09 August 2007

Integrity, collaboration, ideas

The idea of collaborative knowledge building has come up a lot recently with colleagues with whom we are composing a CONII NCE Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research application. The goal is to facilitate knowledge creation around innovation clusters and applied research. This happens already, but recent publications like Wikinomics are bringing to the fore the notion of using web n+1 technologies to further open source learning and knowledge generation in a collaborative effort to take ideas from innovation to market.

There is a central tension here around balancing the open sharing of ideas and the need to protect intellectual property. Ideas in this sense are currency that have value only insofar as they are taken up and situated within social contexts. Social contracts around who "owns" an idea are precarious. Ideas emerge in discussion and within a context, just as innovation and invention evolve incrementally and involve many people building on others' ideas. Knowledge building works well within an innovation framework where there is a free flow of ideas, though ownership of these ideas can fast become an issue in the absence of trust and integrity.

The protection of IP is a topic of concern for the music industry, as we all know. Copyright in academic and research circles also has a long history. As the link to the article on the ecology of innovation makes clear, we need to incorporate IP and tax law within the social contexts of learning and idea formation as part of the function of research commercialization.

Legitimate peripheral participation, part of the theory developed by Lave and Wenger in their discourse around communities of practice, allows for a process of collaborative learning in which mentorship plays a key role. The business of innovation requires some basic protection of copyright, as well as a general collegial responsibility to acknowledge others' contributions. Are these two aspects of innovation commensurate with each other?

All research institutions subscribe to a policy of integrity in scholarly research. The fast scrum of innovation and ideas, establishing ownership of these ideas, and collaborating with integrity all require a careful balance between invention and disclosure in the complex matrix of collaboration. Learning from and with one another, and working towards common goals require us to foster open dialogue. There is great potential to "open source" the rapid development of ideas. But collaborating to compete together can prove difficult, requiring a high degree of trust and integrity, or else up front non-disclosure agreements that set some ground rules for the sharing of ideas in the first place. If nothing else, a clear understanding among all parties of expectations and roles is essential.

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