The rise of Social Innovation

Social Innovation is happening through many forms. Strong drivers are here to last: new partnerships and revised value chains, user integration since early stage. The reverse loop from the user to the technology is involving an active collaborative design: users become innovation producers, and require a new innovation OS.

Social Innovation forms

Social Innovation refers hereafter to social processes of innovation or collaborative innovation, such as open source methods and techniques. Collaborative innovation has developed over the past ten years through different types of approaches, and has reached momentum on the ground of realizing fast knowledge circulation across boundaries:

  • Open innovation (Chesbrough, 2003) completely changes the innovation funnel, by discovering and embedding new solutions and expertisemore rapidly that an internal R&D lab might accomplish; reversely, by “making unused ideas and technologies available to others, companies develop new business out of collaboration”;
  • Strategic Community networks are another form of Social Innovation.Japanese companies manage strategic communities (SCs) for new product development, with internal and external actors, including customers; strategic communities handle a dynamic process of knowledge creation involving 4 principles: “Ba” concept (physical or virtual place offering shared context to exchange tacit and casual knowledge), community of practices, pragmatic boundaries, and networks among the SCs;
  • User-led innovation (Von Hippel, 1986) open the doors to cocreation, and position “customer communitiesto drive a business growth”. “Individuals prototype novel products and receive assistance in developing their innovations from fellow community members. Information and assistance, as well as the innovations themselves, are freely shared ” explain Franke and Shah in their 2002 study. Social media is a natural booster.
  • Crowd sourced innovation, Idea improvement program (innovation idea helpers, office of innovation, center for creativity and innovation), Business Plan Competition, innovation tournaments, 72-hour IdeaJams, knowledge reuse system, and Global’s Idea Hub offer levers to nurture the innovation pipeline through external and internal ideation, and build a vivid corporate culture of innovation mixing the inside of the company with the outside market of innovation.
  • Modular innovation and Collaborative design show how collaborative design through creative components, paves the way for acceptance and ownership, driving developments on top of your innovation platform, and fosters a positive ecosystem;
  • Open Source organizes and boosts the production process; it can provide creativity even if no profit incentive is at stake.The fact that developers are often users also triggers short loop improvement.

Social Innovation drivers

The underlying meaning for Social Innovation approach embraces the following purposes:

  • Extend the exploration scope for new ideas;
  • Complement the ability to design, and the capacity to deliver;
  • Enhance customer experience, and prepare acceptance by the users.

To achieve these goals, Social Innovation develops towards two directions: partnerships and user integration.

“Rapid innovation drives new partnerships and revised value chains, considering innovation as part of an ecosystem (or a leadership platform as described by Larry Keeley): frontiers become loose as companies cooperate with their former competitors in coopetition framework, both evolutive and contingent.” (Pierre-Jean Benghozi in “Digital markets require disrupive business models”, 2011).

“The organization must embrace paradoxical forms of leadership, tolerance and rigour, autocracy and openness, it evolves from a product-based logic to a system-oriented vision, states Gilles Garel in his opening speech of  Chair of Innovation Management at CNAM.

User integration results from the end of the traditional linear innovation model (from R&D to sales). “It has been given up because of the need to accelerate product development and the intention to be first on the market.  Therefore, innovative firms try to integrate usage concerns and constraints at early stage. They redefine radically product design including features and user experiences hand in hand with technology and infrastructure know-how. Rapid innovation leads actually to anticipate market launch with beta releases or non stabilized version of new products.” clarifies Pierre-Jean Benghozi.

Integrating user experience upstream is also at stake in User Oriented Design that Brigitte Borja de Mozota links to new product development (User Oriented Design impact on New Product development, 2005). User Oriented Design impacts positively new product development in 4 dimensions close to Social Innovation: “It enhances collaborative development, improves idea generation, produces superior product or service solutions, and facilitates product appropriateness and adoption”.

From a passive user to an active co-designer

If innovation process often appears as a tension between a technology-driven and a user oriented focus, Ezio Manzini observes that Social Innovation is building a reverse loop from the user to the technology. Even more, as in the story of the SMS, the user creates a new habit out of an existing technology.

