a return to justify that capital)” (Chesbrough, 2012; p. 21). Interestingly, in particular the outside-in concepts of open innovation (for a summary, see Chesbrough, 2012) gained a lot of attention in management studies. Open innovation conceptually however changes the focus of value co-creation from originally developing strategies in relation to the entire value ecosystem back to a focus on the strategies of individual firms (Hearn and Pace, 2006; Tanev et al., 2011). Open innovation foresees that company-external actors such as customers contribute ideas and concepts that can be integrated into the R&D processes of a business. The usefulness of this approach “to create value while defining internal mechanisms to claim some portion of that value” (Chesbrough, 2012; p. 21) for companies has been widely acknowledged in literature (e.g. Chesbrough, Vanhaverbeke, and West 2006, Chesbrough, 2012). The term “co-creation” in open innovation literature therefore refers to what we call here the “crowd approach” of collaboration with customers for the purposes of innovation. Companies create value through integrating external ideas of customers (and others) into the R&D process (e.g. Chesbrough et al., 2006, Chesbrough, 2012) and aim at privatizing the wisdom of the crowd. Such crowd approaches restrict access and use of extant and new knowledge to the initiators of the corresponding innovation projects. From a labour perspective, they capitalize on unpaid work of volunteers (Terranova, 2004). Social innovation and benefits for the co-creating community are not intended and only emerge accidentally when results or theories cause market disruptions (Christensen, 1997).

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