Open Innovation and the contribution of non-experts

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The re:innovate track highlights different perspectives on Open Innovation. This session presents a civil society and scientific view. How and why do nonexperts contribute to innovation? Beth Kolko will provide an insight into her work with hackers and makers to demonstrate the contributions of non-experts and the ways institutional structures generally forestall these kinds of contributions and how organizational boundaries exclude them from conversations that can lead to innovation. Her conclusions are based on over a decade of fieldwork in developing countries, and inadvertently seeing patterns of innovation among populations with little access to formal education, professional-grade tools, or any formal experts. Beth also teached and watched non technical students which solved old problems in new ways because they didn't know enough to understand the boundaries of the domain space. None the less academic or industry labs are highly unlikely to ever recognize them as 'experts'. As a result of this work she started writing a book about hackers and makers and non-expert-innovation with focus on the notion of disruptive technologies.
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it beams the RL error are are so so the the only way so I think you all know I am quite delighted to be here and you go
looking forward to the next few days of class to learn and really great lineup of speakers so what I'm going to talk about today is open innovation and the contribution of non experts and there's a lesson definitional work that these needs to happen for this so my primary goal here is to define open innovation as tied to non experts and I am using a specific definition of non-expert it's not about whether or not you're good at something and so it it's that lacking official credentials as being unaccredited not being recognized by institutions as being an expert in a particular field so this is this an important distinction in part because what I wanna do is I want to draw attention to the invisibility of non-experts and the contributions and interest surface that in the hopes of understanding how we can
cultivate more innovation more optically more disruptive innovation so look at 3 communities I look at hackers and makers and students of both hardware and software hackers and the reason I for students in their diet is entrapment undergraduate sort of for they become credentialed common hackers because they have the audacity to think that they can make a difference so I even when the institution basically wants to tell them that they're not ready to do anything substantive and so across the street communities the collective ability to contribute to innovation is what I'm really interested in these days sort of odd hardware hackers here in Berlin which is kind of the epicenter of everything going on but it's also great to be here so there are 3 elements to this discussion and so the
1st is a book that operating on the topic of the hackers and disruptive technology and the 2nd is a project that I'm running at my university called how academia which is an attempt to foster
a more innovation by non experts to come up with a model for that and then the 3rd element is something that all all talk about a little later so the reason I'm using that this particular definition of non-expert in terms of the the credentialing issue is causing harm specifically about the limitations of institutions both academic and business institutions and how they themselves are credentialed what the value and the structures that they have evolved which ultimately end up squelching innovation and so this is also part of a larger project so at you I think about how to revolutionize higher education in light of technological change so as I been working in places like that actually not usually is pretty is that in educational institutions rep 20 years teaching at universities and the have lot of boundaries in the same way that the technology has really reframed journalism that changes coming for higher ed and by and large I would say most universities colored ostriches the ignoring the change that's coming and so trying to deal at some of the theory so institutions of boundaries and even Campos those boundaries that closeness to the idea of openness
and open innovation OK so this talk is that you can see this talk about the power of open innovation but the food side of that is also about the limitations of the institution cameras the and so the yeah and have 2 bottles of water and I can
t 1 will end up on the ground OK so I I do have a little confession that I have to lay out here as reversing this talk with a friend of mine earlier this week and said you really need to tell a little bit about your background which is now and it'll really this is not my 1st impulse so I am a professor and I am a professor in a college of Engineering and I'm a full professor which means in the American education system there are no more promotions that can get under uh which is great great place to be out but while I am a professor in in engineering and and I do have phd but like he she is actually found in literature so that's my confession there so I sort of operate in this world where I don't have the official credentials to do what it is that I do in my day job and so this is an evolving conflicts there I think informal out of what this project is about the OK so become obvious over time that experts aren't necessarily the best problem solvers
and on on 1 level we know this trait we all know this but as a society we don't operate as if we know it and certainly universities don't
