Exploring the Ecosystems and Principles of Community Innovation

Exploring the Ecosystems and Principles of Community Innovation

Andrea Botero (Aalto University, Finland), Kimmo Karhu (Aalto University, Finland) and Sami Vihavainen (Aalto University, Finland)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-774-6.ch012
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In this chapter, we explore some of the contemporary configurations of what we will refer to as community innovation. We probe the relevance of the phenomena by illustrating and comparing the digital ecosystems that surround some communities that innovate together in a world of social media and Web 2.0 tools. In particular, two cases are used to illustrate the arguments: a collective venture for designing electric car conversion kits (eCars – Now!) and a looser collective representing the development ties of LEGO® user groups with the firm. These cases are presented through their existing ecosystem and communication tools and the ways in which their stories challenge linear and individualistic models of innovation. We argue that, for these communities, configuring and constructing an appropriate set of communication tools and new media seem critical in negotiating a place for themselves between grassroots cultural innovation and corporate control. In doing this, we also suggest some social principles that drive community innovation practices, as they are present through our examples.
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Beyond The Firm: An Alternative Locus Of Innovation1

The classical, manufacturing-centred model of innovation that has prevailed for most of the past several decades assumes that an innovation starts – usually – from insights created within a firm’s research and development unit (Godin, 2006). These innovations are then developed into a product (offering), marketed, and later 'diffused' to end users (Rogers, 2003). From a managerial point of view, the classical manufacturing-centred model has had several salient implications. When it comes to the activities of those involved with new product and service development, the main concern has been to keep the process strictly controlled between the boundaries of the firm (closed) and assert it as the realm of experts. When it comes to the rest of us, one immediate consequence has been to believe that it is mostly lonely experts, usually within firms, who hold a monopoly in the innovation and design processes of new technology. This happens despite the fact that most of our everyday life experiences can account for innovation as, mostly, a collective endeavor of making sense of both technology and practices at the same time (Tuomi, 2003).

In this sense, the aforementioned classical producer or manufacturing-centred model has shown its limits in accurately describing how innovations actually unfold. In recent decades, research in such diverse fields as science and technology studies (Bijker, Hughes, & Pinch, 1989), innovation management (Von Hippel, 1998), marketing (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004), design (Greenbaum & Kyng, 1991), and media studies (Jenkins, 2006) have shed light on new understandings of innovation as a distributed, non-linear, and dynamic process. It has also become increasingly clear that these processes involve changes at different stages (not only in technology) and that there are more active roles for stakeholders, such as audiences, users, suppliers, and customers, who previously have been assumed to embody mainly reactive roles. While the field of media studies can be recognized as an early mover in recognizing this shift in grassroots innovation culture, particularly when it refers to new ways of content creation, in this chapter, our focus will be on similar discussions that are ongoing in business and innovation management. One interest is to challenge the pervasive belief in the position of companies as the places where innovation takes place. This is evident, for example, in current management approaches that advocate distributed processes of innovation and seem to contain inherent biases towards the role, benefits, and policy implications as they pertain to firms and corporations (Nachira, 2007; West, 2009).

It has been argued that one of the most important challenges for innovation research is to enhance collective capacities to participate in innovation processes and, even more importantly, collective capacities to participate in the governance of such processes (Callon, 2004; Thirft, 2006). The problem seems to be one of achieving cooperation between groups who share some interest but might also have conflicting and often antagonistic agendas and motivations. According to Callon (2004), the notion of community (as described and elaborated on by authors such as Knor Cettina, Laven, and Wenger) could be at the center of new forms of organization that are experimenting with these processes. In explaining his point further, Callon argues:

Talking of community means giving up the myth of the brilliant individual innovator and inventor. It means recognizing that users or consumers who express their preferences are not isolated but caught up in social networks. It is collectives that invent, design, develop and use innovations. In fact, more and more often, the same collectives simultaneously take care of all these activities. In order to do so they combine the competencies of different actors. These collectives also contain technical devices and in particular systems of communication without which they would be ineffective. In short, these strange melting pots are a mix of humans and non-humans. I will use the words “communities” or “hybrid collectives” to denote these new actors of innovation. (Callon, 2004)

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