Using ICT to empower individuals and communities to innovate : an opportunity Europe must not overlook

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),…


Co-ordinated by Daniel Kaplan (dkaplan @
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 :

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

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"

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 Europe. Make the scaling up of "under-the-radar" innovation easier


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 and uses. 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 innovators. Objectives

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