My work gives me access to a range of open innovation practices – in the corporate sector, public sector and the cultural sector. I’ve come to realise that each has its own terminology and its own strengths in connecting with a crowd in more engaged ways. So I’ve set myself a task of trying to develop a taxonomy of public engagement to help sectors to learn from each other’s experiences.
There are firms in the commercial sector very accustomed to the term ‘open innovation’ – the number of companies who have sprung up precisely to help corporates with their open innovation strategy is testament to this movement: 100% Open, WeCreate, Collaboratie Mutopo. There are a range of practices (open space technology, closed and open idea calls, an ‘airlock’ mechanism to protect developing IP) which allow firms to gather ideas from a crowd and to select the most promising for further development. The direction is predominantly one of ‘pull’ – collecting and banking ideas from outside – and the relationship with the idea owners is mainly short lived.
In the public sector, and as part of a wider open governance agenda, there has been a greater emphasis upon participation. The public is asked to respond to ideas (maybe with a vote) and suggest solutions for social challenges. Some enlightened service providers are actively engaging crowds in co-producing services or offering challenge prizes – rewards for whoever can most effectively meet a social challenge. But, as Beth Noveck, the US Deputy Chief Technology Officer for open government would say, civic engagement is rather transactional and disconnected from power and this movement is not yet realising the ways in which (especially with digital tools) people can collaborate with each other in extraordinary ways.
The cultural sector still uses the term ‘audience development’ to describe all the ways in which a crowd can engage with cultural production. The audience development spectrum runs from receptive (spectating) to participatory (crowd-sourcing and co-created art) and the sector has a good track record in nurturing and developing audience relationships. That said, the conversation about levels of engagement (in the UK at least) has largely remained stuck in discussions about equal access to the arts, meaning that the majority of organisations operate in ‘push’ mode when it comes to relationship with the public.
Over the next couple of months I am going to be seeking to unpick the practices of open innovation, demystify the terms and present some tools for practitioners in different sectors to learn from each other and to open up to a crowd in ways which lead to genuinely new collective wisdom.