Open Social Innovation

Innovation, open innovation, social innovation… is there such a thing as open social innovation? Is there innovation in the field of civic action that is open, that shares protocols and processes and, above all, outcomes? Or, better indeed, is there a collectively created innovative social action whose outcomes are aimed at collective appropriation?


It seems unavoidable, when speaking about innovation, to quote Joseph A. Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy:

The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.

In the aforementioned work and in Business Cycles: a Theoretical, Historical and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process he stated that innovation necessarily had to end up with existing processes, and that entire enterprises and industries would be destroyed with the coming of new ways of doing things, as the side effect of innovation. This creative destruction would come from, at least, the following fronts:

  • A new good or service in the market (e.g. tablets vs. PCs).
  • A new method of production or distribution of already existing goods and services (e.g. music streaming vs. CDs).
  • Opening new markets (e.g. smartphones for elderly non-users).
  • Accessing new sources of raw materials (e.g. fracking).
  • The creation of a new monopoly or the destruction of an existing one (e.g. Google search engine)

Social innovation

Social innovation is usually described as innovative practices that strengthen civil society. Being this a very broad definition, I personally like how Ethan Zuckerman described social innovation in the Network Society. According to his innovation model:

  1. Innovation comes from constraint.
  2. Innovation fights culture.
  3. Innovation does embrace market mechanisms.
  4. Innovation builds upon existing platforms.
  5. Innovation comes from close observation of the target environment.
  6. Innovation focuses more on what you have more that what you lack.
  7. Innovation is based on a “infrastructure begets infrastructure” basis.

His model comes from a technological approach — and thus maybe has a certain bias towards the culture of engineering — but it does explain very well how many social innovations in the field of civil rights have been working lately (e.g. the Spanish Indignados movement).

Open innovation

The best way to define open innovation is after Henry W. Chesbrough’s Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating And Profiting from Technology, which can be summarized as follows:

Closed Innovation Principles Open Innovation Principles
The smart people in the field work for us. Not all the smart people in the field work for us. We need to work with smart people inside and outside the company.
To profit from R&D, we must discover it, develop it, and ship it ourselves. External R&D can create significant value: internal R&D is needed to claim some portion of that value.
If we discover it ourselves, we will get it to the market first. We don’t have to originate the research to profit from it.
If we create the most and the best ideas in the industry, we will win. If we make the best use of internal and external ideas, we will win.
We should control our IP, so that our competitors don’t profit from our ideas. We should profit from others’ use of our IP, and we should buy others’ IP whenever it advances our business model.

Open Social Innovation

The question is, can we try and find a way to mix all the former approaches? Especially, can we speak about how to have social innovation being open?

In my opinion, there is an important difference between social innovation and innovation that happens in the for-profit environment:

  1. The first one, and more obvious, is that while the former one has to somehow capture and capitalize the benefits of innovation, the second one is sort of straightforward: if the innovation exists, then society can “automatically” appropriate it.
  2. The second one is the real cornerstone: while (usually) the important thing in (for-profit) open innovation is the outcome, in social innovation it (usually) is more important the process followed to achieve a goal rather than achieving the goal itself.

Thus, in this train of thought, open social innovation is the creative destruction that aims at making up new processes that can be appropriated by the whole of civil society. I think there are increasingly interesting examples of open social innovation in the field of social movements, of e-participation and e-democracy, the digital commons, P2P practices, hacktivism and artivism, etc.

I think that open social innovation has three main characteristics that can be fostered by three main actions of policies.


  • Decentralization. Open social innovation allows proactive participation, and not only directed participation. For this to happen, content has to be separated from the container, or tasks be detached from institutions.
  • Individualization. Open social innovation allows individual participation, especially at the origin of innovation. This does not mean that collective innovation is bad or avoided, but just that individuals have much flexibility o start on their own. This is only possible with the atomization of processes and responsibilities, thus enabling maximum granularity of tasks and total separation of roles.
  • Casual participation. Open social innovation allows participation to be casual, just in time, and not necessarily for a log period of time or on a regular basis. This is only possible by lowering the costs of participation, including lowering transaction costs thus enabling that multiple actors can join innovative approaches.