It matches the Intention Economy described by Valérie Peugeot, where the relationship with the market is reverse : user displays his intentions and designs his demand, as in the personal data store where user can share his data with selected vendors and personalize his request.

Passive input from the user is then changing in a more active collaborative design: passive insights collected through user-oriented design approach, latent needs uncovered focusing on user observation and ethnographic methods, are evolving toward active contribution of users, who become co-designers.

The loop from technology to user has not only becomes reverse, from user to technology; it has also extended beyond limited user feedback: user participates and gets ownership, he becomes an active part of the creation process. If “Users are innovation actors” as stated by Madeleine Akrich, distinguishing 4 main forms of user intervention (shifting the innovation, adapting it, extending it, and diverting it from its original goal), some users act as innovation producers in many domains:

  • Active user contribution is naturally the case in Open Source software, and in the world of intelligent things. Open Source cooperation for business includes OpenVBX or Invox (open source phone systems), marketplaces where others can create value, or advanced model of social CRM such as Giffgaff (“the mobile network run by you”).
  • Collaborative dimension is moving forward in the shaping of Open Source Objects in the Fab Lab. Toyota, Telecoms Korea, Fiat with first “open source” car Mio are other examples of this trend.

  • In frugal or “low-tech” innovation like crowd sourced innovations (Wikiepedia or Lewatmana, a multi-sources real-time information network alerting about traffic congestion in the city, based on SMS), the contribution of the user becomes predominant compared to the research in technology. Juggad innovations and Grass root innovations are innovations designed by average citizen entrepreneurs, with low investment: designed by the people for the people, covering village motors, urbanism, water filtration, vaccines, Tata Nanocar, low cost computer, low cost house, they rely on individual self-starting capacity, and capture innovations in the field. Honey Bee Network founded by Anil K. Gupta is an amazing initiative in this domain.
  • Collaborative consumption is a terrific play ground for Social Innovation: “collaborative consumption describes the rapid explosion in swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting being reinvented through the latest technologies and peer-to-peer marketplaces in ways and on a scale never possible before” as states Rachel Botsman. 3 types of collaborative consumption are currently emerging: 1)product service systems transfom product into a service (car sharing), 2) redistribution systems act as market places, and 3)collaborative life styles involve couchsurfing, colunching, coworking, choosing.
  • Cooperation touches the start-up domain as well: social product development company such as Quirky (or HackForward) is operating since 2009.

Switching to a marketing point of view brings the same trend. A recent survey by eYeka’s shows high peoples’ motivations to be creative and their willingness to collaborate with brands: a staggering 72,1% of respondents would be willing to co-create with brands if they had the chance to do it. Another Forrester Research found that 61% of all US online adults are willing co-creators.

Toward a new innovation OS

In this world where digital is pervasive, creation process is easy to share through modularization and distribution. Consequently, the creative product is never finished: it’s a living innovation, in a constant state of arousal, where users continuously shape the service. To some extent, the user is the service.

The role of the designer or innovation manager is then to create platforms and toolkit that will help others to design. “Designer as integrator” enriches his role: he unleashes the creative potential of users.

Extending translation theory developed by Callon, which explains the importance of ‘‘translators’’ from engineers to consumers and users, new “translators” of innovation are emerging here. Fostering co-development, nurturing and channeling energies, federating all creative players around a common belief, they enable third party to prototype, visualize and contribute proactively to the innovation ecosystem, and extend customer experience.

Modern innovation platforms welcome collective creativity: they set-up appropriate sensors to collect social conversation, allowing an ongoing exchange, and tools to enable co-design:

  • Social conversation is formal (suggestions, feedbacks, expectations …), and tacit  (usage observations, after-sales returns, latent needs …); it can be long-term, “involving people exploring beneath the surface of their lives to get to the real issues they face”;
  • Co-design is active (co-creation, co-development, building value on top of the platform) and orchestrated (recruiting the right individuals to participate, modularizing, distributing & consolidating work, management of community).

Future innovation collaborative platform is multitasks: it compiles data, extracts meaning, confronts the belief inside the organization about consumer knowledge, dispatches and integrates module, and enables a creative ecosystem. Future innovation platform works as a collaborative Operating System. As knowledge circulation in short cycles is the engine of innovation, it’s time for the engine to fire, leveraging on collaborative sparkles.



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