It is often said that technology is developing at a rapid speed, and ‘we’ must keep up with the vanguard. The suggestion is that this development is autonomous, which is not true. Instead, Big Tech is the force behind it. About 50 tears ago, governmental bodies, like Darpa (US), the Fraunhofer Institute (Germany) and TNO (the Netherlands) were forerunners in technological development, which resulted in a certain degree of democratic control and relevance for society.
Big Tech has earned an incredible lot of money and pays only a limited amount of taxes. Therefore, its resources are unlimited. The same applied to its founders and ceo’s fortunes, only think of multibillionaires as Jeff Bezos and Egon Musk. Because of the wealth of Big Tech and its leaders, these companies can spend – they call it investing – as much as they want. At the same time, governmental resources seem to decrease while its responsibilities become bigger.
Now that innovation is in the hands of wealthy and narcistic men like Egon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Marc Zuckerman, nobody must be surprised if its development is not inspired by any social goals but by the desire to have their own toys. The metaverse is the new one. In a world were combatting poverty and diseases, providing clean water and sanitation, and becoming carbon-neutral ought to be prioritized, they invest billions in the creation of a virtual world, the metaverse. A welcomed toy for the leisure class.
The metaverse is the ultimate form of augmented reality, the digitally supplemented substitute for reality. Metaverse was first described by Neil Stephenson in his dystopian book Snow Crash in 1992. As the power of computers grew, the idea of the metaverse gained new impetus and recently Marc Zuckerberg announced that his new company Meta Platforms will gradually turn Facebook into a fully digital world. This immerses the users in the most diverse experiences, which they partly evoke themselves, such as communicating with other avatars, attending a concert, going to the disco, and getting acquainted with strangers and of course going to shops, because it remains a medium to make money.
Already now companies are buying advertorial space and the rich issue famous architects to design the interior and exterior of the digital mansions their avators will live in.
It remains to be seen whether a younger generation, less consumer-addicted and more concerned about nature, is waiting for a such a completely artificial world.
This post based on by the new e-book Better cities, the contribution of digital technology. Interested? Download the book here for free (90 pages)
Hardcore: Technology-centered approaches
1. Ten years of smart city technology marketing
2. Scare off the monster behind the curtain: Big Tech’s monopoly
Towards a humancentric approach
3. A smart city, this is how you do it
4. Digital social innovation: For the social good
Misunderstanding the use of data
5. Digital twins
6. Artificial intelligence
Embedding digitization in urban policy
7. The steps to urban governance
8. Guidelines for a responsible digitization policy
9. A closer look at the digitization agenda of Amsterdam
10. Forging beneficial cooperation with technology companies
11. Government: How digital tools help residents regaining power?
12. Mobility: Will MaaS reduce the use of cars?
13. Energy: Smart grids – where social and digital innovation meet
14. Healthcare: Opportunities and risks of digitization
Digitale sociale innovatie – also referred to as smart city 3.0 – is a modest counterweight to the growing dominance and yet lagging promises of ‘Big Tech’. It concerns “a type of social and collaborative innovation in which final users and communities collaborate through digital platforms to produce solutions for a wide range of social needs and at a scale that was unimaginable before the rise of Internet-enabled networking platforms.”
It is a pity that this database is no longer kept up to date after the project has expired and – as I have experienced – quickly loses its accuracy.
Many organizations and projects have interconnections, usually around a ‘hub’. In addition to the Waag Society, these are for Europe, Nesta, Fondazione Mondo Digitale and the Institute for Network Cultures. These four organizations are also advisors for new projects. Important websites are: digitalsocial.eu(no longer maintained) and the more business-oriented techforgood.
A diversity of perspectives
To get to know the field of digital innovation better, different angles can be used:
• Attention to a diversity of issues such as energy and climate, air and noise pollution, health care and welfare, economy and work, migration, political involvement, affordable housing, social cohesion, education and skills.
• The multitude of tools ranging from open hardware kits for measuring air pollution, devices for recycling plastic, 3D printers, open data, open hardware and open knowledge. Furthermore, social media, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, big data, machine learning et cetera.
• The variety of project types: Web services, networks, hardware, research, consultancy, campaigns and events, courses and training, education, and research.
• The diverse nature of the organizations involved: NGOs, not-for-profit organizations, citizens’ initiatives, educational and research institutions, municipalities and increasingly social enterprises.
Below, these four perspectives are only discussed indirectly via the selected examples. The emphasis is on a fifth angle, namely the diversity of objectives of the organizations and projects involved. At the end of this article, I will consider how municipalities can stimulate digital social innovation. But I start with the question of what the organizations involved have in common.
A common denominator
A number of organizations drew up the Manifesto for Digital Social Innovation in 2017 and identified central values for digital social innovation: Openness and transparency, democracy and decentralization, experimentation and adoption, digital skills, multidisciplinary and sustainability. These give meaning to the three components of the concept of digital social technology:
The multitude of themes of projects in the field of digital social innovation has already been mentioned. Within all these themes, the perspective of social inequality, diversity, human dignity, and gender are playing an important role. In urban planning applications, this partly shifts the focus from the physical environment to the social environment: We’re pivoting from a focus on technology and IoT and data to a much more human-centered process, in the words of Emily Yates, smart cities director of Philadelphia.
