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How to select topics for Open Innovation challenges

In their quest for opening up their innovation processes, most firms start with intensifying open approaches to innovation that are already in place, such as increasing the number of partnerships under a Non-Disclosure Agreement or the number of contract researches placed at universities.

In the second phase of their Open Innovation maturity, many firms think about using technical / scientific challenges as a vehicle to solve current innovation issues with an Open Innovation approach, i.e. looking for unknown innovation partners. This can be done “open” via a broadcast search placed at intermediaries (such as InnoCentive or NineSigma) or “semi-open” in a confidential way using Professional Services and/or Web tools to identify potential experts and approach them directly.

Pretty frequently firms have some difficulties in finding appropriate topics for these challenges. To help them crossing this hurdle I worked out a lean and effective workshop program which has proven its value now in a dozen or so cases.

As Bingham and Spradlin have illustrated in their book “The Open Innovation Marketplace” so-called challenges are a major building block in the Open Innovation system of any firm that wants to innovate openly. Think of a challenge as a question presented tot he outside world to tap innovation from an entire planet of creative and passionate problem solvers.

Now the big question is: How does one find suitable topics for these challenges? In a two-step workshop program, this question can be solved.

In workshop 1, one would search for the fields in which the challenge topics will be. To do so, one would do some analyses and classify technology fields and business fields as „core“ (where innovation should be done in a closed mode), „near“ and „far“. Furthermore, one would look at the firm’s value chain to identify opportunities for open process innovation. Finally, there might be some additional considerations that suggest using an open approach to innovation such as the need to find complementary partners for new product offerings, resource bottlenecks that slow down work on priority B / C topics or risk management.

Between workshops 1 and 2 the current projects are identified that correspond with the fields defined in step 1.

In workshop 2, these projects are then analyzed to find out the particular topics that will become an Open Innovation challenge. To find these, one would look at project parts that e.g. have a clearly defined output, where scope and non-scope of the innovation contribution can be clearly defined and where the core question can be  isolated from the purpose why this question needs to be solved – after all one wants to to access the “long tail” of expertise and a whole world of innovators without telling what one is up to.