An attempt to define Collaborative Innovation: thoughts from the fieldwork

Last week, I read another blog about and how important it is in new workplaces. The discussion that ensued is one heard before: the new entrepreneurial spaces are all about collaboration. Open spaces and big tables shared by all members, allowing for ‘serendipity’ to happen, enabling an environment where unlikely allies connect and collaborate, collaborate, and collaborate. Some co-working spaces are designed to allow these connections to happen, as it is perceived that their members benefit from the buzz, the noise and the ‘openness’. Is anybody sick of hearing about this? When people say “collaboration”, what do they really mean?

Is sharing the same table with someone, and occasionally talking about their projects or business idea, a collaboration?

Is working together on a hackaton to develop a new mobile application app to map areas affected by Ebola, a collaboration?

If I help you design your website and in exchange you give me some fundraising tips for my new educational project, are we collaborating?

And let’s complement this fuzzy word with another one called “innovation”. Because the diversity of organizational spaces is here to increase productivity, motivate employees and most importantly, enable for new ideas and processes to arise…innovation, right? And collaboration is here to drive more innovations, better innovations, right. But again, what is innovation?

Does innovation refer to anything that is new to the context?

Is making small changes to an already existing product 'an innovation'?

In a time where all these fuzzy concepts are widely used due to the spread of innovation hubs, co-working spaces, etc. It becomes important to try and make sense of it all.

Since 2012 I have been studying these innovation hubs. As part of my and currently , I have been interested in the dynamics happening within a hub, and how these new organizational forms are transforming our ways of working, our ways of thinking and our ways of being. Thinking about how a business can grow, about how companies, organizations and projects can share without the fear of losing. I have spent my time exploring an in the city of Lusaka, Zambia, and recently I have been looking into two of the , UK. Based on my research, I am looking at understanding what I call a process of collaborative innovation.

A process of collaborative innovation tentatively defined as ‘an innovation process in which members of a group or community share ideas, information and work to achieve common goals. The members aim to innovate through a continuous sharing of ideas, knowledge and resources, which involves strong linkages and high level of trust. This innovation process is the means to achieve a fulfilling life, and has a social value of its own.’

The reason I am interested in collaborative innovation is because based on my research, I consider it reflects the complex/multifaceted dynamics happening within these hubs, and will contribute to existing theory on innovation processes. My main theoretical goal is to understand more about the process of collaborative innovation within a hub - specifically its components and dimensions. Moreover, I seek to reveal whether they align with an understanding of Human Development that goes beyond a business-centric, growth model. 

I expect this definition to change as I spend more time in the field, and as I share ideas with colleagues. More to come from this side soon.


Technology Innovation Hubs