Ben Green writes in his book ‘The smart enough city’: One of the smart city’s greatest and most pernicious tricks is that it …. puts innovation on a pedestal by devaluing traditional practices as emblematic of the undesirable dumb city.(p. 142). In digital social, innovation rather refers to implement, experiment, improve and reassemble.
Technology is not a neutral toolbox that can be used or misused for all purposes. Again Ben Green: We must ask, what forms of technology are compatible with the kind of society we want to build (p. 99). Current technologies have been shaped by commercial or military objectives. Technologies that contribute to ‘the common good’ still need to be partly developed. Supporters of digital social innovation emphasize the importance of a robust European open, universal, distributed, privacy-aware and neutral peer-to-peer network as a platform for all forms of digital social innovation.
Objectives and focus
When it comes to the objective or focus, five types of projects can be distinguished: (1) New production techniques (2) participation (3) cooperation (4 raising awareness and (5) striving for open access.
1. New production techniques
A growing group of ‘makers’ is revolutionizing open design. 3D production tools CAD/CAM software is not expensive or available in fab labs and libraries. Waag Society in Amsterdam is one of the many institutions that host a fab lab. This is used, among other things, to develop several digital social innovations. One example was a $50 3D-printed prosthesis intended for use in developing countries.
Digital technology can allow citizens to participate in decision-making processes on a large scale. In Finland, citizens are allowed to submit proposals to parliament. Open Ministry supports citizens in making an admissible proposal and furthermore in obtaining the minimum required 50,000 votes. Open Ministry is now part of the European D-CENTproject a decentralized social networking platform that has developed tools for large-scale collaboration and decision making across Europe.
It is about enabling people to exchange skills, knowledge, food, clothing, housing, but also includes new forms of crowdfunding and financing based on reputation and trust. The sharing economy is becoming an important economic factor. Thousands of alternative payment methods are also in use worldwide. In East Africa, M-PESA (a mobile financial payment system) opens access to secure financial services for nine million people. Goteo is a social network for crowdfunding and collaborative collaboration that contribute to the common good.
These are tools that seek to use information to change behavior and mobilize collective action. Tyze is a closed and online community for family, friends, neighbors, and care professionals to strengthen mutual involvement around a client and to make appointments, for example for a visit. Safecast is the name of a home-built Geiger counter with which a worldwide community performs radiation measurements and thus helps to increase awareness in radiation and (soon) the presence of particulate matter.
5. Open Access
The open access movement (including open content, standards, licenses, knowledge and digital rights) aims to empower citizens. The CityService Development Kit (CitySDK) is a system that collects open data from governments to make it available uniformly and in real time. CitySDK helps seven European cities to release their data and provides tools to develop digital services. It also helps cities to anticipate the ever-expanding technological possibilities, for example a map showing all 9,866,539 buildings in the Netherlands, shaded by year of construction. Github is a collaborative platform for millions of open software developers, helping to re-decentralize the way code is built, shared, and maintained.
Cities can support organizations pursuing digital social innovations in tackling problems in many ways.
Direct support through subsidies, buying shares, loans, social impact bonds, but also competitions and matching, whereby the municipality doubles the capital obtained by the organization, for example through crowdfunding. An example of a project financed by the municipality is Amsterdammers, maak je stad.
Involvement in a project, varying from joint responsibility and cost sharing, to material support by making available space and service s, such as in the case Maker Fairs or the Unusual Suspects Festival. Maker Fairs or the Unusual Suspects Festival. Municipalities can also set up and support a project together, such as Cities for Digital Rights. A good example is the hundreds of commons in Bologna, to which the municipality delegates part of its tasks.
Digital social innovation projects have provided a very wide range of useful software in many areas, including improving communication with citizens and their involvement in policy. Consul was first used in Madrid but has made its way to 33 countries and more than 100 cities and businesses and is used by more than 90 million people. In many cases there is also local supply. An alternative is Citizenlab.
Municipalities should seriously consider setting up or supporting a fab lab. Fab Foundation is helpful in this regard. Another example is the Things Network and the Smart citizen kit.. Both are open tools that enable citizens and entrepreneurs to build an IoT application at low cost. These facilities can also be used to measure noise nuisance, light pollution, or odors with citizens in a neighborhood, without having to install an expensive sensor network.
Municipalities can offer citizens and students targeted programs for training digital skills, or support organizations that can implement them, through a combination of physical and digital means. One of the options is the lie detector program, developed by a non-profit organization that teaches young children to recognize and resist manipulative information on (social) media.
Incubators and accelerators
We mainly find these types of organizations in the world of start-ups, some of which also have a social impact. Targeted guidance programs are also available for young DSI organizations. In the Netherlands this is the Waag Society in Amsterdam. A typical tech for good incubator in the UK is Bethnal Green Ventures. An organization that has also helped the Dutch company Fairphone to grow. In the Netherlands, various startup in residence programs also play a role in the development of DSI organisations.
