Co-creation beyond idea generation and selection

30 maart 2013

Co-creation starts to become a well-known phenomenon. It is no longer needed to explain what co-creation is and how it can reduce the time-to-market. Herewith co-creation accelerates innovation projects. What still needs to be explained, is that co-creation is not used to its full potential. Its value can be optimized when extending co-creation beyond idea generation and selection.

Popularity of co-creation

Many companies anticipated on the promise that customer involvement in the innovation process reduces failure rates and accelerate product or service development. They launched co-creation programs facilitating customers to express new ideas, select best ideas, test prototypes or promote new products. An analysis of Eurostoxx 50 companies by Rohbeck and colleagues showed that already in 2009 a quarter of these companies used some types of customer integration tools. However they found that customers’ participation diminishes as the innovation process progresses. They solely observed customer integration in the product development for digital goods. Although these findings are not difficult to explain – it is easier to organize customer involvement in idea generation and selection compared to the actual product development, and customer feedback for digital goods is also easier and cheaper to arrange – it is a pity that customers are put aside in the product development phase of physical products. Customers could play a crucial role in testing of prototypes or even (co)development of prototypes.

Large scale testing

Before entering the market with a new product, it will be crucial to have its features validated in real usage. Testing of the product by potential users in real life situations provides essential feedback on the usability, user friendliness and user acceptance. This is especially true for disruptive innovations. We, for example, believe that e-health tools – e.g. robots supporting elderly in independent living – will increase the quality of life and at the same time reduce the healthcare costs. But we are not sure whether intended benefits will actually occur when using the new tools. This uncertainty hinders market acceptance. Objective testing of the effectiveness tools will be important in convincing people to start using the new tools. Although testing in living labs can already provide useful feedback, controlled and large scale field testing will significantly extend the user feedback.

Co-creation in prototype development

In first instance you would think that the company itself would be the best party to develop the new product, especially when it concerns a physical product. This is not always the case, for example when a new technology is required. Instead
of self-developing, the company can use existing technologies from partners or have those developed by partners. Printing on Lays chips was for example accelerated through the use of food printing technology of a small Italian bakery. And there are even examples of outsourcing the development of complete prototypes in the InnoCentive community.

Adequate rewards

Please note that in these cases co-creation in prototype development require very specific expertise. In addition the value added and efforts by the partner are much more substantial than in the ideation and selection activities. Therefore mechanisms to make the co-creation successful will also differ. While for ideation and selection public recognition for one’s contribution will be adequate, this will not be sufficient for substantial (co) development of the product. When high value and substantial efforts are contributed, a fair financial compensation is required. In those cases the concept of ‘the winner – i.e. producer – takes it all’ does not work. It is recommended to follow the practice of InnoCentive who offers smaller amounts for idea generation but up to several million dollars for development of prototypes.

Although large scale testing and co-development of products may not be easy tasks, I am strongly convinced that these are also very powerful co-creation activities which MUST be considered by companies aiming to realize innovations.

Suggested reading

Rohrbeck, R., Steinhoff, F., Perder, F. (2010): Sourcing innovation from your customer: how multinational enterprises use Web platforms for virtual customer integration. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management. 22(2) 117-131

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Over de Auteur


Irma is meer dan 20 jaar actief als management consultant in de ICT sector en oprichter van SMARTconsulting.nu. 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.