How do we foster decentralization-individualization-casual participation? how do we separate content from the container? how do we atomize processes, enable granularity? how do we lower costs of participation and transaction costs?

  • Provide context. The first thing an actor can do to foster open social innovation is to provide a major understanding of what is the environment like, what is the framework, what are the global trends that affect collective action.
  • Facilitate a platform. It is not about creating a platform, it is not about gathering people around our initiative. It deals about identifying an agora, a network and making it work. Sometimes it will be an actual platform, sometimes it will be about finding out an existing one and contributing to its development, sometimes about attracting people to these places, sometimes about making people meet.
  • Fuel interaction. Build it and they will come? Not at all. Interaction has to be boosted, but without interferences so not to dampen distributed, decentralized leadership. Content usually is king in this field. But not any content, but filtered, grounded, contextualized and hyperlinked content.

Some last thoughts

Let us now think about the role of some nonprofits, political parties, labour unions, governments, associations, mass media, universities and schools.

It has quite often been said that most of these institutions — if not all — will perish with the change of paradigm towards a Networked or Knowledge Society. I actually believe that all of them will radically change and will be very different from what we now understand by these institutions. Disappear?

While I think there is less and less room for universities and schools to “educate”, I believe that the horizon that is now opening for them to “enable and foster learning” is tremendously huge. Thus, I see educational institutions having a very important role as context builders, platform facilitators and interaction fuellers. It’s called learning to learn.

What for democratic institutions? I cannot see a bright future in leading and providing brilliant solutions for everyone’s problems. But I would definitely like to see them having a very important role as context builders, platform facilitators and interaction fuellers. It’s called open government.

Same for nonprofits of all purposes. Rather than solving problems, I totally see them as empowering people and helping them to go beyond empowerment and achieve total governance of their persons and institutions, through socioeconomic development and objective choice, value change and emancipative values, and democratization and freedom rights.

This is, actually, the turn that I would be expecting in the following years in most public and not-for-profit institutions. They will probably become mostly useless with their current organizational design, but they can definitely play a major role in society if they shift towards open social innovation.

New niches for online journalism

Journalism has traditionally faced the same constraints of most institutions of the industrial society. On the one hand, the scarcity of resources: remote or hidden sources of information, a limited radio wave spectrum, lack of paper and the associated costs to buy it, etc. On the other hand, the transaction costs of putting the whole thing together: expensive (tele)communication infrastructures, reaching an audience, reaching advertisers, coordinating staff, etc.

These are arguably the most powerful reasons why media are mass media, and why we quite often cannot think about journalism without translating it into mass media – even if the concepts are as different as the seventh art and the entertainment industry. Thus, mass media address a general audience with general information (we are simplifying here, of course). In other words, mass media does scale up: in a bricks-and-mortar-and-paper world, it is more efficient and effective to address a massive audience than targeting each and every individual according to their tastes.

On the contrary, other scenarios are just not sustainable. Let’s take, for instance, the example of critical analysis of local political news. Such exercise requires, on the one hand, a deep knowledge of journalism and, on the other hand, a deep knowledge of political science, sociology, economics, etc. to which we have to add the narrow context of a municipality. But as the scenario is a municipality, it is unlikely that such a narrow audience will be able to sustain such an investment in quality knowledge: specialized (and expensive) journalists vs. a short number of advertisers and a reduced number of newspaper readers/buyers.

The trade-off is, of course, a lack of breadth and depth of news and information in general. That is, it is just normal that, if media aim at having a massive audience, they simply address the very average of the distribution of population — just like most political parties do too — both in terms of topics addressed (breadth) and the intensiveness with which they are addressed (depth).

