Friday, March 13, 2009

User Driven Innovation & Public Policy

There is plenty of expertise in promoting technology transfer. Many best practices can be easily found and evaluated, from Science Parks to Collaborative projects or empowering collaboration between universities or research centers and companies …

If what we want to deal is entrepreneurship, then we will encounter a similar scenario.

However, if what you aim is to promote User Driven Innovation you will be confronted with almost nothing but tapping into the unused potential of groups or individuals and trying to capture their creativity.

Why this happens?

I think there are two main reasons for that.

First, UDI (User Driven Innovation) is quite a recent phenomenon that has mostly worked by itself in the form of Open Source or lead users. In fact, the general availability of technology to users is a recent fact. For most of the time technology has been under the walls of Universities or Research Centers.

Secondly, policy has been mostly directed to growth, and there the approach has been to build capacity instruments and hope that the system will make good use of them. Society and users have been completely ignored in that schema.

So much so, that Information Society policy have been a synonym of promoting access to Internet, and in the best of cases of training on the elemental use of the most basic computer skills. That can probably produce good consumers but really poor innovators!  

So, where can we turn our heads for guidance in this desert of Best Practices? Going for analogies, there is one scenario that looks somewhat similar. This is the one of promoting innovation in well established companies. There we do have a lot of experiences from where to learn.

However, as you go deeper in this line, you find that almost everything is linked to cultural change, without cultural change, there is no change in practices and nops … no in innovation capacity. And cultural change is linked to incentives, incentives that in this well established companies are normally situated in the short term, efficiency part of the equation and … yes discourage taking risks associated to uncertainty … so there goes innovation …

Then, if the analogy is true, we also need cultural change at societal level and that is not going to happen without changing incentives … Surprisingly after all these turns we end up at the same point as we will end if we were talking about entrepreneurship … and probably the set of incentives needed for fostering that is … yes … you guess right … the same!

(a very good discussion on these incentives for entrepreneurship can be found in the work of Jerome S. Engel – just google it)

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