Taking Down Barriers To Social Innovation

Taking Down Barriers To Social Innovation

How To Tackle Challenges Through Mass Collaboration


Tumble dryers are part of many households – a modern convenience but also an appliance that has one of the highest energy consumption rates. Is there a way to reduce energy consumption associated with this device? At the Dynamic Demand Challenge, an open innovation contest organized by the UK innovation agency Nesta, a noteworthy proposal to solve energy consumption issues tackled this. Participants presented a small laundry app that presents you with the best options for when and how to do your laundry – both washing and drying. The app always prefers line drying outdoors over tumble drying. Based on weather report information the app lets you know whether, for example, there is a chance of rain in the hours ahead or whether it is worth waiting for some sunshine hours expected for later in the day. At the same time, it monitors energy consumption patterns and provides information on highs and lows of energy demand. In the future, the app could become a feature not only of most washing machines and tumble dryers, but also of many other appliances with high energy consumption rates. It is a small step to start with but it has great potential to tackle the issue of energy saving.


More often than not, such innovative ideas do not evolve into products and even less are brought to market, simply because they do not manage to reach a wider audience or potential developers, or because their commercial value is just low. Open innovation has become an important platform that empowers people as it allows them to express and share their ideas.


The Dynamic Demand Challenge is such an open innovation platform. Anyone from across Europe – from amateurs to experts, with any professional background – can share ideas around energy-saving solutions. The best ideas are then invited to take part in a Hackathon, an event during which the teams can test their ideas, build prototypes and elaborate their ideas by designing the steps needed to bring them to market. The final winner receives funding to turn his idea into a commercial product or a social project.

Thanks to the Internet and social media, we are nowadays able to mobilize talent and great minds from around the world to work together on all sorts of matters. This collaboration is one of the main drivers of open innovation. People collaborate on open innovation platforms 24 hours a day, seven days a week; they share ideas, they controversially and thoroughly discuss the pros and cons and add expertise to make ideas more robust. The crowds include pretty much anyone with great imagination or expertise in the respective field.


This article maps out open innovation as a new form of innovation enabled by the rise of social media. It provides an overview of its use in co-creation of anything ranging from products to policies, describes its use in monitoring politics and in open government. It then discusses how open innovation is an answer to organisational barriers to innovation. The next section is devoted to providing practical steps on how to set up innovation challenges and how they can be evaluated.