Organizational Learning for Open Innovation Adoption: Insights from administrative intermediaries

December 06, 2016 by Tanya M. Kelley, Erik Johnston

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"Organizations are highly interested in integrative open innovation practices in their structure, as open innovation can bring a flood of creative contributions and problem solving from the public. However, there are significant challenges in successful adoption. One reason for this difficulty stems from conflicting organizational structures; open innovation practices are primarily online, fluid, rapid, iterative, and often temporary, whereas the command and control hierarchical structure of organizations are intended to be stable and to complete sustained services. Another source of this difficulty for administrators who are designing and managing open innovation efforts for the first time. Most administrators in organizations rarely have extensive technological or socio-technical design background or training. Therefore, an entire new skill set is being developed on to use participatory platforms. Even if the design and tech know-how is part of an administrator's toolkit, they may not know how to effectively align the goals, language, and evaluation metrics for successful implementation of participatory efforts. More often than not, administrators are attempting to run an open innovation effort in addition to their other, primary duties. Finally, even though open innovation tools like participatory platforms have existed for several years, there is high fragmentation and silos of working knowledge, meaning that many administrators continue to experiment in de facto isolation. This paper presents a case study of a public university that has made a purposeful effort to integrate open innovation values and practices into its organizational mission and work. To best understand the process of open innovation adoption and use, we interviewed administrative intermediaries who are primarily responsible for the design, management, and evaluation of open innovation platforms and programs. We explored intermediary administrators' experiences with open innovation adoption using organizational learning theory. We specifically asked questions along dimensions of design and management values, teamwork, and organizational innovation culture. We used theoretical pattern matching to explore how the experiences of interview respondents aligned with theoretical propositions of organizational learning. Our analysis provides detailed insights one best practices, challenges, and lessons learned in the design and management of participatory platforms within the organization. This study has four key findings to contribute to the management of open innovation practices in organizations. First, the best team and approaches cannot thrive within the right culture. Second, developing culture takes time and consistent and persistent work from administrators throughout the organization. Third, three types of hybridity were identified by intermediaries in the execution of their innovation effort. These include unintentional, segmented, and fluid hybridity arrangements. Fourth, administrative intermediaries can identify what is likely to lead to successful or unsuccessful implementation of open innovation platforms. These findings contribute a foundation about open innovation management that can assist other administrators in organizations seeking to integrate innovation and entrepreneurship practices into their core mission and daily activities.