Open innovation could be the future for many companies

Discovering how to handle the complexity that arises in an arena for open innovation is a key factor for success and creativity for the companies of tomorrow. The Chalmers students Annika Kumlin and Hedvig Aspenberg argue this in their Master’s thesis project carried out at the vehicle and traffic safety center SAFER, which is an arena for open innovation comprising several partners.

The involvement of the parties, meetings between different professional groups and organisation cultures, functioning communication and the possibility to build contact nets are some of the most important preconditions to create a climate that stimulates the creativity in an open innovation arena. This is what Annika Kumlin and Hedvig Aspenberg, students at the Quality and Operations Management Master’s programme at Chalmers, arrived at when doing their thesis project about open innovation and creativity at SAFER.

- Open innovation means that organisations cooperate with other organisations in their innovation process, they work in a common arena. Then, they can develop ideas by using paths outside their own organisation to reach the market, Annika and Hedvig tell.

The Master’s thesis project started in January 2012 and the students chose to carry it out at SAFER, an open innovation arena comprising several parties from academia, industry, institutions and government agencies. All persons tied to SAFER have an organisational affiliation elsewhere.

- There are organisations that help companies to cooperate and use open innovation, but then it is most often about helping with premises and communication. What makes SAFER unique is that they have their own goals and their own vision, Annika and Hedvig say.

Critical to earlier research

The work was carried out to a large extent with the help of a questionnaire and follow-up interviews where persons from the different parties were questioned about the creative climate. Few of the people that were interviewed during the spring feel they are primarily associated to SAFER and it was noticed that these persons seldom had an overall picture of SAFER. Annika and Hedvig mean that precisely this is a success factor.

- The opinion is that SAFER consists of many different creative climates and we maintain that such a busy environment is positive. If they should try to achieve a uniform creative climate and one single culture we believe they can miss the goal as it is the variety that is the strength with open innovation, Annika and Hedvig explain.
The students tell that it is here their project work is critical to earlier research within the area which advocates creating overall unity and structures. They also arrived at the opinion that there are different challenges with working in open innovation arenas. It is mainly about problems of confidence between the arena and the own organization.
- It can be stressful when you do not know who you represent or whose interests you should give priority to as you are part of both the arena and the own organisation. We have noticed that the arena’s communications with the surroundings and those parts of the included organisations that are not participating actively in the arena are very important. Just as the communication within the arena is, Annika and Hedvig say.

The results show a very creative climate at SAFER

From the findings of the Master’s thesis project, the students concluded that SAFER has a very creative climate. The work was presented at SAFER at the beginning of June and was received well by SAFER’s board. Anna Nilsson-Ehle, director at SAFER, is positive to what the students have achieved.
- SAFER is a new way to combine the experiences and theories from research centres and innovation environments. Therefore, studies like this are valuable to understand how we can develop and really contribute to both excellent research and higher innovation power. The results from this study are really encouraging for everyone involved at SAFER, Anna Nilsson-Ehle says.
Text: Caroline Örmgård
Translation: Eva Burford
Photo: Private
The Master’s thesis project was supervised by Anna Yström, doctoral student at the Department of Technology Management and Economics. The work lies within the framework of a project that has been carried out since 2007 where they have had a unique opportunity to follow an open innovation arena to examine how they work and what the creative climate looks like. The thesis project has also resulted in a joint publication which will be part of Anna Yström’s doctoral thesis which she hopes will be presented in 2013.

Published: Wed 19 Sep 2012.