operate like they know this and by enlarged neither to businesses so experts may not be in the best problem solvers that is that problem solvers are best problem-solvers don't necessarily come from that population of experts but we organize our institutions and our processes around the prioritization of expertise when actually what we need to solve really tough problems is a dose of non expertise we need a kind of fresh vision so 1 of the reasons I wanna recuperate non-expert as an innovator in because I think that non-expert users a kind of power from its freedom from boundaries and the limitations of institutions and also non-experts as innovators rule breakers and so the in the populations that look at the whole their literal rule breakers there's a lot of laws that get broken up in the hacker immigrant communities now I'm not passing judgment on the breaking of Lorentz where the justness of certain laws with so there's the literal rule-breaking that happens but then that the other reason that I have like this phrase of rule breaker and this is on a call attention to it because there is that kind of power-play OK it's a political act it's the seizing of power and pushing back on institutions that they give credentials so for example open software and open hardware they change the nature of the kind of hacking that we can do and then the problems that we can solve we don't need a kind of rarified expertise there's been a democratization of technological tools and that bolsters the rise of the non-expert innovator so in a few minutes you're going to hear from some of the open challenges and those are also really great opportunities to think about how some of these more democratized technologies can allow non experts to contribute to change so this reason that I like to use the phrase rule breaker is because of the cultural and economic power associated with being technical and this probably does come out of that whole literature engineering unsplit so I use that and the frame of rule-breaking as an act
cultural destruction because it's a matter of people claiming the ability to do things that those formal models of expertise totally exclude and hysterical for people who don't have credentials to call themselves technical when when being technical means something in terms of your ability to get a job at the well compensated so non-experts rule-breaking innovators at that but they also contribute specifically to disruptive technologies and not just innovations but the creators of particular kinds of technology that tend to be disruptive and that's really what differentiates them from people who operate within institutions and so the reason why I'm looking at these 3 communities because they see them as disruptors
outside of those institutions but also the suit alleges to step back from what I put a bunch of people under the umbrella of factor and the definition that I'm using to avoid definitions actually much more interested in the
commonalities across communities rather than the differences but the a definite answer to think about people who break things and also people who build things and people look at an object for or a system or process and they don't get freshman necessarily get frustrated by the ways it doesn't work for them instead they think will happen I change this so that it does work for me and then they have it so it works another way to think about is people don't know any better so they just make things but 1 of the things also that happens when you get these non-experts is that they don't necessarily understand the boundaries of the problem because they are existing outside of expertise and institutions and so bring in experts and they really understand the problem and they know how frame and what language to use and what the prior work is maybe they get a little interdisciplinary maybe they sometimes get a little out of the box thinking I guess with this the out of the circle thinking of but for non experts they don't
actually know how to even articulate the problem and that's where the real power in their solutions often comes from and that's often really the best pathways that we have to creativity consider non-experts rule-breaking innovators of disruptive technology and 1 has been a little time and what I mean by disruptive
technologies so this the slides kind of an eye chart I don't really mean to test your vision and so on and talk through it but basically the value of a non experts the outside of
institutions like academia industry but but those institutions they have a very real and tangible disincentives for creating disruptive technology so we see in front of you with a little tiny piece of our model by Clayton Christensen who writes that innovation here it's not some of the characteristics of disruptive technologies they have less functionality can be less expensive yield to the user communities and so if you think about the kind of work that than the way work gets done within hour universities and then also within industry research settings there is a mismatch repair so in terms of less functionality the way that universities work is on research dollars is released in the US UK and increasingly actually globally so gave it my students in my graduate students to try to do something where they're coming up with the technology that has less functionality of something that's a preexisting that's not going to constitute a new knowledge necessarily and it's not new knowledge I'm not gonna get a Grant for it and they're not going to get a Ph.D. for it and so my institution is very specifically telling me this is not something that we're in a prioritized in terms of being less expensive and this is where I think some of the disincentives in in business comes into the few minutes and they tell you about a project that some students of mine worked on developing a low-cost ultrasound machines they did they did also just going on and talk about it like so he came up with a bunch of really great user
