Equality in a collaborative, distributed innovation system

Last week I was in Brisbane for the ISPIM summit on innovation management in Brisbane. A popular theme throughout the conference was the new emerging way of thinking about businesses, innovation and the economy in general. This new way is reflected in concepts such as digital economy, innovation ecosystem and platform thinking. Looking back to the presentation and discussions, my three main takeaways from the conference are distribution, collaboration and democratization. Of these the first two were explicitly mentioned and discussed in the conference, while the third one is an aspect I hope would gain more attention.


Mark Dodgson was arguing that we are entering a “distributed” mode in the economy after entrepreneurial (merchants) and corporate (industrialisation). On a similar note Stuart Cunningham listed the evolution of innovation thinking as linear – systems – ecology. Overall, I feel the general sentiment was that decentralization, distribution and all kinds of network based models are becoming more and more common and hold great potential. A key enabler of distribution is digitalization, which was emphasised especially in the talks about platforms.


Distribution increases the need for collaboration. Enabling different actors to collaborate was emphasised especially by presentations from the policy side, often describing some kind of innovation network. How has collaboration been achieved in this or that program or network was a recurring theme. Collaboration is indeed important. The key question for me relates to the capability for collaboration. Are the actors willing to work together, change their own views and goals in order to move towards a common vision or direction – if such a vision can be established?


A third important theme that was not addressed that much in the conference is democratization. If the system is distributed and collaborative, does everyone have the same opportunities or is the system overpowered by some actors. In other words, by democratization I mean that everyone is able to be for example a producer, user or owner in the system. Collaboration in such a system (or platform or network or ecosystem) is between equals. There are good examples of this emerging, such as the platform cooperative as a countertrend to more centralised platforms, such as Uber. On a related note, there was good discussion in the conference on whether or not Uber a disruption or just a new player in the taxi business.


Way forward

In summary, the conference was a good overview of the current questions in innovation management. Embracing distributed models and increasing collaboration is the next step. Personally I also hope that the shift towards more decentralised and collaborative ways of doing things is used also to promote equality among the actors.