La Fing a répondu à la consultation publique européenne sur l’après 2010 avec son position paper "Using ICT to empower individuals and communities to innovate : an opportunity Europe must not overlook".
En rédigeant le Position Paper sur la politique européenne relative à la société de l’information post 2010, la Fing souhaite pousser la dynamique de l’open innovation, en particulier dans ses dimensions économiques et sociétales :
la baisse des barrières à l’innovation ;
la participation active des citoyens, associations, entrepreneurs dans la coproduction, la personnalisation ou l’amélioration de services publics ;
mais aussi permettre aux usagers d’être en capacité d’innover (empowerment),…
USING ICT TO EMPOWER
INDIVIDUALS AND COMMUNITIES TO INNOVATE :
AN OPPORTUNITY EUROPE MUST NOT OVERLOOK
Co-ordinated by Daniel Kaplan (dkaplan @ fing.org)
The Post-i2010 consultation document covers a lot of ground and raises meaningful
issues. However, in concentrating on a number of goals (low-carbon economy, R&I
performance, public services, e-inclusion, a user-centred Internet…), it risks missing a
highly significant process-related set of issues : How the dynamics of innovation have
changed and might be changing in the future ; What that may mean in terms of economic
value creation but also of social cohesion and sustainability ; And what Europe should do
in order to embrace and extend "broadly open innovation".
The dynamics of innovation have changed
In the last 15 years, the consumer market has been the main driver of disruptive
innovations in the IT and content industries. However, none one of the major consumer
uses of the Internet was invented in a major ICT lab or company ! These innovations (the
Web itself, Google and other search engines, instant messaging, P2P, social networks,
etc.) originated in user communities, hatching start-ups, individual users or user
communities, hacker groups, artists…
This did not happen because IT companies or research labs did not invest enough, or hire
the best people, or do market research. They did all that, and they mostly did it well. But
the Internet has ushered a new regime of innovation.
Indeed, one of the often overlooked characteristics of the digital revolution is its ability to
empower ever-larger numbers of individuals and communities with the means to gather
and process information, to formulate and exchange ideas, to produce new content and
services, to transform existing contents and services, and to reach a public with their
productions or transformations. Whether they explicitly consider themselves as
innovators or not, the fact is, there are simply far more innovators than ever before. And
networks allow these innovations can scale much faster and much higher : Think
Microsoft, Google and on another note, Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap or Linux.
Several companies have started to recognize that. They have theorized "open innovation"
and put it in practice : Crowdsourcing, licensing, creating ecosystems… Understanding
and promoting this model, which runs counter the culture of many European executives,
should be part of the i2010 agenda.
But the new dynamics of innovation have more far-reaching implications :
- It turns innovation processes into incremental loops, from usage to R&D to product
development to spin-offs to new entrants, in whatever order – rather than a linear
process descending from research to applications to industrial development. In
(now) classic "open innovation" theory, major companies still control their R&D
agenda, they simply outsource answers or further applications. In "broadly open
innovation", the questions and the goals themselves originate from all over the
Fing – The Next-Generation Internet Foundation – Paris, France – www.fing.org
- It turns innovation into a continuous flow, rather than a discrete series of
discontinuities that produce lasting competitive advantage. Innovations are almost
immediately copied, improved upon, used elsewhere in unforeseen ways.
- It respects no boundary, be it geographic, statutory, industrial, or disciplinary –
and therefore, does not respect the distinction between incremental and disruptive
This new regime of innovation is now moving beyond the Internet
As the digital and the physical worlds merge (ambient intelligence, nano-bio-info-cogno
"convergence"…), this regime of innovation tends to contaminate the design and
manufacturing of physical products, of buildings and places. And possibly, also, public
services (see below).
Could we build an "Internet of things" that is as vibrant, dynamic, innovative, creative
and disruptive as the Internet of data ? And could Europe be on the forefront ? Of course,
industrial production is the world of diminishing returns, safety norms and heavy
logistics : It is far less plastic than purely digital production. However, a worldwide
movement is currently exploring the potential of "broadly open innovation" (down to the
individual user) in physical objects and placemaking : "desktop fabrication" and Fab Labs ;
Hacklabs, Arduino and other symbols of "open electronics" from which some of the most
innovative smart objects currently emerge ; Distributed sensing and usage of sensing
data ; "makers" and do-it-yourself communities such as dorkbot ; open-source objects,
from 3D models to manufacturing plans…
Where this movement will take us remains an open question. At one extreme, it joins up
with the groundbreaking potential of 3D printing, self-replicating machines (this
community already built one, the RepRap) or even molecular manufacturing, should it
ever emerge. It also resonates with the push for relocalising some industrial production
for sustainability. At the other end, it is unlikely that cars, for example, will be
manufactured in this way.
In any case, the EU cannot afford to miss this opportunity to liberate the transformative
potential that the merger of digital and physical production is heralding. And it is highly
likely that the really disruptive concepts will emerge from these open, grassroots
initiatives, even if they are further scaled and developed by larger firms.
Broadly open innovation has large economic and societal benefits
- It dramatically lowers the barriers to innovation and raises the overall innovative
capacity of European societies, which has obvious economic benefits.
- It multiplies the sources of innovative ideas and endeavours, and therefore increases
the chances for groundbreaking or at least disruptive innovations to emerge from
- In an era of increasingly constrained public resources, it facilitates innovation in
public services, by allowing citizens, associations and entrepreneurs to coproduce,
customize or improve public services.
- By empowering a much larger community of citizens to reflect on problems they meet
with and act on them, it enhances self-confidence and social capital.
- It creates a bridge between social innovation, public innovation, business innovation
and technological innovation.