interface pieces and other uh traffic elements and then we shopped around 2 2 manufacturers would with 2 gene that other ultrasound manufacturers and we said this but we did what will give it to you it's free take it
but we really think that this will help save lives and then they they just were interested and I eventually won the meetings of Vice President said so we know we
we could make cheaper technology that's not actually the problem we have the technology to do that we can make it cheaper but it would not support the cost of our sales force so I thought well that's a broken model on but it's also structural disincentives to coming up with disruptive things non-intrusive new user communities in a challenging so when you think globally and has a lot of my work is developing low-cost technologies for low resource environments and manufacturing and distribution work differently advertising also works differently and then you may be looking at a high volume low margin that kind of product is really challenging so again within these institutions lots of disincentives to come up with something that's disruptive so 1 of the other elements I think that's
really important to pull out of the this idea of non-expert communities of this rule breaking innovators disruptive technology but they also embraced the
idea of technology remix so not necessarily cutting edge research OK and well-funded labs where you have access to a really expensive and
advanced equipment talking about using older technology in new ways and so on the willingness to engage with this notion of technology remix which does
not fit in some to traditional models of practice within institutions were taking things apart and putting them back together in new ways maybe there's not any new IP you're not going to get any patterns were chosen and value to your company using older style that's not necessarily leading edge FIL all of those things are a remix and its destructive so in the same way that Media re-mixing has been disrupted to conventional schema of copyright and media business models technology remixes similarly destructive the but if we have a model
disruptive innovation emerging from non-experts and something collecting these patterns of of mixed disruption hacking and this started about 12 years ago I was doing a bunch of workers doing research on patterns of technology adoption and adaptation globally then I spent a lot of time in Central
Asia genetic 8 year study there how technologies use diffusion adopted and adapted so this was a to back in 2 thousand so just setting the stage here as living in touch can and that
was pretty big city that 3 million people and so by December 2000 there were 12 places in the city where you could go to get access to the internet there were 12 internet cafes and theoretically there were ISTC could get dial-up in the home but it was especially accessible so that's just a little bit about this sort time and place of what's happening and within this context you know people they gonna Marshall different skills in order to figure out how to use this new technology there's a lot of collective sharing you know the at this slide here looking at right now there's 3 people huddled around 1 computer and what they're doing is they're combining their skill sets that the 1 person doesn't type another person has the foreign language ability for what they're trying to learn another person might have domain expertise but combining the skill sets and thinking about what people can do and and what can they learn it so 1 of the things that they can learn is that they can learn how to build a land so this is as interviewing a group of many 14 15 year olds time that 2004 in curious down and they tho they love to play games as sort of of the Universal there really loved to play counterstrike that was the favorite so in addition to the internet cafes like cafes that they could go to apply
at no cost money and also they wanna play at nite it was in the president necessarily want them going out late at nite but they still wanted to play they have computers in their home so what they did they lived in a big old building like this and the 2 cabling in the and went from 1 apartment down to
Florida over a few apartments to the next 1 and they they themselves up together into local area networks so that they can play counterstrike in the middle of the nite and appearance to know which
was great for that but but also really great have minimally network engineering background but they didn't so the other axis has emerged from this pattern of travel is out the way that people responded to crumbling infrastructure so when you have to say in telephone infrastructure that is somewhat lacking the person who lives off to the side there takes the phone in the middle of the day during the day rather that runs it out to the economy could call you can give me the sense to
make a call at nite when we take that phone back and so
that person does not work for the phone company there's a completely unsanctioned business trying to figure out how to close that telecom gaps so these are some of the patterns of
what made it so that's that's all stuff from some of my field work at another great place to see stories like this is offered this website after gadget which I'm sure many of you familiar with and so this is their latest the latest posters about this 13 year old boy and who was responsible for taking care of their families and invites herd which is typical and they live in an area with a lot of alliance in alliance like to eat the
cattle the tasty and this small I figured out that when
people are out walking with flashlights the lion's den attack that it turns out lions are afraid of people which I did not know I feel like I'm much more afraid of lions than they would be the so he came up with this idea to take
old LED bulbs with flashlights with them up to a car battery on fenceline in and have them going
