Academic journal article Journal of Economics & Management

Collaboration and Trust-Building in Open Innovation Community

Academic journal article Journal of Economics & Management

Collaboration and Trust-Building in Open Innovation Community

Article excerpt


The advancement of the web and mobile communications has led to a globally shifting movement away from business' brick and mortar team structures to innovative technical teams working with more interactively connected technologies. The growing popularity of open innovation communities is grounded in the idea that "firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as they look to advance their technology" (Chesbrough, Vanhaverbeke, West, eds., 2006). However, the use of open innovation communities poses various challenges for all actors engaged. One of them is trust, which is particularly difficult to create, maintain and repair in virtual environments (Cook, Snijders, Buskens, Cheshire, eds., 2009; Knights, Noble, Vurdubakis, Willmott, 2001).

This paper applies a two-year qualitative fieldwork within the computer game industry testing community to develop a newly applied understanding of trust challenges in the open innovation communities.

Trust facilitates social interaction, provides basis for risk-taking and strengthens cooperation. Trust is a necessary component of team environments supporting and executing innovation. Traditionally, trust building processes are enabled by mechanisms such as repeated interaction (e.g. ensuing familiarity) and stabilizing third parties (e.g. institutions in various forms). In the context of distributed teams (Bosch-Sijtsema, Fruchter, Vartiainen, Ruohomäki, 2011) and cooperation taking place in virtual environments (Cook et al., eds., 2009), these traditional mechanisms are usually unavailable.

The open innovation community can be defined as "as a group of unpaid volunteers who work informally, attempt to keep their processes of innovation public and available to any qualified contributor, and seek to distribute their work at no charge" (Flemming and Waguespack, 2007, p. 166). The model gained popularity in knowledge-driven sectors, inter alia through game development companies. Taking into account rapidly changing industry trends and customers' preferences, the game development market is considered risky business venture, since ultimately the game may not meet customers' preferences, and such preferences may be more nuanced and difficult to understand across virtually diverse communities (Prato, Feijoo, Nepelski, Bogdanowicz, Simon, 2010). To minimize such risk companies customarily test their products before officially launching them by engaging people from outside of the organization.

Game production companies use different strategies of implementing external gamers' into their projects. They vary in their decision about when to engage the outsiders, from where to acquire them, how to communicate with them, and how they should protect their product legally. The number of game testers in focus groups differs according to the size of the game; however, business practice suggests it not smaller than several dozen. Smaller organizations possessing limited budgets cannot afford to pay for testing, and they often seek volunteer testers. At the same time, for small companies, the need for rigorous testing phase is even more essential; due to limited resources, they depend much more than on the success of each single game than big companies do.

This creates an interesting situation where, on the one hand, a company needs to guard its intellectual property since its loss would be equal to the failure of the product. On the other hand, however, the company needs to disclose sensitive information about the game to the group of volunteers who cannot be effectively monitored and controlled.. Prior research indicated that trust is the alternative mean of control in the case when legal or official protection is unavailable. However, the development of trust in virtual environment is more complicated than in traditional circumstances of cooperation. Therefore the aim of this research is to examine the how is trust created, maintained and capitalized on in open innovation communities. …

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