Protection versus Connection

Four of the current projects funded through the JISC’s Access to Resources and Open Innovation initiative have reported that although SMEs are keen on the concept of open innovation, in practice they are very wary of sharing ideas openly on open innovation platforms.

In undertaking business and community engagement activities, in particular those which improve access to resources, the external community should benefit from the institution’s knowledge and expertise, while the institution will benefit from the experience of engaging with the business or social community in practice.

Chesbrough (2003) suggested that many innovative firms had shifted to an ‘open innovation’ model, using a wide range of external actors and sources to help them achieve and sustain innovation. A central part of any innovation process involves search for new ideas that have commercial potential.

Openness to external sources allows firms to draw in ideas from outsiders to deepen the pool of technological opportunities available to them. Laursen and Salter (2006) argued that firms who are more open to external sources or search channels are more likely to have a higher level of innovative performance. The current projects are enhancing access for SMEs, entrepreneurs and other external parties in their region or subject area to information and knowledge, innovation and collaboration opportunities. This access should inform, improve, develop or sustain the businesses or ventures.

The Hull and Humber Open Innovation project have found that there is a lot of enthusiasm in their region for working together to develop innovative ideas online. Businesses have been happy with transparency at an early part of the process, but then have expressed a wish for a private, confidential space once there is a likelihood of commercially sensitive activity being carried out. In common with this the MEGS Access to Resources project, based at Loughborough University, reported that energy sector business partners have been anxious about sharing too much business information openly.

In Manchester, the mOBILE project aims to create an online innovation space for mobile health and social care. Again, partners are happy for initial ideas to be open, but as projects develop, to the point at which implementation is likely, they would prefer confidentiality. The project feels as though they are currently treading a fine line between openness and confidentiality, while developing and maintaining an interface that clearly guides users through the innovation process. Finally, OpEx, based at Coventry University, has found that companies will provide differing levels of open disclosure due to their concerns about openness. This will be accounted for in the development of their interface.

All the projects understand that a driving factor for their open innovation development will be to encourage businesses to engage with ideas early. The projects also acknowledge that they need to create a collaborative space that takes account of the understandable concerns regarding sharing and intellectual property that the companies are expressing.



Chesbrough H. (2003) Open Innovation. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

2 thoughts on “Protection versus Connection

  1. Emma Nolan

    Hi Caroline, this is an interesting point – and it’s a conundrum faced by universities and SMES. So the Open LivIn project is developing protocols for dealing with this issue – providing processes which allow for different levels of information to be disclosed at different stages.

    There’s another dimension to this protection versus connection conundrum – we’re also looking at how disclosure of information at certain points can affect the outcome of the ‘wisdom of the crowds’.

    There’s a helpful discussion about Protection versus Connection in Brian’s talk at Praxis Unico in 2011. He also looks beyond this to co-creation and the opportunities available for those willing to collaborate. Interesting stuff! Link to Brian’s presentation here:

  2. caro11ne Post author

    Hi Emma
    thanks for those thoughts, and valuable links to more resources along the same lines. It’ll be interesting to see if the situation has changed by the end of the projects

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