Innovation Blog

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Platforms for Open Innovation

June 5, 2017 | Mike Dieckmann, Associate Vice President, Division of Research & Strategic Innovation

Hands Technology Innovation

One of the central tenets of design thinking - often used to drive innovation - is a focus on the client or customer.  For example, the IDEA method we use at the UWF Innovation Institute places the customer at the center of all aspects of the design process, from identification of the problem space through exploration of alternatives and the evaluation of potential solutions.  A natural evolution of this process is to broaden the definition of both “customer” and “design team” to include individuals not traditionally within that boundary - in other words, to crowdsource innovation.  That’s where the idea of open innovation, and platforms to support open innovation, come into play.

As a formal concept, open innovation is usually credited to Henry Chesbrough, adjunct professor and faculty director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.  In his 2005 book Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology, Chesbrough proposed that organizations must look beyond their boundaries to involve outsiders - and even potential competitors - in the innovation process.  Authors such as Schilling and Phelps[1] further refined the idea of “interfirm collaboration networks” as a necessary tool for organizations to maintain innovation momentum and competitive edge.

A decade later, design thinking leaders have fully embraced the idea that addressing tough problems often requires collaboration at scale: the active involvement of extensive groups of idea-generators, sifters, and refiners.  A design challenge may benefit from the involvement of large communities of employees, customers, or general citizens in the processes of framing the problem, generating ideas, refining ideas, and evaluating solutions.  A growing collection of open innovation software platforms now provides Internet-based tools for defining and managing community-based collaborative innovation, where the community can be defined as narrowly or broadly as desired.

Most of these platforms support the basic activities of hosting a design challenge and providing social media tools to allow broad participation in the challenge.  Others go farther, allowing crowdsourced collaborators to self-organize into teams and create more refined shared workspaces.  Many platforms support developing prototypes and refining them within the system.  Some provide analytics, and the more extensive platforms support rigorous analysis of business factors such as implementation cost and projected revenues.

Most existing comparisons of these open innovation platforms are published by the vendors themselves, with the expected slant toward their own platforms’ strengths.  At the IT Innovation Lab, we are currently evaluating these platforms for potential use by the University of West Florida’s Division of Research and Strategic Innovation.  When our study is complete, we intend to make available our own comparative analysis of these systems.  If you wish to recommend a platform to our attention, are a vendor desiring to have your platform included in our study, or wish to receive the results of our comparative research, please email


Michael Dieckmann is chief IT strategist for the UWF Innovation Institute, where he leads the IT Innovation Lab. He also serves as chief operating officer for the Florida Virtual Campus.

[1] Schilling, M., & Phelps, C. (2007). Interfirm Collaboration Networks: The Impact of Large-Scale Network Structure on Firm Innovation. Management Science, 53(7), 1113-1126.