Because of current developments we are leaving the firm perspective for this blogpost in order to focus on application of the open innovation paradigm in other areas, like politics. Innovation does not only include product innovation, but also includes service innovation, process innovation and business innovation. Hence, also Government, Non-Government Organizations and Political Parties could successfully apply Open Innovation.
Unutilized internal and external innovation potential
Today, government administrations aren't fully leveraging the innovation potential of their employees. Good ideas and process innovations are often lost in the hierarchies. But Innovation can come from anywhere, especially from outside an organization. There is still a lot of unused innovation potential in certain groups or organizations ("lead users") and normal residents which could be used by legislature and executive.
The example of Austrian students' protests
One current example of external innovators are the demonstrating Austrian university students. They are currently protesting for better university education in Austria. A specific characteristic of this protest is the grass roots organization form. It is not the official students union which started the protests; it was the community of students. They are organized as a decentralized swarm, which makes them almost invulnerable. For marketing and communication purposes they are using Web 2.0 communication tools like Facebook groups and fanpages (currently 25.000 fans), Twitter (Hashtags #unibrennt and #unsereuni), and a Wiki as the main collaboration tool.
I won't go into detail about their claims, but the whole initiative seems like the ideal opportunity for open innovation. "Users" are coming together, formulating claims and discussing ideas how to improve the current university system. For the first time, a formerly unknown and anonymous group is tangible and the students are personally available for discussion. (Not in form of an intermediary like the students union)
The tragedy is that Austrian politicians are failing and missing a chance for open innovation because they are unwilling to step into a dialog with the student community.
Implications for firms
This current example also has implications for companies and managers. Companies often have to deal with communities of users which are more and more organized in form of a swarm. Usually there are no official contact persons which complicates communication and demands knowledge of swarm management. In a firm context, users rarely have this high level of enthusiasm. But there are some examples (like "Dell Hell"), where the dissatisfaction of a group of customers was the starting point for a comprehensive company policy change.
Summing up, if there is a group of users trying to talk to you, you better start listening right now. You might even get some good ideas and innovations out of it.