As a result, it is not surprising to witness the huge concentration of media producing information — but not data journalism or critical analysis — about quite general topics — but with poor specialization or opening up the lens to provide comparisons between topics or a broader context.



Micro / specialized / local      
Meso / General      
Macro / Multidisciplinary      
Table 1: saturated niches of journalism

But the digitization of information and communications may open up what once was closed in the name of efficiency and effectiveness.

Now, the costs of producing information are lowered dramatically. Actually, what is now much lower is not the costs of producing information but the costs of publishing or broadcasting it, which is quite different. The most immediate thing that comes to mind is the reduction of the cost of paper. But there is much much more than that: the Internet knows not about radiowave (physical) constraints and, thus, knows not about a short supply of wave spectrum that pushes prices up; the Internet neither knows about the costs of accessing quality multimedia content from whatever place in the world (one’s own city suburbs included, by the way); the Internet knows not of most costs related to delivery; etc.

If costs are cut down, so can revenues.

And if revenues can be reduced, so can audiences.

And then specialization can happen.

What new spaces are disclosed by online journalism?



Micro / specialized / local Characterization
Pattern recognition
Meso / General      
Macro / Multidisciplinary Correlation
  Macro-level comparisons
Macro-level trends
Paradigm shifts
Table 2: new niches of online journalism vs. saturated niches.

Firstly, we can now dig into the micro-level, by being specialized in a topic or discipline or, if we are speaking in geographical terms, we can go back to the local level and provide quality data at this level.

Secondly, we can broaden the scope of data out to the macro-level, providing a multidisciplinary approach that can bring into the equation analysis of correlation and causality between different variables and/or levels. At the geographical level this means shifting to a world wide vision and thus providing context.

Symmetrically, we can gain depth in the quality of information and turn it into knowledge that can be directly applied as policy advice and the very micro or local levels.

These are just scattered reflections upon which I have been rambling the past years. But it seems to me — and it is just a personal impression — that some of these things are beginning to take real form. We will see, in the near future, whether they become mainstream or just end up to the place where unsuccessful experiments of trial-and-error go.

The paradox of Sharism, or how a cool idea will pay my mortgage

The key motivator of Social Media and the core spirit of Web 2.0 is a mind switch called Sharism. Sharism suggests a re-orientation of personal values. [...] And it’s okay to seek financial rewards. But you will in every case get something just as substantial: Happiness.

This is Isaac Mao in the essay Sharism: A Mind Revolution that he wrote for Joi Ito’s book Freesouls. While I like the music — I actually hum it myself every now an then — I find the lyrics hard to sing.

Don’t get me wrong: there are almost 2,000 of pieces of work that I am already sharing in this website, ranging from the simplest blog post to the latest version of a learning material, and including slides for presentations, articles, book chapters and so. Everything is (at this very moment) under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 license, which has not stopped third parties from asking for permission to create derivative works, which has always been granted too.

The reasons for behaving like that are the ones that Isaac Mao is depicting in his essay, and many more, including both my own philosophy regarding the nature of the outputs derived from public funding or the ethos of scientists and their role in society. But this behaviour, while fostered by ideologies, is actually been made possible because my time is already paid: partly by tax payers, partly by students enrolled in my (public) university (tax payers too, after all).

When I wake up in the morning, my mortgage is already being paid. With that in mind, I have plenty of room for putting ideologies into practice.

Isaac Mao speaks about the positive results of Sharism:

  • You get comments and feedback in general that enrich your work.
  • You get access to all the other stuff being shared.
  • Anything you share can be forwarded, circulated and republished, which implies you get recognition and (namely) social status.
  • What you do, if shared, has a meaning not only for you, but for the whole of society.
  • But you will in every case get something just as substantial: Happiness.

This works 100% for me. As a scholar, a (mostly) publicly-funded scholar, this works 100%, especially the happiness part. I mean it. Since I began to blog in 2003, I only got benefits from sharing. Sometimes even in cash.