Urban problems are always complicated, contradictory, and complex and rarely have simple solutions. Therefore, like all other projects, digital social projects need to be carefully embedded and their interfaces explored with the other aspects of policy.
Last year I wrote 24 short essays about smart cities. They are collected in an e-book, that can be downloaded for free here. What to expect?
For more than 10 years, ‘smart’ has been a ‘leitmotif’ for tackling urban problems. Companies such as IBM and Cisco, and later also Apple, Amazon and Google all emphasised that technology is the key to their solution. Many city administrators, entrepreneurs and young starters felt attracted to this idea.
But why these blinkers? Anyone who focuses blindly on technology as the solution to contemporary problems will quickly lose sight of the problems themselves. They underrate the problems caused by technology itself and also that for many problems other solutions than technological ones are indispensable.
Some examples of problems that make people worried
Will I come around with my income?
Do I find an affordable house?
Is there still work for the children?
Is the air that I breathe healthy?
Why is my manager so unreasonable?
How secure is the internet?
Who will take care of my mother later?
Can I trust what I eat?
Developments are all going too fast for me
Who is actually in charge
Does a world war will break out?
Does my child like to go to school
Who can I still trust?
Can I still say what I think?
Is my country still my country?
Why do top managers earn so much money?
Reducing these problems to four categories proved to be helpful:
Threat to basic needs
Pillage of the earth
Abuse of technology and data
Each of these categories also refers to core values that in mutual connection will improve the quality of life in a country and the happiness of its inhabitants.
The satisfaction of our basic needs such as livelihood, housing, education, health care, social contacts and personal growth. There is still a lot to improve here.
The earth has all the ingredients for a healthy and even prosperous life for us and our offspring. This requires a circular economy based on reuse of resources, the elimination of CO2 emissions, and a less materialistic attitude. The awareness is growing, there is still a lot to do.
The fact that we live together with others is of vital importance, whether it is a partner, family, the street, the city or the country. The quality of our social life depends on the mutual acceptance of equality and diversity and the balance between give and take. Here too, humanity still has a lot to learn.
Just like all forms of technology, computerization is able to support the other core values, but is also a value in itself. ICT adds a new dimension to human creativity and inventiveness and can improve the quality of our lives. However, the virtues of digital connectivity ought not to be appropriated by certain groups. Interoperability, ‘edgeless computing’, ‘blockchain’ and the use of open software standards and open data can contribute to prevent this.
The four core values can be at odds with each other, but also reinforce each other. In the latter case, I refer to inclusiveness.
In each of the 24 short essays the ‘smart city idea’ as a starting point. Sometimes politicizing, for example when it comes to the way the big technology companies take control of society, but also anecdotal, for instance in the smart cities cases like PlanIT Valley near Porto, but also very practical, for example in introductions to circular construction, electricity-generating windows and the storage of energy.
In the final essay I propose to replace the idea smart with inclusive growth. To become more concrete about what that means, I have drawn up a charter that every city or region in the world can use. I already recognize the quest for inclusiveness of a number of cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Melbourne and Seoul. However, these and all others ones still have a long way to go.
Worldwide 55 percent of all people is living in cities. They cover 4 percent of the landsurface, use 67 percent of all energy that is produced and are responsible for 70 percent of the emission of greenhouse gasses. Cities are not only the most important economic centres of the world, their political power is also increasing. Observers believe that growing sustainability will result in the first place from policies issued by the world’s largest cities instead of by national governments.
In order to express their intentions, many cities showcase themselves with adjectives such as ‘smart’, resilient’, sustainable’, ‘sharing’ and the like. These predicates refer to results that already have been accomplished, however small, but they express their mission for the future in the first place.
An inventory of current literature (1) resulted in more then 30 definitions of smart city. Most cited (348 times) is the definition of Caragliu (2009): ‘We believe a city to be smart when investments in human and social capital and and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic growth and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory governance.’
The first appearance of the concept resilience in connection with urban policy dates back to2002. However, only in 2012 the frequency of searches in Google for resilient city started to boom.
In contrast with smart city, the number of definitions of resilient city is limited. Cities who call themselves resilient, like Rotterdam and The Hague in The Netherlands, claim to build capacity withinindividuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.
Chronic stresses weaken the fabric of a city on a daily or cyclical basis. Examples include: high unemployment, overcrowded or inefficient public transportation systems, endemic violence and chronic food and water shortages. Acute shocks are sudden, sharp events that threaten a city. Examples include earthquakes, floods, disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks.
The concepts smart and resilient city have different roots. Large technology companies, like Cisco, IBM, Siemens, Philips started promoting to become a smart city expert ten years ago during the economic crisis as part of their strategy to find new markers and to attract new customers.
The use of the concept resilient city is promoted by international organizations and associations of cities in order to improve city’s capabilities to deal with hazards like the hurricanes Katarina in the New Orleans region (2005) and Sandy along the eastcoast of North America (2012).
As evidenced in the definition mentioned above, the concept hazard has been broadened to include external pressures in general, varying from climate change and environmental degradation to poverty and traffic congestion.
