Field report

Why are you organising innovation workshops and what potential do you see in involving external participants to generate ideas?

At Austrian Mobile Power, we have already tried out various innovation formats on-site and online as part of brainwalks and crowdsourcing. Especially in cooperative research, development and demonstration projects, in which we were project partners, we always involved both association members and external company employees or the general public in order to generate and evaluate new ideas. Organisations can positively benefit from integrating Open Innovation methods into their operational work. Open Innovation is a good opportunity for an organisation to broaden its horizons and strengthen its own innovation capacity and innovation culture.


So how does your organisation usually run a large innovation workshop?

We usually organise one-day innovation workshops using the "World Café Method" in order to discuss various issues or future topics with up to 60 participants from different industries. So far, these people have worked together in up to five groups and several rounds on various topics. To achieve a practical result, we give a lot of thought on the structure and framework, inspiring moderation and, above all, a well-balanced combination ofrepresentatives from various organisations and industries, whom we invite to attend the workshop. It is therefore important to identify which partners I need to be able to develop profound content, but also who I need to convince to bring inspiration and vision to the group.

We have also held workshops with a newer method of creativity, known as the “brainwalking method”. Participants move from station to station and submit their ideas on predefined questions and evaluate them. This is particularly fascinating if you want to obtain a very specific external view and/or user perspective. The time required for physical innovation workshops can be estimated at one to two weeks for preparation and the same again for follow-up; that gives three weeks in all. The events were held on one day each.


These workshops can also be conducted online. How well does that work?

We have made good experiences with open innovation software solutions, both with a limited number of users and with the general public. The first time we chose to work with a closed group of participants for test purposes. It helped us to gain some experiences about open innovation. For this, we invited between 10 and 20 employees from about 35 member organisations. They were asked by their Corporate Communications to generate and formulate their ideas on the web platform and to evaluate all ideas.

The second time, we opened the online portal to the general public, but limited the extent to which we advertised it. The third time, we advertised it and distributed it across a range of associations throughout Austria. The response was significantly better, the quality, not necessarily, although each time, the virtual community could use the ideas campaign tool to submit and evaluate content.

We always accompanied the online phase with an off-line phase as part of an editorial meeting. People in the organisation responsible for innovation were able to individually interpret and discuss the ideas or evaluations received.This was fascinating for employees - as was the variety of ideas - but ideas from the community were always considered and ranked in the same way as ideas generated in-house.

In each case, the best three ideas were awarded a prize.


How satisfied were you with the results of the new format?

The process and content-related knowledge from the online workshop was fascinating here! Ideas were generated that neither we nor the experts had thought of and we obtained feedback from potential customers about the ideas we had come up with ourselves. This gives us support and courage, because we need that to promote and implement innovations!


When you compare the on-site innovation workshop and the online workshop, what strikes you?

The combination of online and off-line innovation workshops was very positive and easy. Because of these positive experiences, we have also introduced this method as part of a cooperative beacon project in the logistics sector. In this instance, we were responsible for the communications work package and dealt with an area of responsibility in the form of an open innovation package. We subsequently became aware that the content was similarly satisfactory. However the time spent on the operational running of the on-site workshop in this sector was much greater (e.g. managing invitations) and the number of ideas in a single day was significantly lower than in other sectors. That was not the case with the online solution. Also, there were fewer barriers in submitting ideas via the Internet and it was particularly interesting to see that many ideas from participants came at the start and end of the day, possibly while people were commuting.


What would you say about the quality of the ideas?

Overall, we can summarize that the more creative and sparkling ideas have resulted from the digital open innovation process. Two of these ideas were also picked up and implemented by an organisation. It was also exciting to see that the crowd took up ideas and combined them with other ideas or developed them further.


How important is fairness to you in an innovation workshop that spans an entire organisation?

Fairness is generally a very important concept in an open innovation process. Simillar to the internal suggestion scheme, recognition and reward policy must be thought and lived from the very beginning. It is important to have a real chance when submitting ideas, that there is a fair handling in the evaluation process and that people are fairly rewarded too.


What does an organisation need to do to be fair?

Fairness is the first concept that needs to be thought about, whether the innovation process is internal or external. We considered it was important to support the online dialogue, ensure good responsive moderation and to give the best ideas centre stage, and reward them accordingly. But it is definitely different from one project to another, so it needs to be established right from the outset. Fairness is an underestimated factor of success!

(Interview with Dipl.-Ing. Heimo Aichmaier conducted on 14.5.19 by Diana Wieden-Bischof)