I’ve done my homework (see below). I’ve read what I ought to. And still can’t I see how Sharism — or, closely related, a hacker ethic — can be applicable to the whole economy the way Mao’s portraying. Yes, we’ve got (some) examples in the free software community and (much less) examples in the open/free culture movement. But still, in a global economy where money comes from capturing the added value of an output (where “capturing” is a very broad term for a very complex set of practices, most of them related to restrained access to that output), Sharism will have hard times when it comes to paying a mortgage, which is paid in actual legal tender.

Web 2.0, the power of sharing

My university is inviting Isaac Mao to the V Meeting of associate institutions and businesses. The second part of the event is an open round table which I am chairing and that will be participated by Isaac Mao himself, Ricardo Galli, founder of the “Spanish Digg” (Menéame), and Alfons Sort, CEO of Adobe Systems Ibérica.

I will definitely bring all my questions on the table with the goal in mind to see whether we can shed some light on the many open topics that, in my opinion, Sharism still has to clarify.

Recommended readings

I previously said that I had done my homework. What follows is a brief collection of readings which I find very relevant for our discussion here. Enjoy.

Mao, I. (2008). “Sharism: A Mind Revolution”. In Ito, J.,
Freesouls, 115-118. Tokyo:
Raymond, E. S. (1999). The Cathedral & the Bazaar. (revised edition: original edition 1999). Sebastopol: O’Reilly.
Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lessig, L. (2004). Free Culture. New York: The Penguin Press.
Levy, S. (1984). Hackers. Heroes of the computer revolution. Champaign: Project Gutenberg.
Himanen, P. (2003). L’ètica hacker i l’esperit de l’era de la informació. Barcelona: Editorial UOC.
Berners-Lee, T. (2000). Weaving the Web. New York: HarperCollins.
Hafner, K. & Lyon, M. (1996). Where Wizards Stay up Late: The Origins of the Internet. New York: Touchstone.

Open Educational Resources: the reality of shared knowledge

Notes from the conference Open Educational Resources: the reality of shared knowledge, held at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya within the framework of the Open Ed 2010 — Open Education Conference. Barcelona, Spain, 4 November 2010.

Open Educational Resources: the reality of shared knowledge

Brian Lamb.

A shift has happened one we can attend an event and everyone has a camera with which they are taking their own pictures, besides the official photographer. Everyone becomes a creator.

on the other hand, the Internet brings any kind of content to our homes, so not only the idea of the creator becomes drastically changed, but also the idea of space becomes irrelevant.

Feedback is enabled between (creative) people anytime, anywhere. The sole condition: openness. There are plenty of technologies that enable feedback at a very low financial cost, low risk, low maintenance and low costs of organization.

Openness can be understood in many ways:

  • Having access to the content.
  • Having access to the code of the content (relevant when multimedia).
  • Being able to change or contribute to the content.
  • Having the possibility to take the content away and embed or syndicate it elsewhere.
  • Not only about open content, but also about open structures.
  • Having the ability to create new platforms or sites very quickly, with most flexibility, with low technological thresholds.
  • Understanding the process how things are achieved, and not only accessing the final outcomes.
  • Having access to the source, data of the content.

But it is not about how the Web is changing Education, but how Education is changing the Web.

And part of this “educating the Web” includes the debate around Net Neutrality, with which Education has a close relationship.

Repositories of Open Educational Content: cases and paradigms.
Ma Antònia Huertas.

Historically, the question has been how to get quality educational content that is available, reliable and that can be reused.

Nowadays availability might not be more an issue, maybe not the possibility of reusing, but reliability is still an unsolved matter.

Some of the “answers” to the question are:

  • Distributed open repositories.
  • Tools for the user to search, create, catalogue, publish.
  • Services and interfaces for interaction.
  • Open standards.
Case 1: MeRLí.