The concept smart city has also evolved. In another article I made a distinction between smart city 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. These descriptions mark the evolution from the mere accentuation of the deployment of ICT as a key tool to fuel economic growth and competitiveness, to a multi-objective and participatory strategy capable to tackle problems of environmental deterioration, social equity and inclusion and building social capital.
The Resilient City Movement has been boosted in 2014 when the Rockefeller Foundation invested $100 million in the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge. Partly because its institutionalization, the policies of the cities partnering in the 100 Resilient City Challenge have more in common than those of the self appointed smart cities. The so-called City Resilience Framework, plays a key role in each of the participating city’s strategy.
The city Resilience framework
Based upon this framework, an index has been developed. Cities can calculate an indicator of their resilience with respect to the topics mentioned above and subsequently develop a strategy to improve weak points. The result of the analysis made in Rotterdam is indicated below. At this time 30 cities have published strategy reports to increase their resilience in the next decade. Among them are Rotterdam and Athens, a city that came with a brilliantly elaborated action report. A brand new report, Cities taking Action, written on occasion of the World Summit in July 2017, offers an anthology of what has been reached during the recent past within a selection of the 100 participating cities.
An analysis of definitions of smart and resilient cities and of characteristics attributed to each of these concepts is revealing a very broad overlap as is demonstrated in the box below.
As a consequence, some publications consider resilience as a characteristic of smart cities. Others believe that resilience will replace smart.I am not in favor of the assimilation of one of these terms by the other. Both concept have there own roots and are on their way to become meaningful for citizens. Therefore, they better can be treated as comparable, as is understood well by one of the platforms. Otherwise, the City Resilience Framework is an extremely useful policy making tool for smart cities because of its high level of elaboration.
Taking into account the convergence of definitions, both smart and resilient cities are building capabilities to deal with and prevent chronic stress and acute shocks, deploying a broad range of technologies. They enable individuals, communities, institutions and businesses to participate in the definition and execution of policies. They invest in the growth of human and social capital by education, meaningful work, communing, and sharing, and including all of its citizens to live in a decent way.
This is the 5th episode in a series of 6 articles about smart cities and the like. This article has already been publicised in the Smart City Hub
 Resilient cities: A systematic approach for developing cross-sectoral strategies in the face of climate change: Rocco Papa. Adrina Galderisi, Maria Christina Vigo Majello, Erica Saretta. in: TeMA Journal of Land Use Mobility and Environment 1 (2015)
‘Whatever we do, we know the world doesn’t need another plan that falls into the same trap as previous ones: treating the city as a high-tech island rather than a place that reflects the personality of its local population’. These words are from Daniel Doctoroff. In 2016 Larry Page (Google) invited him to be chairman/CEO of a new Alphabet enterprise, Sidewalks Labs. This company aims contributing to the transformation of urban environments through technologies that can drive efficiency, raise accountability, and foster a deeper sense of community. In others words, connecting Google’s expertise to the Smart City movement.’
Choosing Doctoroff as obvious. He was deputy mayor for city development in the Bloomberg administration. He is deeply concerned with the problems of American cities and at the same time he believes in the power of science and technology to solve them. In his view the Fourth Technological Revolution will integrate five core technologies:
Deployed together, these technologies will significantly decrease mobility costs for citizens and for the community at large as well, personalize services and improve safety.
Technologists and urbanists
The ultimate aim is improving the quality of life in cities and not the deployment of technology as such. Therefore Doctoroff carefully staffed Sidewalks Labs with technologists and urbanists. In his words, the first group is in general insensitive to the complexities of cities. The second group does not understand technology: Protecting the social fabric of cities comes first. Both groups talk different languages and do not communicate. Doctoroff believes that their successful collaboration can make the difference between Sidewalk Labs and technology-driven Smart City initiatives.
Shortening decision making
It is too early to judge whether Sidewalk Labs will fulfill these promises. The published research so far (a couple of titles is shown in this article) shows a great deal of involvement in the problems of the American cities, like the crumbling infrastructure, the lack of accessible health care, and the unaffordability of housing. The modeling of these problems, taking into account realistic population data, enables fast simulations of the impact of solutions and thus shortening of length of the decision making process. This research has revealed ingenious redesign of the public transport network, new models of integrated heath care and proposals that might significantly lower construction costs.
The implementation of solutions
Labs does not limit itself to figuring out solutions; the company is also taking care of their implementation by creating start-ups. For instance, Flow is mapping traffic and (public) transport pattern to optimize networks and thus meaningfully increasing mobility. Link NYC is replacing the 7000 payphones with super-fast free Wi-Fi hubs, paid by advertising on the large hub displays.
In its health care research Sidewalk Labs made clear that most medical problems have social and environmental roots, for instance bad food habits and air pollution. At the same time health care in the US is more expensive than in any other OECD country and its quality, accessibility in particular, is unsatisfying. When it comes to solutions, Sidewalk Labs is focusing on e-health, for instance monitoring patients and consulting physicians at distance.
Mismatch between definition of problems and that of solutions?
At this point I became aware of a growing feeling of discomfort with the strategy of Sidewalk Labs.
