In the PeerInnovation project, the Institute for Ecological Economy Research and the Technical University of Berlin are investigating how people jointly contribute to the innovation process in their leisure time. Free developers provide important impulses for new products and technical processes in various areas. Knowledge created in this way is usually not protected from imitation by patents, but is readily shared with others. In an open exchange with like-minded people, ideas can thus be further developed together. This results in novel approaches to solutions that differ considerably from commercially oriented innovations. What opportunities does this offer for a socio-ecological transformation?
Private individuals as drivers of innovation
It is well known that innovations often do not originate within the later manufacturing companies. The impulse for new product developments often comes from the users. Classic examples of such innovations have been documented in the leisure sports sector, where empirical studies show that significant improvements in sports equipment - for example in kayaking, mountain biking or skateboarding - were initiated by the users themselves.
Modern information and communication technologies are making it increasingly easy for private actors to exchange information with one another in communities and to coordinate projects within decentralised networks. Because of this, even complex innovation projects can be developed in open collaboration. The open-source operating system Linux, the free encyclopaedia Wikipedia, the licence-free geodatabase OpenStreetMap, the self-replicating 3D printer of the RepRap community or the construction plans for agricultural machinery of the Open Source Ecology were created and are continuously adapted and improved by volunteers. They bear witness to the great potentials of this mode of innovation.
Recording and measuring innovations from peer communities
It can be expected that collaborative innovation activities in free peer communities will continue to gain in importance as digitisation progresses. However, conventional key figures of innovation statistics do nor capture such activities. It was only through the recent amendment to the OECD guidelines for measuring innovation that a framework was created which allows technological developments of non-economic actors to be taken into account. This extended definition of innovation in the Oslo Manual (OECD 2018) forms the basis for the empirical studies of this project.
The PeerInnovation project explores new measurement methods and new data sources to analyse innovation activities that official statistics do not yet cover. This blindness to value creation processes happening outside the market is certainly one reason why peer innovation is still considered to be a niche phenomenon, despite the evidence. The aim of the project is to highlight the importance of this mode of innovation for societal change towards greater sustainability and to provide tools that help to better understand the emergence, dynamics and potential of these activities.