MeRLí is a catalogue of digital educational resources developed by the Education Department of the Generalitat de Catalunya [Catalan Government]. Its aim is to thel p the educational community in cataloguing, indexing and searching learning materials.

Search engines are a norm amongst repositories, and it does an intensive usage of metadata that describe the content of the educational resources.

The community — though quite a passive one — is also a core component of the repository.

Content belongs to an educational curriculum, features its life cycle (creation, validation, modification history).

Case 2: is also a Catalan repository, but this time featuring only audiovisual content and with quite a restrictive source of content, mainly academic institutions.

The repository has over 7,000 learning objects integrated according to curricula, an own search engine and a certified process of acceptance of the learning content in the repository.

Case 3: Agrega

Unlike the previous two, Proyecto Agrega is a federation of institutional educational repositories around Spain, mainly belonging to regional governments. The good thing of Agrega is that it renders the individual repositories interoperable and integrable, so that searching or browsing becomes easier and more transparent for the end user.

The platform, notwithstanding, enables specific users to create and upload new content to the repository. The problem is that though the technology is a very advanced one, the community of active users (i.e. creators) is so small that the repository is almost empty — that is, besides what is syndicated from third parties’ repositories.

The critical elements of repositories are the users, not the technology. The weak links of the chain are the submitters, the managers, the curators and the end-users.

Open Educational Practices and Resources. Revisiting the OLCOS Roadmap 2012
César Córcoles.

If you cannot see the slides please visit <a href=""></a>

The roadmap made (2007) several recommendations so that educational institutions could open their resources and apply them to their mainstream activities. What has happened with the recommendations of the OLCOS Roadmap for 2012?

Promote open education partnerships: there have been advances, but arguably not enough. Still closeness is the norm. Same with open educational resources.

Support the development and use of state-of-the art open access resources has quite often been translated on investing on lots of technology and little on training and usage. A bias towards sexy technology.

Public-private partnerships: still very difficult to achieve, especially because the public sector (e.g. Universities) are not in line with the pace of times. This has also been a barrier to switching away from teacher-centred knowledge transfer.

Sharing and reusing has also not been accomplished. Maybe because, most times, people rather create their own content instead of looking what is out of their own institution walls.

Of course, intellectual property and copyright have, definitely, been a huge barrier for the adoption of open educational resources and practices. Indeed the topic has neither been seriously or constructively addressed nor has the industry made any approach or move towards understanding.

Teachers are having hard times using open educational practices to help learners acquire competences for the knowledge society, partly because these competences are rapidly changing, and thus it is difficult to tell which content applies to what (changing) competences.

A key factor is the shift from the “know how” to the “know who”, and open educational practices should be able to support collaborative learning processes and learning communities. This should certainly be a very important reason for institutions to support openness.

From the students’ point of view, openness should be translated into ePortfolios, accessible to third parties.

César here presents the making of Curriculum de estándares web Opera, the Spanish (and Catalan) version of the Opera Web Standards Curriculum, which was published with an open license and, thus, enabled its translation and reusage for educational purposes. The content has proven successful not only for educational purposes, but for a broad community of people interested in the field of Web Standards and that has found in the new version a resource for their own purposes.

Open Education for Secondary Education
Aníbal de la Torre.

The part of the “Preacher 2.0″: it’s not about technology, but methodology; open knowledge, the power of networks and the versatility of blogs, etc.

We are witnessing the convergence of our personnae and our environment, in part through mobility, augmented reality, etc.

The starting point, before exiting or circumventing institutions, is to operate a switch and make people (teachers, students) to work not in the framework of the textbook, but in the framework of tasks, of projects.

The profile of the (Aníbal’s) students is secondary education students that need studying from home: elite sportsmen, housewifes, etc. Thus, lots of new content has been created to adapt them to the new methodologies deployed to meet the needs of these students (circa 30,000). The repository will feature circa 2,000 learning objects by the end of the course 2010-2011.

