We interview new UK~IRC Research Fellow Antoine Vernet on his research
Q. Tell us about the On-line Communities and the Dynamics of Distributed Innovations project – what are you studying?
This is a new project in the UK~IRC. New technologies have increased the availability of information and eased communication, so there has been a growing interest in distributed innovative communities. Yet we lack a thorough understanding of how they emerge and evolve and what makes them succeed or fail. The UK~IRC is focusing on communities that develop open-source software but we are planning to study other on-line communities in the future to broaden the relevance of the project.
Q. How will this change innovation practice in the UK?
I think that a better understanding of how those communities work will permit a better understanding of what makes an innovation successful, which will also benefit traditional firms who will gain a better understanding of that new mode of innovation in their projects. The success experienced by the products of online communities (Linux or Firefox are two famous examples) should inspire traditional firms to try to adapt to some of the practices in their workflow. That being said, it works both ways and the reason some communities fail at delivering an innovative product is because they have failed to understand what traditional innovative firms do well.
Q. Does this research have implications for policy-making?
The fact that innovation happens outside of firms in a distributed environment begs the question of how policy-makers can encourage such innovation. Distributed innovation does not mean that there are suddenly no labour costs, and not all contributors to open-source are working for free. Some are paid by foundations, others by software companies that have interests in the software. Clearly, there is room here for thinking on how policy-makers can encourage distributed innovation.
Q. Why is it important for the UK~IRC to do this research?
New phenomenon requires us to investigate so we can understand how and why they happen. Exploring new ways in which innovation occurs is clearly something that can be beneficial for the community at large. In addition, it is a captivating research topic in which advanced methodologies of network analysis imported from other disciplines can help acquire new insights.