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June 29, 2010

Transfer Summit: Open Innovation-Development-Collaboration

Last week I attended TransferSummit, a conference organised by OSSWatch aimed at open innovation and collaboration between academia and the private sector.

I gave two talks at the event, and these were based around our experience at moving the outcomes of an EU-funded research project into the Apache Software Foundation, and in engaging with commercial partners.

The first was on barriers to community and focussed on areas such as governance, diversity and personal barriers to engaging in an Open Source development community, and how as a member of such a community you can make a contribution. Noirin Shirley, who gave another talk on a similar topic, made the useful suggestion of being a "greeter" for a project so that everyone who posts on a project mailing list gets a friendly response straight away.

The second talk was on dissemination beyond academic circles. This was a case study of the transfer of our work from a closed research project into an open project in the ASF incubator (Apache Wookie (Incubating)), looking at the process and business case. For us this move has proven to be extremely successful, and the value generated through adopting a fully-open development approach rather than the"open source, closed community" more typical of research projects has been far greater than the sum of our investment. While not every project can be as successful as this, hopefully it will at least help making the case easier for others.

Of course I didn't just go to do some talks! There were lots of sessions and two very interesting keynotes. I don't normally enjoy keynotes, but these were sufficiently different to be of interest. Steven Pemberton provided a historical perspective on open innovation before delving into what he sees as the key challenge facing open source: usability. Roland Harwood's keynote provided some very interesting case studies of open innovation, with examples including applying F1 logistics technology to hospital waiting lists, and Virgin Atlantic sourcing innovations from an online community of frequent flyers.

Other sessions I attended look at open innovation between business and academic teams, FOSS business models, the CodePlex Foundation (not .com!), open source innovation, community, knowledge transfer partnerships... its going to take me quite a while to let it all settle and figure out which of the things I learned about I can apply next.

Overall the "Open Innovation" message came through loud and clear, as did the clear willingness of both academic and commercial organisations to work together on this basis.

In my own mind I'm seeing "Open Innovation" as a methodology that can both support and be supported by the other "Open" agendas that the CETIS, OSSWatch and UKOLN innovation support centres have been pushing for some years now - Open Source, Open Standards, Open Content, Open Data - each of which also build upon and sustain each other.

The combination of these factors enables companies and universities to unlock innovation that generates far greater value than could be created by any one of them alone, or even by a more traditional "closed" partnership. The challenge ahead is to remove any remaining barriers to openness and collaboration, and to unlock the potential for open innovation involving universities and innovative companies; I think the event last week was an excellent start.

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