Role of Communities in Innovation

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The role of technical communities in corporate innovation

West and O’Mahony:

“To some extent, firms and technical communities have always collaborated (Allen, 1983) to create standards (e.g., Isaak, 2005), shared infrastructure (Bradner, 1999), and innovation outcomes (Hargrave and Van de Ven, 2006) that are bigger than any one firm can achieve.

Empirical work suggests three reasons why firms participate in technical communities.

First, there is increasing evidence that path breaking innovations cannot occur without a community to interpret, support, extend and diffuse them (Hargrave and Van de Ven, 2006; Schoonhoven and Romanelli, 2001; Hargadon and Douglas, 2001; Hunt and Aldrich, 1998; Christensen and Rosenbloom, 1995; Rosenkopf and Tushman, 1994; Tushman and Rosenkopf, 1992; Anderson and Tushman, 1990; Van de Ven and Garud, 1989). Research on technologies such as medical devices, bicycles, computer hardware, and electricity show that new technologies are shaped by human institutions that provide a context for the interpretation and use of such technologies (Bijker, Hughes and Pinch, 1987).

Second, research on collective models of innovation (von Hippel, 2005; von Hippel and von Krogh, 2003; Hargrave and Van de Ven, 2006; Allen, 1983) and on community technical organizations (Rosenkopf, Metiu and George, 2001; Rosenkopf and Tushman, 1998) shows that communities of lead users help firms not only in interpreting and applying new innovations, but in their creation and further development by refining new design iterations (von Hippel, 1988, 2005; Shah, 2006; Murray and O’Mahony, 2007). A large body of evidence suggests that firms in many industries (toys, entertainment, medical devices, manufacturing, sporting goods, music) benefit from contributions from community members (Jepperson and Frederiksen, 2006; von Hippel, 2005; Franke and Shah, 2003; Lakhani and von Hippel, 2003).

Third, although it is not widely recognized, technical communities provide a vehicle to coordinate the work of both firms and individuals in developing new technologies and standards (Rosenkopf et al, 2001; Mowery and Simcoe, 2005). Technical communities offer individuals leadership opportunities (Fleming and Waguespack, 2007; O’Mahony and Ferraro, 2007) and enhance their technical credibility (Hars and Ou, 2002; Lerner and Tirole, 2002). For example, participation in a specific public community (such as standardizing the http protocol as a member of the Internet Engineering Task Force) allows participants to both develop and advertise domain specific knowledge (Fleming and Waguespack, 2007).

The degree to which firms benefit from collaboration with technical communities can also depend on features of the technology itself such as the degree of modularity (Baldwin and Clark, 2000), or the number of complements, linking mechanisms, or interface technologies required (Tushman and Rosenkopf, 1992). While practitioners have long argued that effective management of such communities can help support firm goals (Williams and Cothrel, 2000; Armstrong and Hagell, 1996; Godwin, 1994) little empirical work has been done in this area.” (

More Information

  1. Innovation is becoming diffuse: Diffuse Innovation
  2. Innovation is becoming social, socialized: Socialization of Innovation
  3. Innovation is becoming "user-centered": User-centered Innovation


Dahlander, Linus, Wallin, Martin W., 2006, “A man on the inside: Unlocking Communities as complementary assets,” Research Policy, 35, (7), 1243-1259.

Fleming Lee and David M. Waguespack, 2007. “Brokerage, Boundary Spanning, and Leadership in Open Innovation Communities,” Organization Science, 18, (2), 165-180.

Franke, Nikolaus and Shah, Sonali, 2003. “How communities support innovative activities: An exploration of assistance and sharing among end-users,” Research Policy 32 (1), 157-178.

Open Source Software

Lee, Gwendolyn K. and Cole, Robert E, 2003. “From a Firm-Based to a Community-Based Model of Knowledge Creation: The Case of the Linux Kernel Development,” Organization Science, 14 (6), 633-649.

von Hippel. Eric, 2001. “Innovation by User Communities: Learning from Open-Source Software,” MIT Sloan Management Review 42 (4), 82-86.

von Hippel, Eric and Georg von Krogh, 2003, “Open source software and the ‘private-collective’ innovation model: Issues for organization science,” Organization Science 14 (2), 209- 223.

von Krogh, Georg, Spaeth, Sebastian and Lakhani, Karim R, 2003. “Community, joining, and specialization in open source software innovation: a case study,” Research Policy 32 (7), 1217-1241

West, Joel and Scott Gallagher, 2006, “Challenges of open innovation: the paradox of firm investment in open-source software,” R&D Management, 36 (3), 319-331.

Sectoral Studies

Jeppesen, Lars Bo and Lars Frederiksen, 2006, “Why Do Users Contribute to Firm-Hosted User Communities? The Case of Computer- Controlled Music Instruments,” Organization Science, 17 (1), 45-63.

Rosenkopf, Lori and Tushman, Michael L, 1998. “The Co-evolution of Community Networks and Technology: Lessons from the flight simulation industry,” Industrial and Corporate Change 7 (2), 311-346.