Labs is brilliant in the realm of defining and modeling problems, freed from any reductionist bias. However, its search for solutions is technology-focused, for instance apps that offer real time affordable solutions for renting apartments or apps that shows vacant parking lots. Not to mention the free Wi-Fi facilities in New York. Flaws in the Smart City approach result partly from a technological bias in the definition of problems. Sidewalk Labs definitely cannot be blamed in this respect. But it fails to integrate technical and non-technical approaches in the the solution of problems. Exactly this is corresponding with distinction between Smart City 2.0 and Smart City 3.0 that I made recently.
I assume that the focus on technological solutions in inherent in Sidewalks Lab’s connection with Alphabet. The ultimate ambition of Sidewalks Labs is to reimagine cities from the Internet up. That is why Alphabet has created the company. In the end, Sidewalks Labs’ mission is paving the way for new services to develop or to deliver by Google.
However, cities, their administrators and inhabitants are yearning comprehensive solutions for their problems. These solutions demand an integrated approach deploying high-tech, low-tech and also no-tech solutions. Here Sidewalks Labs falls short, in spite of Daniel Doctoroff inspiring citation above. Probably ongoing discussion between the technologists and the urbanists will enable this integration in the end.
This is the 4th episode in a series of 6 posts dealing with the ambiguities in smart city development. They were published earlier in smart city hub
Higher education is the subject of sustained criticism. 81% of US employers are referring at a skills gap and 51% believe that graduates are underprepared for the labour market. Young teachers in particular complain being overburdened and underpaid. Students are contesting growing performativity, alleged commodification and subsequent rigidity of the curriculum, lack employment and in the US towering debts.At first sight, students’ and employers’ interests are opposed. The recent Reimagining Education Conference at Wharton University revealed quite a different perspective. According to Santiago Inigues, dean of IE Business School (Madrid), most employers mention specific skills (coding, accounting, marketing, language) but in the first place they prefer broad education (‘Bilding’), including critical thinking and problem solving skills, ability to communicate, to work in groups, to handle conflicts and language proficiency. Employers won’t believe it, but these competencies are exactly the intended earning outcome of liberal arts colleges.
Unfortunately, liberal arts colleges have a brand trust issue. Participants of the conference agreed that many do not deliver what they promise. There is ample evidence that quite a number of its students lack any progress in problem solving and critical thinking skills during their undemanding study.
On the other hand, those who want to acquire specific skills like coding, marketing, accounting or foreign languages should avoid universities. A growing number of dedicated institutions like Fullbridge and General Assembly offer competency-based courses on line, blended or face-to-face. These courses are better and cheaper than the offer of any university whatsoever. According to Jaime Casap (Google) companies like his’ are monitoring job applicants’ competences and are not or only remotely interested in their subject, grade or university. Universities seem to have lost their way.
What went wrong? According to Martin Luckmann and Christiana Prange universities are no longer what their name suggests: Universitas magistrorum et scolarium literally means community of teachers and students. Instead, universities have become a credit-point producing industry, delivering grades of variable but mostly mediocre importance. The problem is not that teachers aren’t competent in their subject: They fail in supporting the development of students’generic academic competences or in plan language, as academic educators.
Luckmann and Prange compare the current approach to learning in universities with the development of enterprise software. The implementation of massive all-embracing software in companies seldom results in satisfying solutions. The same applies to a curriculum that has to serve hundreds of students at once. In software development the agile approach is gaining ground, which in essence is based on interaction between developers and customers, taking customers’ needs and wants as starting point.
In the same way, agile universities will put the interaction between students and teachers in the centre. Therefor they rely in a large degree on self-organization. A rich variety of teaching-learning interactions appear, mostly based on co-design. Students are getting acquainted with a broad range of disciplines and learn to search, apply and deepen relevant knowledge in projects, favourably in collaboration with parties outside the university.
The agile university has not to be more expensive than conventional universities. Getting acquainted with theoretical knowledge can be self-organized by deploying free available high quality open educational resources. Lecture halls are superfluous. Instead, universities will become networks of academic workplaces, varying from townhouses to sophisticated labs. The agile university has no fixed study length. Students will combine study with other work or invest in their own development.
Graduates of the agile university have been stimulated to adapt their study path to their emerging interest in an intensive exchange with fellow-students, teachers and people outside the university. Their acknowledgement with the agile method will enable them afterwards to be adaptive in a large range of situations where their professional or personal opinion is demanded.
Any master plan that intends to reinvent a university or faculty as an agile workplace will fail. The development of agile learning places requires agility itself, carefully taking into consideration local personal and characteristics, opportunities and constraints. Eager proponents at best facilitate teachers and groups who want to change teaching and learning practices. Their example will be followed, criticized and improved and agile workplaces will emerge. The result might be excellent, albeit in an unpredictable way.
 Survey American Society for Testing and Development (2012)
‘The innovation journey’ – written by Andrew van de Ven and his team – is offering a vivid description of the innovation experience of 14 North American companies. The book offers snapshots of brilliant ideas, whimsical processes, failure and success. After having read the book you will understand why 50% of all investments in R&D had to be amortized.
Against this background, it is not surprising that scientists and business people have been thinking for decades how to improve the efficacy of the innovation process. The most famous example is Cooper’s stage-gate model. The underlying assumption of this model is that the success of the development of new products and services depends from moving along consecutive stages with Go / No-go decisions in between.