An important realization is that, when the student is put in the centre of the educational methodology, the learning material becomes not irrelevant but an accessory: by no means the educational material is an important part of the equation. Indeed, the material is frequently updated and complemented with other materials and educational resources: the learning material is no more the central monolith around which the educational process goes around.

If the content is not the centre — though still important, of course — it is because the new centre is the student and working based on tasks and projects.

Taking 30,000 students as the base, it has been calculated that the average cost per student of providing them with all the open educational content they need is 1.50 €.

Some issues/problems:

  • Openness requires team-working. Individualism is not an option. And team-working requires hard work and commitment.
  • Assessment is extremely slow. While people have feedback of their actions almost immediately in their daily (digital) lives, the educational system provides them with feedback once a year at the end of the course. This has to be addressed.
  • Copyright still a hard barrier to overcome.
  • Openness has to be an institutional decision.
  • Public funding should absolutely imply openness.
  • Educational environments should have their own open licenses or legal frameworks to ease openness, authorship recognition, etc.
  • We should measure how users are doing, not how products are doing. Assessment of people, not products.
  • We have to explore how to assess learning performance with the same tools that learning takes place. E.g. we cannot teach with Internet in the classroom and make exams without it.
  • Encourage group- or team-work.
  • Learning by doing enables changing tasks, contents, syllabuses, etc. extremely easy.

More Information

Deconstructing the Book: The Drumbeat series as a Pliego

My colleague Enric Senabre, with Adam Hyde and Patrick Hendricks are organizing the Printing Lab at the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival.

One of the things they’re presenting is PliegOS, which is like a Twitter for books.

To make a demonstration of PliegOS, Enric is taking the first three out of my four-post series for Drumbeat, that is:

and turnging them into a pliego.

The result is surprising to say the least. You can download the pliego in the following link:

And you can also watch how a pliego is built and used in the following video:

EDem10. Transparency & Governance

Notes from the EDem10 — 4th International Conference on eDemocracy 2010, at the Danube-University Krems, and held in Krems, Austria, on May 6th and 7th, 2010. More notes on this event: edem10.

Communications: Transparency & Governance

European Citizens’ Initiative
Alexander Balthasar

Even if petition initiatives are interesting, there still is a very tiny minority that participate in any kind of petitioning, be it online or offline. Indeed, people do have the right to write letters to their governments or their representatives and actually nobody does.

[the speaker assumed that everyone at the audience had read his paper, included in the book of proceedings that was delivered yesterday, and based his speech upon that assumption — I wonder how many people could easily follow his reflections and without the help of visual support...]

Communication without borders
Evgeniya Boklage

The political blogosphere is about political blogs dealing with political issues, from a professional or non-professional point of view.

Public sphere: open communication system, based on exchange of opinions, free type of participation, and that includes three functions: transparency (input), validation (throughput) and orientation (output).

Transparency requires openness. But transparency is not about journalism transparency, as transparent journalism can be embedded in a non-transparent (political) system.

Is the blogosphere a significant asset to the public sphere or is it information overload? Is the blogosphere citizen empowerment or is it merely a symbolic tool?

How can blogosphere enhance transparency?

  • Media-watchdogs
  • Shed light to obscure topics
  • Observation of mass media, the political system and the society
  • Navigation, creation of an embedding context, providing additional materials, raise awareness on immediate and noticeable impact
  • Access to the public discourse
  • A tribune for NGOs, advocacy groups and politically driven citizens

Throwing the Sheep’s Long Tail: Open Access
Noella Edelmann and Peter Parycek

New Journal of eDemocracy (JeDEM), which will be an open access journal.

We can find a close relationship between open access publishing and e-democracy and transparency.

We can now publish all the information we can without anyone’s permission.

We have to force a policy change where openness is the default, and closeness the option you might choose.

Other reactions on this session

EDEm10 - 4th International Conference on eDemocracy (2010)