COVID-19: Turning local community efforts into national and global Open Innovation impact

4th May 2020

Innovation is often borne out of necessity, where hardship and shocks give birth to unparalleled energy into innovations that wouldn’t otherwise have happened or at least not at the same pace.

The dramatic impact and upheaval of coronavirus has inspired innovation across all walks of life from education to manufacturing to business change. But how can we take the efforts happening locally across the country and harness this in a national effort to fight coronavirus?

Open Innovation is all about looking outside the organisations and using the resource and knowledge of the crowd to solve a problem. And there are some key things to get right if we are to make the most of it.

What can we learn from best practice Open Innovation?

1 – Setting the right incentives – channelling the country’s energy

This is an oft-overlooked driver of successful Open Innovation; correct incentives drive profound results. Whether that’s through a financial incentive – such as those typically found on Kaggle competitions – or more intrinsic ones, such as those seen with open source software, it’s important to understand and provide the right incentives for people to take part.

In our current situation with COVID-19, the existing strong community that is willing and compelled to solve various problems may be overcome by economic barriers to entry. Funding, therefore, removes a key barrier to innovation for businesses, researchers and individuals alike – this could be provided through government means (such as the government’s InnovateUK fund) or through private organisations and NGOs.


2 – Coordinating efforts and providing the platform – the role of central and local government

When we see efforts that involve external stakeholders, or crowds, there can be sometimes be a instinct to put something out there and see what happens however, organisers of Open Innovation need to play an important role in ensuring that the crowds are as effective as they can be. At a time when resources are stretched, this becomes even more important.

For something that involves such a national effort, the government will play a crucial role – they don’t need to do everything; in fact, it would be impossible to try to do so. The strength that authorities have is their convening power; to ensure the right questions are asked, and ensuring that products and services emerging from Open Innovation are reliable, safe and effective.

A good example of this is has been in South Korea, where the government have successfully quelled the public’s panic buying of face masks.

Rather than jumping to a solution and developing an app, the government used its strength in convening businesses, working with pharmacies to collect data for mask inventory and sales. They released an open API that provided a single source of up-to-date face mask data across the country – avoiding the need for any duplicated efforts in data collation.

This freed developers to do what they do best – developing the products and apps that the public will use, feeding into an existing eco-system that consumers are used to, and therefore increasing the likelihood of uptake for any products and solutions.


3 – Choosing the right solutions – ensuring efficiency and safety

Organisations need to have a good understanding of the outcome they are looking for, before jumping to a solution. They will need a method to select a solution from the entries and an understanding how to take it forward to implementation. For example, competitions such as “hackathons” should use a single metric to judge who ‘wins’, whereas community-based open innovation could use a voting system to choose the best solutions (such as LEGO Ideas).

There are several ways in which you can drive the correct type of Open Innovation, which are largely dependent on two key variables:

1.    the openness of the OI problem itself, and

2.    the distribution of the expertise needed to solve the problem.

Below, we can see how a variety of solutions emerge from variations in these two variables. Depending on of the solution, a different type of coordination, incentive and participation will be required:

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In the context of our current COVID-19 challenges, various different roles can be fulfilled depending on the problem. Let’s take three examples:

  • Ventilators and CPAP – an example of Consurtium-driven OI: We’ve seen various organisations rising to the challenge or helping design and provide ventilators and CPAP for the current crisis, such as the CPAP device designed by Mercedes AMG HPP with UCLH. Some designs have also been released publicly, giving opportunities for the community to help manufacture and also build improvements into the design whist ensuring standards are being met through existing institutions.
  • Protective equipment – an example of Community-driven OI: We’ve seen examples of visors being made by many groups in the community to help provide much needed equipment to front-line staff, however there are possibilities to make this more effective and coordinated. For example, by having approved designs that share learning and best practice, formalising collection and delivery coordinated with hospitals needs and providing quality assurance steps.
  • Education – an example of Community-driven OI: With schooling we have seen more community driven efforts, where classes and resources are recommended through digital means, established services such as Khan Academy have seen increases in use. Others are becoming more popular and new ones being created all the time, such as the BBC’s recent drive towards assisting with home-schooling. This seems to be working as schools coordinate these efforts with their students, however are there means for exam boards, who set the curriculums, to ensure the content is accurate and reflects what is needed?


Best efforts with best practice

It’s been hugely inspiring seeing the different ways business, communities and individuals have been contributing to the efforts across the country to help the country and fight the current pandemic. We’ve seen how the country can be united and has shown the selfless best of people – to ensure that those efforts are channelled in the best way possible, we must continue to challenge ourselves to, not just do our utmost but, also learn from all areas of innovation.

If you’d like to continue this conversation, please reach out to us at – we’d love to hear from you.


Tim Ip | Co-founder


This article was originally posted on LinkedIn – please click here to navigate to the original posting.