You will ask, “Does it work?
The question that has to be answered is which kind of ‘guidance’ will facilitate innovation processes best? Most authors feel that the initial stage of the innovation process – named ‘fuzzy front end’ or ‘ideation’ – offers best chances for improvement.
Last year, I did a research project in order to unveil whether careful planning of this stage will increase the success rate of innovation. I visited ten companies where I spoke with managers and leaders of innovation teams. Each of these companies deployed the FORTH innovation method (developed by Gijs van Wulfen) in the period 2007 – 2013. I wanted to discover critical success factors during the initial stage and the impact of the initiation stage at next stages as well.
The FORTH innovation method is modelled like an expedition. The innovation team moves along five stages: Full Steam ahead, Observe and learn, Raise ideas, Test ideas and Homecoming.
The first step – Full steam ahead – includes a precise definition of the assignment. Here the management takes the lead. A good assignment defines the direction of the expedition, and the conditions that have to be met. Besides, the team is selected based on criterions like diversity, innovation-mindedness and team spirit. Premature generation of ideas is a frequent mistake in this step, resulting in the failure to make an adequate selection.
Therefore, during the second step – Observe and learn – participants visit customers or clients at home in order to discover preferences regarding new products or failures connected with existing products. For most participants this is the first contact ever with customers or clients and the experience is valued highly. In addition, the participants are enabled to deepen their knowledge of new technological developments, mostly related to ICT. By taking this step, participants are developing a feeling for customer frictions and innovation opportunities.
With this baggage, participants are ready for the third step, raising ideas. New ideas are produced by hundreds and afterwards channelled into 12 concepts. These concepts are carefully scrutinized, taking into consideration the conditions that were formulated at the beginning.
Now a next step – Reflection – can start. A second confrontation with customers or clients is organized in order to check the assumptions regarding the usefulness and market-potential of the concepts. In the end 3 – 5 concept survive, often after thorough revision.
The last step – Homecoming – includes further elaboration of the concepts into mini new business cases, possibly with the help of internal or external experts.
All companies that participated in the research expressed their enthusiasm about the FORTH innovation method. They were convinced that no ‘mini new business cases’ would have come into being without the systematic and motivating character of the method. Besides, participation at the FORTH innovation trajectory has created an innovative mind-set and a corresponding innovation culture. Employees are eagerly waiting for the next innovation expedition to start.
Critical remarks have been made too. Some members of the innovation team went too fast through the process of discovering customer frictions and customer needs. In some cases the satisfaction with the results of the ideation stage resulted in a rash decision to enter the market without additional research.
Gijs van Wulfen’s ‘Innovation expedition’ is based on thorough knowledge of potential failures that are described in Andrew van de Ven’s ‘Innovation journey’. Therefore, both books are sides of the same medal.
At Thursday January 15th 2015 4.00 PM Herman van den Bosch and Gijs van Wulfen will discuss the results of the research project mentioned-above. You are kindly invited to participate and to listen to the discussion and to ask questions (by chat) if you want.
Looking back in 2050 at the first decade of the 21th century our (grand)children will probably recognize the characteristics of another industrial revolution. The Edge, the research institute of Deloitte is speaking of The Big Shift’. The ‘Big Shift’ is the joint effect of two processes:
Distributed growth of knowledge
During the past 10 years, ICT – bandwidth, memory, speed, and especially software – has improved tremendously. Connecting ICT-power with other devices has enabled 3D printing, Internet of things, wearables and robotics. Its disruptive influence at industry is only in the first stage. However, even more important is that the underlying knowledge has become distributed and is no longer limited to small groups of scientists in universities and R&D centres. Worldwide, millions of young entrepreneurs prefers the live of an explorer and innovator in garages, empty industrial buildings, science parks or wherever over being employed in a large bureaucratic company.
Until recently, a centre-periphery model sufficed to characterize the economic relations in the world. The centre (Europe and the USA) bought raw materials, and mass products in the periphery in exchange of high-end products, knowledge and (financial) services. Nowadays, a multitude of centre-periphery relations has come into being. The old centre has to compete with rapidly developing competing centres. The winner is going to be the owner of the most distinguishing innovation capabilities. Besides, the development of ever-changing new products requires a high degree of inter-firm cooperation. Here too, small and agile new market entrants seem equipped best.
“Traditional” companies have to reinvent themselves In order to cope with the ‘Big Shift’. The first step is dividing itself in smaller flexible entities. Further, the process of reinvention has to put knowledge workers in the centre of operations at the expense of the until now dominant position of managers-class. The feasibility of a redesign depends from the degree of engagement and intrapreneurship of the work force. In this respect, recent studies are not encouraging.
Each year Gallup is collecting data of the engagement of the global workforce. Employees are characterized as being ‘engaged’, ‘actively disengaged’ and ‘not engaged’. The table beneath gives an overview, showing that the USA, Australia and Canada have most reasons for optimism.
The lack of engagement is caused by the “low strain” characteristics of the majority of jobs, the authoritarian behaviour of many bosses, the uncertainty of keeping one’s job and work pressure.
