Innovation labs: leveraging openness for radical innovation?

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Lidia Gryszkiewicz
Ioanna Lykourentzou
Tuukka Toivonen


A growing range of public, private and civic organisations, from Unicef through Nesta to NHS, now run units known as “innovation labs”. The hopeful assumption they share is that labs, by building on openness among other features, can generate promising solutions to grand challenges of systemic nature. Despite their seeming proliferation and popularisation, the underlying innovation principles embodied by labs have, however, received scant academic attention. This is a missed opportunity, because innovation labs appear to leverage openness for radical innovation in an unusual fashion. Indeed, in this exploratory paper we draw on original interview data and online self-descriptions to illustrate that, beyond convening “uncommon partners” across organisational boundaries, labs apply the principle of openness throughout the innovation process, including the experimentation and development phases. While the emergence of labs clearly forms part of a broader trend towards openness, we show how it transcends established conceptualisations of open innovation (Chesbrough, 2006), open science (David, 1998) or open government (Janssen et al., 2012).

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