a regular pattern that would hear someone walking around and in the months since it's been installed a new alliance have eaten the cattle whereas the neighbors had suffered losses and so the you could actually build lion proof fence which is expensive and time-consuming elements of this kid came up with this amazing facts and gone through in a setting a decade or so and is paying attention to some of the
commonalities among other hackers in their communities did not find years into that I started hanging out with the local hackers alike community and this wasn't working with just so this is my life we and whether
it was the hackers in Uzbekistan the hackers in Seattle that the students that I was teaching they were all communities where the imagination was much much more important than knowledge is imagination that's for people to figure out how to learn what they need to learn had nothing to do with any kind of official expertise the game
so I decided I want figure where some of those habits of mind of these people that I chose rule breakers
also think of them as functional engineers not accredited
engineers of functional inexact I 1 do identify extractors habits of mind from from these folks in the interest of helping more people break more rules that's really what I want to help more people brick wall so I started looking at individuals do some interviews and then working on that
book the mentioned the people like the sky this is a story from the US and this is a guy he lived in
Detroit can get a shot and he was really interested in biology and then after many years of working with steel came up with a new way to make to hardened steel so traditionally you you feed it for like a week right attempted to come up with a flash heating process so you here for a much shorter period of time but at a much higher temperature so if the energy
savings are enormous because you just heating it for a short period but also ends up being about 7 % stronger so this still stronger and you try to get
the attention of kind of established professionals in the field and had some challenges there did finally get the attention and there's just there's this great quote from the 1 the scientists at the University where he finally started working this again you know
we still have those of us who work in site is just it's something we would have considered a mature science we wouldn't it would never have occurred to us to actually try to make it better we figured it was done so again the non-expert sort of not knowing about a problem space is able to come up with some really great solution and then looking at some of the history and all ways that the software hackers break things helps us also build better things
so the software better systems better societies more transparency and
also more accountability and packets and with this is
a this is another guy this is this is a youtube video which you can go up I don't have to the video link but you can go and watch it this evening impress your friends itself party trick of
how to get caught out of an empty wine bottle this is after you drank the wine obviously here wanted to the model audience cannot get out will turn out you take a plastic bag and put it in the model and the so get it around the core issues around the work full of that and if you blow a little bit of air into that plastic bag and you yank the core concept drift so there is a guy named on he was in
his a car mechanic in Argentina and so he was wasting time 1 afternoon watching YouTube videos with his friends in a shot and you watch this video and wash couple times as part of this is really interesting and I cannot tell you why this is where his mind when that his mind went after seeing the video to thinking that technique would be great for getting a baby
out if there's obstructed labor so now in trials we have something known as the adorned device which he came up with the
idea from the to track and so basically the way it works is chemical plant during you put on the baby's head and then
you push the plastic bag over the baby's head there still umbilical cord so it's OK that there's a plastic bag over with baby and then and and then you make and be and so it turns out in large parts of the world and are women give birth at home and if the complications and the odds are that either you your baby is going to die so because they get about the time it takes to get someone to to help facilities were hemorrhage can be stopped as it did undirected so this device is great it's incredibly low cost it's so low cost that it can be given out to with the Seyfert think it's kind that midwives usually get to mothers when they come in for antenatal visits so committed a youtube video of a justification for wasting time watching you to From all of next example I want to talk about is from this is that
ultrasound project that I mentioned some my students who worked on so this is a commercial part portable ultrasound machine this is an so there's some
sliders on the left and then there's a scroll wheel down there and then there's some soft buttons sometimes there's a keyboard and also a track ball and then there's some extra buttons on the side and what those 2 and then you can see some labels over there's little yellow stickies that hospital staff added to remind themselves with those buttons to and and sometimes if you go in and you look at and ultrasound machine the see that's another person quick take over some of the buttons to remind themselves not to use it so am I teach a department called human-centered design and engineering and the human that uses this has a better
brain than than I do so it's very complicated so what happened was a colleague of mine in radiology came to me
