Collaborative innovation ain’t easy

9 oktober 2012

Articles, blogs and seminars on open innovation abound – and most will highlight the success stories and the potential benefits. Typically they will stress how firms can extend their innovative power by teaming with partners. And the largest benefits are foreseen when firms join forces with novel partners: uncontemplated combinations of knowledge and capabilities can result in disruptive innovations. But did you ever started collaboration with unknown partners? We did. And we came to the conclusion that collaborative innovation is a tough job!

We participated in a variety of research and innovation projects: both research projects financed by the European Commission or national governments and innovation ecosystems purely consisting of commercial firms. Although the objectives of research projects and applied innovation projects differ, they have in common that commercial organizations mainly participate for the opportunity to commercialize the project results. Since firms have to invest in these projects, this seems to be a reasonable claim. In practice firms experience rather low impacts of research and innovation projects: innovations that do not match market or societal demands, immediate break-up of consortium after the production of final project deliverables and disappointing number of new insights or new knowledge despite all the hard work.

Multiparty collaboration

We identified three challenges that should be overcome to run a collaborative innovation project more successfully. The first challenge to meet is the collaboration with multiple external parties which can have disparate profile in terms of knowledge, culture and procedures. Besides the creation of a common language, it will be important to structure the partnership: determine an orchestrator, agree on how many parties are allowed or required, make the value of each partners explicit (for example resulting in first tier and second tier partners) etc. Using best practices for multi-party collaborations would help to make the research group or innovation ecosystem more effective and efficient.


The second challenge consists of a mismatch between project deliverables and actual market or societal needs. Working hard on very smart and innovative solutions is no single guarantee that the society is waiting for these solutions. In addition, other market parties may have developed similar or even better solutions. Therefore a continuous validation of project activities will be required. Working along the lines of stage-gate model which plans the testing of a product of service after its development, appear to be outdated. Experimenting in early stages and asking for explicit feedback of users, proves to be more effective: the final solution is much more tailored to what the user or customer wants.


The last hurdle that we observe is in the transformation of new knowledge into applied knowledge. Especially firms that do not have facilities such as TTO (Technology Transfer Office) or Venture labs have hard times to utilize the developed knowledge in the development of new products or services. By applying tools such as business model innovation, business model roadmap and multiparty business cases commercial opportunities are better recognized. A smooth transfer into commercialization of the knowledge after the research project is therewith facilitated.

Over de Auteur

Irma is meer dan 20 jaar actief als management consultant in de ICT sector en oprichter van Zij heeft een bedrijfskundige en financiële achtergrond en specifieke ervaring met innovatiemanagement, business modellering, financiële assessments, risico analyse, scenario ontwikkeling en benefit realisation management. Naast deze expertise heeft Irma onderzoekskennis en ervaring opgebouwd door in (internationale) researchprojecten te participeren.