Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

Brokerage Functions in a Virtual Idea Generation Platform: Possibilities for Collective Creativity?

Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

Brokerage Functions in a Virtual Idea Generation Platform: Possibilities for Collective Creativity?

Article excerpt

Innovation refers to something new or renewed: products or services, processes, organizational forms, financial models, education and training or a workspace (Bygstad & Lanestedt, 2009; Reichstein & Salter, 2006; Tidd, Bessant, & Pavitt, 2005). Innovations are widely seen as the driving force behind economic growth and competitiveness (Chesbrough, 2003; Haga, 2005). The most recent innovation models stress the need to open up the earlier often very sheltered innovation processes. Using a wide range of external actors and sources should help organizations to achieve and sustain innovation (Chesbrough, 2003; Laursen & Salter, 2006).

According to the open innovation perspective, organizations must locate knowledge from a wide range of sources, even from individuals with a background and location that may appear less than obvious, but who nonetheless prove to be highly relevant when attempting to solve a specific challenge (Chesbrough, 2003). Today, it is widely accepted that users, or user networks, are often a major source of innovation and have even been proven to be the principal driving force of many innovations in different industries (Lettl, Herstatt, & Gemuenden, 2006). User-driven innovation places the user in an active role in the innovation process, even to the extent that the entire process may primarily be motivated and driven by the user community rather than by any specific product or service supplier. Users are no longer just the targets of market research, sources of articulated needs, and absorbers of the ultimate innovations produced, rather, their expertise becomes instrumental in solutions development (Breznitz, Ketokivi, & Rouvinen, 2009; Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004; von Hippel & von Krogh, 2003).

An important question for the innovation process is how user-driven innovation is actually conducted. Modern communication technologies have enabled new ways for users to become more active. This article concentrates on the fuzzy front-end innovation process in a public sector organization. It was decided that idea generation would use a web-based environment that would involve both outside experts and the users, or future users, of the services. The idea generation was conducted by external brokers. This article investigates brokerage functions in a virtual environment and how they can create possibilities for collective creativity. To analyze the brokerage functions the concepts of distance and proximity are used as a framework.


Innovations are said to be created in a combination of different fields of knowledge (Johansson, 2004; Leonard, 1995; Uotila, Harmaakorpi, & Melkas, 2006). Innovations begin with creative ideas (Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996) but while innovation results in part from creativity, the two are not interchangeable. Von Stamm (2003) sees the difference between these concepts in implementation. The development of an innovation depends on a good, creative idea and the successful implementation of this idea.

Researchers have begun examining social networks as possible sources of diverse knowledge and, consequently, creativity (Burt, 2004; Perry-Smith, 2006). A social network refers to a set of actors (e.g., people, organizations) and ties representing some relationship, or lack of a relationship, among them. The ties are often characterized as strong or weak (Granovetter, 1973). Granovetter (1973) proposed that weak ties are more likely to connect different social circles and be the source of non-redundant information, whereas strong ties are likely to be connected to themselves and thus provide redundant information. Weak ties allow for diversity, a prerequisite for innovation, and bring the network members into contact with other, less familiar actors.

Collaborating with different actors should substantially enhance creativity and innovation, due to the amount and variety of knowledge to be shared, thereby enabling the actors to fulfil their initial resource and skill endowments. …

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