and he was starting a project working with midwives in Uganda training them on right in basic ultrasound to diagnose and pregnancy complications and finding out risk mothers referring them to give birth at a whole facility so that they would have to use and on the I not he said you know in in the uh I don't know about the situation in Germany but in the U. S if you wanna be a stenographer we trained for 2 years later the resources to do that so they want entering the midwives and train them for 2 weeks maybe 4 weeks and so the until was well how can you can you can you come up with unless it's not just a less expensive simpler to use machine so that 2 weeks of training might actually you know you could actually figure out what you want we need to do so this is
I have no money right so I said well we'll just lost my undergraduate students what they can do because the fearless so they
not knowing the domain of the problem space at all came up with a completely different solutions so they took an off-the-shelf approach that was available from a company called inter son gets older technology it's not as good as what you'll find in the Philips machine but it's good enough to diagnose those conditions and they characters with an
off-the-shelf book and they made a really simple too simple to use user interface and you know I don't have
a picture in this in this stack but I I was in Kenya last week and we showed it to some nurses who had never been trained in ultrasound and it was amazing so where those traveling with the male colleagues we made him lay down so the scanner and within about How
about 2 minutes or so they were identifying things inside of him and then someone said computer pregnant women go get a printed something went outside and tried and predominance started scanning her and they'd had no training in ultrasound where whatsoever so that's what my students
you know they they worked really hard and they came up with this and then and then they did this crazy things so they actually talk lines of the
field who would be using a device like this to find out what they needed to the Budget task the males look to that general
context of care because again they didn't know the domains of the problems space they were complete non-experts at and then they are really crazy and they actually talk to
mothers and they said to ask them about their preconceptions about ultrasound concerns that they may not thinking about how the design of the system might address that they
have and do all kinds of design activities to figure out the ecology of care decisions and so this very simple user interface is 1 of the things that they came up with the other components that they developed was a help system so in a traditional ultrasound
machine a commercial machine if you click on help you get something that's a little bit akin to have them in old windows windows help so give you some sort of useless technical information about the system so after having done this work and also paying attention to the way radiology and imaging works and more resource rich
hospital and getting an understanding that when
doctors order imaging that's of collaborative process has come from the person it captures the image of the doctor who interprets it contrasting that with the with midwives in Uganda were working where they were working in rural environments they were usually the only midwife on staff the the team that they would work 12 hour shifts of its which there's the internet their interests body cell connectivity so there was no access to resources and the phone or while we also termed ultrasound machine into a learning device because they didn't know that you were exposed to do that so they created this robust help system that has a lot of information on so you can sort of read about certain conditions there is a button there step by step you can get instructions
on how to capture certain kinds of images by that you can
also listen if you don't want to do all the reading you can listen to that information there and image library so you can
compare this is what you're capturing this is
what you're looking for get the right kind of image and you can see the sliders there on the right those sliders there they replace their those together with the keyboard of a laptop replace all of the buttons on that 1st machine that I showed you all those arrows pointing to so in terms of these communities thinking about the
hackers and Uzbekistan hacker in Argentina were my students in Seattle they're all doing research on and
they're doing engineering and it looks it is a different constraints and the different constraints are what allow them to be disruptive to come up with technology that really is a game changer so there are no there multiple research communities that produce innovations university an
industry labs to a lot of really great things I'm not saying that they don't have them and then there's the relationship between or among universities industry labs independent researchers and that the relationship it might look like that you might also look like that so they can also look like that actually I don't really care
what it looks like what I care about is that
independent researchers out there and they have a different
set of constraints on and they don't know better when they're not experts and that means they can do things better and along ways they can come up with more original and more destructive there's lots of reasonable lots of reasons why this kind of work is best done independently and because it is disruptive and as soon as we went through earlier with their Christiansen model a disruptive destructive work it doesn't fit well in a lot of institutions there are is real structural disincentives to coming up with disruptive designs so that's sort of all went the stuff that's going in to that book that I'm writing about disruptive technology in hackers but then the 2nd piece of that is trying to foster a