I prefer the term intrapreneurship over ‘passionate explorer’, as deployed by Deloite. Intrapreneurship is based upon specialist business knowledge, the drive to explore new frontiers and a feeling of urgency to cooperate. The ‘Big Shift’ report reveals that only 12,5% of the workforce is ‘intrapreneurial’. Probably the lack of engagement is prohibiting quite a number of latent intrapreneurs to act.
The lack of Intrapreneurship is quite understandable. The 20th century companies have organized their production according to well-chosen strategic principles empowered by detailed planning, control and quality systems. Consequently, skillful and accurate performers dominated the workplace. Competence management systems guaranteed the right employee at the right spot. Room for intrapreneurship was limited.
It is this lack of intrapreneurial opportunities that has causes a true exodus of talent from companies in the USA and other countries. Each year, about 2 millions of employees have given up well-paid jobs. The estimated damage caused by the departure of high-potential employees is about $200 billion each year. The independent workforce in the US nowadays counts about 17 million people.
The conclusion is obvious. Above all, the strongly-needed reinvention of companies depends from the retrieval of engagement and entrepreneurship al main characteristics of the work force.
Engagement will increase as soon as the workforce feels more respected and recognized and if managers do better jobs as coaches. Structurally, workplaces have to become more demanding. Theresa Amabile has discovered that employees are motivated in the first place by ‘the progress principle’, the meaningfulness of their contribution . In order to comply, workplaces have to combine a sufficient degree of challenge with a corresponding degree of autonomy.
Retrieval of intrapreneurship is more demanding. Needed are: decentralization of the governance of firms, servant leadership, reduction of management, smaller differences in compensation of managers, active promotion of (open) innovation, and deploying collaboration opportunities outside the firm.
Anyway, most companies worldwide have a long way to go. The most innovative firm will be the firm that is succeeds in the improvement of engagement and intrapreneurship.
http://goo.gl/QaNXdy The report is a comprehensive study of global development, innovation and entrepreneurship in contemporary history
A litany of recent complaints shows that something is wrong with higher education: Cost are rising with 10% every year (US), content has lost track with the explosive development of new knowledge, alumni’s competences do not match with the requirements of the labour market, teachers deliver lectures in the same way as their predecessors did for centuries, revenues for society are unclear. 40% of all students are leaving without a grade. Universities are inside looking, fixed at ratings, complacent and self-confident and so do not consider any reason for change.
According to Christensen, universities are on the eve of disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation is the fast acceptance by the public of affordable new products and services, which were disregarded by established companies and are mostly offered by new entrants.
Less than one year ago, the first MOOCs (massive online open course) were launched. Their pros and cons are discussed in an uncountable number of blogs; presumably, papers in academic journals are still in the peer review stage. The appearance of MOOCs is pleasing me. Not because they are free of charge or massive, but because they open the gates towards uncountable sources of knowledge, which will allow students to customize their need for information. I am confident that MOOCs will displace lecture-based teaching at short notice
However, this is the wrong revolution.
The exchange of lectures for MOOCs does not question the dominance of the acquisition of knowledge in higher education. Yet broad agreement exist that higher education in the first place has to develop ‘readiness for society’. The attainment of this goal is encompassing three learning processes: (1) the acquaintance of relevant knowledge, (2) the application of knowledge and (3) and the exchange between codified and practical (or tacit) knowledge. The best way by far to organize these learning processes is by merging them.
A critical assessment of mainstream of higher education reveals that universities spent most energy on delivery of knowledge. Application of knowledge is dominated by ‘near transfer’, which means that students learn to give practical examples of theoretical concepts. ‘Far transfer’ originates from the analysis and solving of real problems, without prior exposure to cues about relevant knowledge. It occurs in Schools that deploy problem or project-based learning. Exchange of codified and practical knowledge is absent in general. It might take place during internships, but projects outside the university are better and moreover, they offer opportunity for integration with other learning processes.
A balanced and integrated approach of the three learning processes mentioned above is occurring in only few universities. Elsewhere, students learn (and forget) lots of knowledge, have only limited experience with the application of knowledge and are ignorant of the clash between codified and practical knowledge. Consequently, the majority of our universities are disavowing their main goal, the development of ‘readiness for society’. It is this verdict that justifies a revolution in higher education.
Who will smash the first tomato and start the right revolution?
I guess, nobody will, and this brings me back to the topic of disruptive innovation. Corporate universities have the best chance to take over higher education for adults at short notice. They are in a perfect place to organize projects and to exchange codified and practical knowledge. Until now, they are incompetent to organize the delivery of knowledge. Still, the breakthrough of MOOCs will make the difference. Deploying MOOCs will enable corporate academies to organize the three educational processes mentioned above in an integrated fashion at relatively low-cost. This will enable companies to scale up their learning programs and to improve the level of competence of their employees, which is badly needed in face of our society’s need for innovation.
 Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, Louis Caldera, and Louis Soares: Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education February 2011 http://goo.gl/ogr5r
I decided to start writing a blog only recently. The first question was about choosing a topic: innovation, regional development, quality of higher education, corporate social responsibility, just to mention a few ideas that came up. Did these topics have something in common? This question inspired me to have a short period of introspection.