In the area of public services, several European and American experiences demonstrate
the power of broadly open innovation. Mixing private or community-run car-sharing
initiatives with public transport and traffic information facilitates mobility while
contributing to making it more sustainable. In Britain, self-directed social care
experiments such as inControl put patients in control of their lives, improve their health
and well-being and cost slightly less than centrally-managed care. In several cities,
OpenStreetMap provides more precise and more accurate maps than any commercial or
public map. The reference Web portals and online cultural agendas of a small city such as
Romans sur Isère (France) is coproduced by local bloggers. Bike-sharing services such as
Velib’ have hugely benefited from "hacks" that allow users to subscribe to bike stations in
order to check the availability of bikes or spaces to return them. In Britain, FixMyStreet
allows citizens to report local problems faster than existing systems, and tracks the
response from local authorities…
What policy implications ?
Opening up the space for small, under-the-radar, often amateur innovation, is not an
objective for which many proven public policies exist. Obviously, a large part of the effort
should be towards providing a very open ground for innovations to emerge at minimal
cost and risk. But there are probably more proactive actions to undertake as well1.
Improve the knowledge and awareness of "broadly open innovation"
- Promote and share research into the measurement and understanding of open
innovation and user-generated innovation, and invent indexes to be included in
future Innovation Barometers.
- Raise awareness of open innovation among corporations, research and higher
education institutions, and public institutions in charge of supporting innovation.
Lower the barriers to innovation
- Promote open standards in technology as well as in information (information
formats, metadata…) ;
- Defend "network neutrality" in Internet access provision, here understood as nondiscrimination
between kinds of traffic, and the lack of restrictions for new
applications and protocols to use the network ;
- Implement a prudent intellectual property agenda that protects commercial
innovators but does not inhibit the circulation of knowledge, emulation, the
permanent transformation of existing products and services, or the concurrent
implementation of new ideas.
Share public resources
Many innovations will originate at a local level. In many cases, they will not think of
themselves as "innovations" from the beginning, rather as solutions to specific problems,
or citizen initiatives, or artistic works…
However, several public initiatives can facilitate the emergence of such endeavours, and
help them become conscious of their potential.
Sharing public resources, such as information and application interfaces, but also
places to work and test new ideas, medias to access potential partners and users…
is an efficient way to allow would-be innovators to turn their ideas into reality.
In particular, a more deliberate push is required towards the sharing and re-use of
public-sector information (and possibly some private-sector information relative to
public space, although the scope for regulatory action is obviously much
narrower). The 2012 revision of the directive should invite member states and
local communities to become much more proactive in this area, for the sake of
economic development as well as public innovation, social innovation and
Support "Open Innovation Platforms"
As part of its R&D agenda, Europe should deliberately support projects that proactively
explore the potential of broadly open innovation, in the area of digital technologies and
services and beyond.
The "Living labs" programme was an initial and positive step in that direction. However,
most Living Labs turned out to be large testing platforms rather than empowering
platforms for all kinds of innovators. Based on existing works on platforms and multisided
markets, programmes could support more active platforms that reduce barriers to
innovation, share costs and resources, facilitate access to partnerships, to competencies
and ultimately, to the public, and reduce risks for innovators as well as users.
· In the area of digital services, "InfoLabs" could be (virtual, temporary, physical…)
places and/or operations where people can play with urban information and the
tools to manipulate them, co-design services, test them…
· In the area of physical objects, "Fab Labs" share CAD/CAM tools, low-cost digitally controlled
machines, materials and parts, and professional or peer advice, in order
to facilitate the design, the prototyping and the local production of all kinds of
physical objects, "smart" or not. There are currently 40 fab labs in the world, 10 in
Europe. "Hacklabs" are based on the same idea, but focus more on "open-source
electronics" and originate from more alternative and militant communities. Both
are an example of what should be supported, networked and researched by
Make the scaling up of "under-the-radar" innovation easier
- By providing long-term legislative and normative support (public-sector
information reuse, intellectual property moderation, network neutrality,
- Through the facilitation of small-ticket seed financing, including for non-profit
projects (micro-credit, micro-foundations, use of intermediary NGOs…)
- Through public (and possibly private) public procurement, which need to become
much more friendly to innovative solutions. Insurance funds that would reduce the
risk of discontinuity in case of failure could contribute to such a goal.
- Through active publicity (showcasing, trophies…) and networking between
projects, larger corporations, established institutions, user communities, etc.
Fing, the Next-Generation Internet Foundation, is a Paris-based NGO working on the
transformative uses of technology. it created in 2000 by a team of entrepreneurs and
experts, with the aim of detecting, fostering and promoting innovation in digital services
Working at the crossroads between technology, business, public institutions, the arts and
social change, Fing is a network, an idea accelerator, a think tank and a resource for
- Play a pivotal role in the emergence of innovative ideas and projects
- Mobilize stakeholders around the future technological cycles
- Take part in emerging ethical and societal debates
- Facilitate open, bottom-up innovation and collaboration between users, researchers
Three lines of action
- Think/do tank - Formulated around future-looking challenges, Fing’s programmes
mobilize a wide diversity of stakeholders and innovators in order to share ideas,
explore radically new opportunities and stimulate innovative action.
- Open innovation - Fing networks internationally with start-ups, researchers,
designers, students and social innovators, as well as with major corporations and
public institutions, in order to accelerate innovative projects and facilitate open
- Intelligence and foresight - Fing reports on new ideas, weak signals, emerging
innovations, and trends at the crossroads of society, economy and technology.
As an association, FING has more than 160 members, including major firms, start-ups,
research laboratories, universities, local authorities, administrations, associations…