more open innovation and so that's where this project academia comes in and which is predicated on openness open software open hardware as well as open communities and so basically all I create the conditions for more on that breaking and more disruptive
innovations so much of things that that I've been doing along those lines so they're looking at different kinds of open resources of the community so things like uh contests and non peer based in crowdsourced reputation systems that you see in the maker as well as Hakka worlds taking educational focus on looking at what are some of the the workshops and then contest that happen within like conference like that on for example on but also looking at some of the emerging educational examples like on category include Academy of Stanford University's online courses and Ladies Open Courseware and looking at the way that technology is fostering and the ability of those non-expert communities to to work on their own knowledge so that a
combination of online and offline resources and so hackerspaces in maker spaces in columns and also make affairs and then also doing a lot of interviews with individual hackers and makers that's again all extracting those patterns and sort focusing in on some of their characteristics that seem to really important for success so community spaces for example an apprenticeship models also reputation building
events but again looking at the characteristics and the commonalities and so my goal is not
replication of adaptation so I mean as I mentioned i've spent so many years and in my pool local hacker community and then there's no
part of me that would say this can be replicated wholesale and brought into institutions and and used productively but what I'm trying to do is identify those characteristics and figure how adapt them to different settings
and ultimately the reason why is because I think that more a rule breakers slow make the world a better place and so that total actually is the fact every 1st picture should with the snow 1 of the 1st projects that I
did with that happened to me was a balloon launch so that's a picture from our successful that went really high so this
thing that I'm running this high academia Americans as a
rule or my goal is to create pathways to innovations and by creating pathways for people to gain functional engineering skills don't care whether they're accredited and I wanna turn everyone into an engineering major from this sort of semi formal learning environment we collaborate with their local hackers and makers and I really really
interested in how non-technical adults acquire their technical skills so if you haven't already been attracted to that so this isn't just in the university it's also
thinking about the community outside and getting away from the limiting problem of self-selection so casting a broader trying to drawing people who would you
find themselves in the hackerspace under normal conditions but you still have something to contribute to you need you need to give people basic skills and some the needed some knowledge so that you can have that different perspective and potentially innovative shared
vocabulary is really important so for me I see how academia as about creating potential right the students may never do anything as long as I know a number of hopefully 5 years down the road built in position to be potentially also innovators and makes some great contributions we we have a bunch of specific educational methods and approaches which are not going to go into here but this is the key is how you provide enough of foundational knowledge so that people can read your tinkerer experiment the weight of functional engineering expertise and so in here just a couple minutes about the open innovation challenges
in siting solidarity would say think about something that you're not necessarily an expert in but there have conversations with those who are experts in the domain that's necessary to execute well in those
challenges that my life and being expert the and so I had mentioned at the beginning of the talk that there were 3 things
there's a book and then the 2nd new project and a 3rd
and so indeed no 1 no 1 knows what tomorrow brings an so look is it done and
I honestly sure when only done because what
happened was I I got sort of halfway through it and I thought well rating that innovation is really great but I had really rather just do so so I started a company so I
started a company with a bunch of hackers and it's an engineering and manufacturing companies and and we're doing is
we're building low-cost health technologies for low resource regions that Vice-President and I told you about 10 minutes ago and said 0 no we could build cheaper technology but it wouldn't support the cost ourselves he was my inspiration so I do think that models broken so we really we want to figure out how to make low-cost
technologies and solemn everywhere bring down the cost of health care and whenever primary kind of distances is
working with hackers rather than traditionally trained engineers because we want creative solutions to these entrenched problems and I will say that 1 of my co founder does have a PhD in III and bioengineering but at that I didn't know that I met her through the hacker community so I still consider her hacker and everything we do is predicated on open hardware so it's it's based on all the openness that we've talked about here today the fact that with over hardware you know you don't need specialized knowledge to build things it's amazing what you can do with technology relax and so we're trying to put that into work so how can we do it around so if you're interested you can come talk to me and I have lots of acknowledgements there because that's part of what we do let's people helped over the years
there's Acknowledgements told them and thanks to all of
you for your attention height it which go off relay ARL