Value free science
In the sixties, I studied human geography at Radboud University in Nijmegen and it took not very long before I got involved in the students’ movement. In one of my first pamphlets I excited myself about value free science, which I renamed into valueless science. We propagated some kind of ‘advocacy science’ in service of oppressed people. When the oppressed, whoever they were did not show any interest in our engagement, fellow students started to read Marx or travelled into exotic places to free their minds. I felt that it was time to quit the ‘movement’.
Education again prejudice
Education was my new passion. Teaching is the way to a better society; you only have to wait long enough. After a short career as a secondary school teacher, I moved into university and wrote a PhD thesis about the contribution of primary education in fighting prejudice. In this post cold war period most children saw Americans as the good guys and Russians as the bad ones. We – the Dutch – of course were considered as the best.
In my eyes, scientific concepts and theories were powerful tools to free common sense thinking from prejudice. I tried to implement this view in geography education, which meant a radical change. For many years, geography education had been based upon knowledge of facts. I invented the ‘culture critical model’: Our environment can be conceptualized with four different approaches: physical-biological, economical, social and cultural. Each approach is one-sided and children have to learn to construct images of reality based upon tension between two or more approaches.
University education under attack
The conviction that education must be more than the acquisition of knoledge, opened a new battlefield, namely academic teaching itself. As a student, I had spent most of my time with remote learning. My wife and I listened to taped summaries of books all day and subsequently the professors honoured our proficiency. In my view, the lecture was the symbol of bad education. Later, the Board of our university appointed me as educational director of a new faculty in order to prove that things can be done better.
From problem-based to project learning
I was challenged and twelve hectic years followed. Everybody who is searching in Google with ‘large-scale educational innovation’, ‘low budget’ and ‘massive enrolment of students’ will only find one hit, namely: “Do not”. That was no option and after the implementation of problem-based learning, we developed a ‘hybrid’ model that combined problem-based, project-based and traditional education (Van den Bosch & Kieft, 2001). We managed to implement this system in the bachelor program of the seven educational programs in the Nijmegen School of Management. Thanks to this approach, students learned how to analyse and to solve policy problems with insights from several scientific disciplines.
Active students count
I do not promote one single type of education anymore. The quality of higher education depends from whether students learn to relate theory and practice. Educational programs might arrive at this aim in several ways. Sometimes even a lecture is helpful. As a member of peer evaluation teams, I frequently visit faculties and I can only observe that most faculties share this vision. However, they bother with its implementation.
In 2001, I was appointed as dean of the Faculty of management of the Dutch Open University. My colleagues and I had to improve the quality of research, in which we succeeded. Nevertheless, I started to worry about the direction into which scientific research is moving. Most research is lacking societal relevance. Publishing has become a career instrument for staff. Universities will be marginalized in the long run if they continue like that. I tried to implement ‘mode 2’ research, which proved to be a partial success.
Back to geography
A couple of years ago, I decided to take more time for research myself. The ‘learning region’ appeared to be a challenging theme, because of the involvement of geography, educational science and business administration, the three field of science that I got acquainted with during my career. The relations between institutions of higher education and companies have my first interest. Universities differ with respect to their willingness to play an active role in regional development. I try to find out whether this has to do with differences in their vision at science.
Critics of ‘engaged scholarship’ use to confuse engaged research with applied research. Two publications have convinced me that this view is wrong. In the first place Donald Stokes’ book “Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation” (1997). This book makes clear that research could be ‘engaged’ and ‘fundamental’ at the same time. The second book “Engagedscholarship; a guide for organizational and social research” is written by
Andrew van de Ven (2007). Each student and scholar ought to read this book. It demonstrates that societal engagement results in better research!
Nowadays, universities have a mouthful of valorisation of knowledge. This is a first step, albeit small. Many scientists believe that thinking about the application of their research is only starting after the research has been finished. Van de Ven rejects this view. In his words: “”Who is asking the wrong questions, must not be surprised when nobody cares for the answers.” Stakeholder commitment from the beginning of a research project is a prerequisite for successful valorisation. During this dialogue, the right questions are raised and sources of data that were closed before are opened.
When all parts fit together
After my short introspection, I knew what is engaging me. The clumsy rejection of value free science, the application of scientific knowledge to fight prejudice, the connection of theory and practice in education by realistic problems, the interest in the role of universities in regional development, the aversion of the perverse effects of the ‘publish or perish’ mechanism in universities and the approval of Van de Ven’s ‘engaged scholarship have the same root, namely the mission to commit science in service of a better society. I hope my blog will contribute to some extend.
Stokes, D. E. (1997). Pasteurs Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation: Brookings Institution Press.
Van de Ven, A. H. (2007). Engaged scholarship; a guide for organizational and social research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Van den Bosch, H. M. J., & Kieft, M. (2001). The hybrid curriculum; the acquisition of academic competencies in the university curriculum. In W. Gijselaers (Ed.), Educational innovation in economics and business administration, part VII. (pp. 41-56). Dordrecht: Kluwer, Academic Press.