David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


Open Innovation in a closed system

On Wednesday afternoon I ‘attended’ a webinar (virtually) for the first time. It was hosted by Get Ambition (check out theTwitter chat #getambition @livestreamhttp://livestre.am/FZA.  This post represents my own personal reflections on the themes emerging from the webinar with particular focus on the implications for Higher Education – though not exclusively so.  

Firstly, the webinar format and its potential for use more widely in HEIs.  I sat at my Macbook for about two hours and watched high quality ‘live’ streaming with a choice of three ‘chat’ functions to facilitate greater interaction with the virtual audience.  Go to my Twitter feed @dgmcgillivray and you’ll get a better idea of how this interaction worked and how we can extend discussion beyond the confines of physical space (e.g. the classroom) which staff in HEIs can learn a lot from.  More of that in my summary, later.  The extended conversation has already led to insightful post-event discussions with @rolandharwood, @benwerd, @lupincampos and @brianamc around the topic of open innovation, open source platforms for use in HE and the like.  

Anyway, back to my reflections on the themes emerging from the webinar.  Firstly, the terminology being used around open this and open that is a touch confusing for a non-technie like me. I have an expanding knowledge base in this area but many are digital immigrants and find the terminology around openness and the ‘public’ use of information pretty daunting.  As one audience member asked in the Q&A – what is the incentive to make data open for others to use and (by implication) abuse?  One of the two excellent speakers, Roland Harwood, from 100%Open, provided plenty of convincing arguments for the use of open data and open innovation and it is worth rehearsing a few of his main arguments here. The following tips were offered to us (with some of my own comments added):

  1. We need to encourage greater quantity (and ultimately quality) of conversations within (and outside of) our organisations – out of 100 conversations might emerge one core idea that leads to a rewarding outcome.  
  2. There are two main ways for open innovation to work – discover (start with the ‘what’, the problem and then look to address this with the right people) and jam (start with the people, the network and find your way to solutions to problems through them) 
  3. The necessity of online and offline sociability – essentially blended learning in action 
  4. Generate organisational targets which necessitate learning from ‘outside’ of your organisation
  5. ‘The future reveals itself through the peripheral’ (JG Ballard)  – look to the fringes, recruit those who see differently, evaluate where the most successful trending ideas come from
  6. All our work is about being social (Lego) – embrace social phenomenon to encourage participation in design and content creation.  Be the facilitator and co-collaborator
  7. Identify the top 1% of your audience – and I might add your staff – they need to be cultivated and given license to persuade others 
  8. Colleagiate organisations are necessary for open innovation to work

In a minute I’ll summarise what I think this means for HE and my own institutional context in particular, but before this it is worth briefly commenting on a few words of wisdom from the second speaker,  Ben Werdmuller (@benwerd) who introduced himself as ‘geek in residence’ at Edinburgh Festivals Innovation Lab. As an agency which is trying to practice open innovation with the hugely successful Edinburgh Festivals, Ben offered the following tips:

  1. Providing access to open (raw) data is the future which can be read, manipulated & published by others & license use of it 
  2. If you facilitate the use of your data to others, you can govern its usage and benefit from the innovation you’re involved in.
  3. ‘Opening up’ data minimises organisational outlay (with updating for each stakeholder, for example)
  4. Outsource to the ‘ecosystem’ – the open source vocabulary

OK – one last list.  Both speakers got me thinking about how we deal with openness (or don’t, apart from FOI) in Higher Education.  As my own institution is in the middle of developing a new Learning, Teaching & Assessment Strategy I think there are a number of key issues emerging which we need to think through:
  1. Given Roland’s 1% comment (point 4, above) can we create Learning & Teaching Innovation lab (s) in our Higher Education institutions to identify and work with the creative thinkers to push the boundaries
  2. Why are we not all running webinars (or whatever we want to call them) as a matter of policy within HEIs to reach external audiences, students on different campuses.  It’s easy, cheap and engagement need not start and end when the bell rings… 
  3. How do we go about fostering peripheral vision in HEIs in the current ‘culture of fear‘ created by the economic climate?  Where is the space for speculation, an encouragement towards external engagement (and not necessarily with other educational settings) and the creation of an (informal) culture of discovery? 
  4. How can we even contemplate engagement with open innovation when there are too many examples of institutional myopia and an over-reliance on a form of one directional (and one-way) knowledge dissemination process based on expert-student relation
  5. We need to ‘build then evangelize’ (@benwerd).  However, evangelizing is unlikely to be successful if this is imposed from above – we need to create the conditions whereby individual staff members are able to proselytise within their local groupings and train each other in new ways of learning and teaching – that requires collegiate institutional contexts.   
  6. Conversations are key – face-to-face, online, blended.  More of them, with more people.  Listening is important too, to students as co-creators of learning (student as producer) and to staff as the facilitators of learning democracies.

I could go on, but I suspect there’s enough here to generate a new conversation…



David McGillivray • February 24, 2011

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