Firstly we need to put any innovation ecosystem into context. What are ecosystems, and why are they really valuable to consider when you are thinking about a more radical approach to any new innovation design?

Ecosystems are ideal for coalescing around a complex challenge, one that attracts and draws in all potential players who can contribute to sharing and relating to the challenges/goals and possible solutions, collectively. One individual’s contribution can’t solve this on its own, it needs this collaborative environment.

Ecosystems are networks of interconnected organisations, organized around one focal point, firm, or platform. They have both producers (that add intellectual value) and user-side participants (that add their experience and need), all wanting to focus and advance new value through innovation.

In any ecosystem, there is this need to recognise that value building and creation are both found upstream (producing) and downstream (consuming). It is this searching for the ‘combined effect’ that offers the more significant potential of sustaining value, by approaching new innovation in this ecosystem design approach.

So what do we need to consider for entering into an innovation ecosystem design?

I have written previously about Nurturing the network of firms within Innovation Ecosystems.” It is valuable to review again before you carry on, not essential, but useful. Also, one I wrote recently: “Let’s create and rejuvenate with Ecosystems”

Here I want to look at the design considerations of an Innovation Ecosystem.

To facilitate the innovation ecosystem, I like to suggest we should consider what I call my five considerations: 1) Stakeholder considerations, 2) Strategic considerations, 3) Value design building considerations, 4)Tactical considerations, and finally, 5) Network considerations. Let me describe these in some detail:

Stakeholder considerations

We need to evaluate, actually critically assess, and determine five aspects:

Firstly the people-side of what will engage them, keep them motivated and determined to keep moving towards the goals. How do they consider their contribution and value?

Secondly, the partners who are entering this ecosystem initiative. Are they known to each other, have they worked together before, do they have a good understanding of their needs and the wishes they expect will emerge from being within this partnership?

Thirdly, the technology that is going to be deployed, its ability to capture, communicate, and give access to creating knowledge, so the insights collected can be translated and distributed to the stakeholders involved.

Fourthly, stakeholders need to ‘cluster,’ meaning they need ample opportunity to exchange, debate, and form, so this clustering environment allows for a bond of mutual respect and recognition of what each contributing party can bring into the project.

Fifth, the architecture of any design needs to be highly fluid and adaptive. It needs to flow across organisational borders so it promotes and does not heed the creative process.

Strategic considerations

A large part of this is a positioning an understanding that comes from our strategic undertaking. We need to question:

Firstly, if there is a lack of understanding of competitive positioning potential and a range of options, you will continuously get ‘strategic drift’ where any innovation concept gets trapped in a great idea that does not have this market reality.

Often the significant impediment to progress is organizational cultural differences, even within the same company as the orientation can be very different driven by cost considerations, efficiency, or a more internal or externally driven viewpoint. Not addressing the alignment issues creates one of the biggest roadblocks to eventual innovation success. Far too much compromise or adjustment away from the original ‘great’ idea is driven by internal differences never being addressed adequately enough

Knowing if the parties involved have even been in highly collaborative environments before, how ‘they’ are comfortable to work across more ‘open’ borders freely sharing and exchanging. That ability to transfer knowledge openly so all gain from individual insights, expertise, and experiences. This ability to actively seek out knowledge and provide it as the real ‘equity’ within the ecosystem gives it that ‘dynamic effect’; the potential for ‘great’ ideas.

Flushing out the critical success factors (KSF) and continuously evolving those in a progressive mutual agreement gives a high fluidity to explore and push new creative borders. So often KSF’s remain static, progressively they “stunt” creativity as they are not part of the evolving concept. So often, those KSF’s are unimaginative, restrictive, and designed for accounting purposes. How can “new to the world” have assigned so many specific KSF’s. Discovery needs broader aspirational KSF’s, not specifics applied to ongoing business.

Lastly, addressing openly and honestly the barriers and constraints, and being upfront about them is extremely hard. Indeed, no one likes to hear the negatives, especially when it comes to providing ‘speculative’ funding, but ignoring those to simply “grab” the money and simply get on with it is a huge mistake. Ignoring the ‘seen’ barriers and constraints will come back and haunt you later as you face all sorts of contortions to work around these known factors that were not addressed early on.

Value design building considerations

Exploring a range of open-ended questions prompts and triggers much in future design considerations. For instance:

  • Is there a more significant sustaining value potential being built into the evolving design approach?
  • Does the innovation concepts being considered offer coherent customer-facing solutions?
  • How radical in the (eventual) design are ‘we’ wanting to consider, what does that mean?
  • How are we going to continually challenge the approaches we are taking to push our design thinking?
  • We need to feed knowledge into any concept, does it ‘nourish’ and advance the work in hand?
  • How comfortable are we in exploring the unknowns of our possible customer needs and desires? How do we do that?
  • What ways are we going to nurture, sustain, and protect investments and our intellectual capital?
  • Do we have a system to capture and exploit all those different sense-making patterns and discovering needs?
  • How will we balance the need to explore “jobs-to-be-done” with “experiences-to-be-had” within any design considerations?
  • What framing considerations and capturing techniques, will we need to keep validating the common sense of purpose?
  • Is our design considerations, are we looking to the needs of the upstream (producing) with downstream (consuming)?

Tactical considerations

These tactical considerations build into the operational working document. Many of these are drawn from the other considerations already outlined here.

These are exploring and evaluating strategy, leadership, resources, cultural design considerations, governance, project managing, knowledge sharing values, technology management, human resource management and motivating, and finally, the ability to build the common language needed for any ecosystem design.

Network Effect considerations

It is the dynamics within the Innovation Ecosystem design that generate the effect. The building of the stocks (knowledge) and flows (insights). It is focusing on building the ‘ongoing’ relationships, valuing past contributions. Being able to capture the physical and data combinations and recognising the ‘pairing’ value. Having a growing protocol and standards design enables greater clarity. Any network must have as its underlying principle a mutual sharing, reciprocating, trust, and common sense of identity; it is these tacit factors that give much of the ‘network effect.’ Lastly, any network thrives on both direct and indirect effects.

It is working through these five considerations that we enable the facilitating of any Innovation Ecosystem

Today, we all need to recognise that it is harder to ‘produce’ new innovation in isolation. Those days of one R&D department having all the required resources are long gone or struggling to compete in a “collaborating world.” The success of any open, collaborative design is moving more purposefully to the ecosystem design.

Nothing in (new) innovation is linear and is built increasingly of complementary innovation where the recognition grows that we live in a world of collaborative ecosystems. A world that becomes increasingly dependent due to the diversity this brings in affiliation and sense of identity.

Designing effective innovation ecosystems gives real vibrancy and a richer potential to bring something really new into the world that is different, valued, and advances in the existing in highly connected and valuable ways.

It is hard, challenging work, to nurture and grow any ecosystem, as its dependent parts need to work together. We need to constantly have these ‘five considerations’  as central to any design.