Innovation Communities (Spring 2016)

From CommunityData
Innovation Communities: How Business Can Harness the DIY Dynamic
COM597F - Masters of Communication in Communities and Networks (MCCN) Elective, Department of Communication
Instructor: Benjamin Mako Hill (University of Washington)
Course Websites:
Course Catalog Description:
Can innovation be crowdsourced? Equipped with a range of new digital communication technologies, “users” innovate every day — creating solutions to their own problems through sharing and collaboration. Disruptive new models of collective innovation are emerging in forums, in “free” and “open source” efforts, and in hacking initiatives. Organizations increasingly want to tap into this community-driven DIY dynamic, but frequently struggle to structure their own innovation processes in relation to these unique communities. This class will explore some of the techniques that firms can use to harness this surge of innovation by introducing a new “democratized” or “user-centric” innovation paradigm. We’ll look at how user communities bolster their ability to innovate through specific technological tools and innovative social routines. Through practical examples, you will learn how to effectively use communities both as sources of inspiration and as collaborators.

Overview and Learning Objectives[edit]

I believe that in the twenty-first century innovation will be more likely to be managed — in dramatically different ways than it was in the previous century — by professionals like the students in the Communication Leadership program than by engineering managers in R&D departments.

This course will help prepare you for this future by bringing together several decades of research into the sources of innovation with practical advice and hands-on experience putting this research into action.

I will consider the course a complete success if every student is able to do each of these things at the end of the quarter:

  • Distinguish community innovation and user innovation from traditional forms of innovation and recognize examples in their own business and personal lives.
  • Describe techniques for finding innovations created by users including lead user search, innovation toolkits, broadcast search and crowdsourcing, and user communities and feel comfortable using each.
  • Anticipate challenges associated with community innovation and respond to these challenges effectively.
  • Have experience using at least one user innovation method to find a new innovation that solves a problem relevant to the student's employment or personal interests.

Notes About This Syllabus[edit]

You should expect this syllabus to be a dynamic document. Although the core expectations for this class are fixed, the details of readings and assignments will shift based on how the class goes, guest speakers that I arrange, my own readings in this area, etc. As a result, there are three important things to keep in mind:

  • Although details on this syllabus will change, I will try to ensure that I never change readings more than six days before they are due. This means that if I don't fill in a "To Be Determined" one week before it's due, it is dropped. This also means that if you plan to read more than one week ahead, contact me first or you'll risk reading things that might not stick around on the syllabus.
  • Closely monitor your email or the announcements section on the course website on Canvas. Because this a wiki, you will be able to track every change by clicking the history button on this page when I make changes. I will summarize these changes in an announcement on Canvas once week that will be emailed to everybody in the class.
  • I will ask the class for voluntary anonymous feedback frequently — especially toward the beginning of the quarter. Please let me know what is working and what can be improved. In the past, I have made many adjustments to courses that I teach while the quarter progressed based on this feedback.


The course is organized into two main components:

Component 1: Community Innovation Methods

In the first half of the class (Weeks 1-5), we will focus on learning practical methods for finding innovations using communities and users. In the first session, I will make a strong case for the importance of user innovation techniques. In each of the next four weeks, we will focus on learning four practical techniques for harnessing community innovation:

  • Lead user search
  • Innovation toolkits / open source innovation
  • Broadcast search / crowdsourcing
  • Collaborative / information sharing user communities

Because I want students to start early on their projects — and because the course project will involve applying these methods — the first sessions are organized roughly from what I believe will be the least familiar to the most intuitive. During the first half of the quarter, there will be more reading and less expectation that you will be working on your course project.

Component 2: Community Innovation Applications and Challenges

In the second half of the course, we will dig deeper into examples of community innovation and focus on applications, examples, and challenges associated with their use.

During this half of the quarter, we will rely more heavily on case studies of firms putting community innovation methods into practice and focus on in-class exercises that prompt critical consideration of how community innovation takes place in different domains as well the challenges associated with using these methods (e.g., intellectual property, balancing commercial interests with community interests).


Democratizing Innovation cover.jpg

The only book assigned for the course is Eric von Hippel's Democratizing Innovation. Prof. von Hippel has very generously made the book available at no cost online. Physical copies of book is also available for purchase from MIT Press for $21.95 or Amazon for $16.97 and I think it is nice to support these open access efforts. Both Amazon and MIT Press also have copies of the book available for free download.

The rest of the material will either be placed in Canvas or is available through the UW libraries. The UW libraries have put together a useful website on getting access to e-resources while off campus. If you have trouble getting any of the material, please email me immediately and I will make sure you can get access.


The assignments in this class are designed to give you an opportunity to try your hand at community innovation methods. There will be no exams, tests, or quizzes.

Unless otherwise noted, all assignments are due at the end of the day (i.e., 11:59pm on the day they are due).

Participation and Cases[edit]

The course relies heavily on participation, discussion, and the case study method. Although they are not used frequently in the Communication Leadership program, case studies are probably the most common model of teaching in business schools. A standard "case" usually involves reading an example — perhaps up to 20-35 pages of background about an organization or group facing an ambiguous or difficult challenge. I will mark certain readings as "[Cases]" in the syllabus and I will expect you to read these particularly closely.

It is important to realize that we will not summarize case material in class and I will not cover it in lecture. I expect you all to have read it and we will jump in and start discussing it.

Cases ask students to put themselves in the positions of managers in the firms described to tease out the tensions and forces at play in the case and to construct — through group discussion — the broader lessons and takeaways. Cases are a wonderful way to connect the sometimes abstract concepts taught in many academic courses to real examples of the type of ambiguous situations that you will likely encounter in your career. Generally speaking, there are not right and wrong answers in cases.

Typically, professors teaching cases cold call on students in rooms of hundred students. Since our class will be smaller than a typical case-based class, cold calling might not be necessary very often although I will sometimes use it and you should always be ready to answer every question. That said, I do expect every student to be in class every week and to be prepared to discuss the cases and the readings. If you have not spoken all class, I may cold call on you.

The "Participation Rubric" section of my detailed page on assessment gives the rubric I will use in evaluating participation. Please read that page carefully.


There will be three assignments and each will build on the previous toward a final project. The "Writing Rubric" section of my detailed page on assessment gives the rubric I will use to evaluate these projects and your written papers.

Domain/Problem Identification[edit]

Maximum Length
600 words (~2 double spaced)
Due Date
April 12th
Turn in on Canvas

In this assignment, you should concisely identify an problem or thematic area you are interested in — and that you hope to pursue in your final project. I am hoping that each of you will pick an area or domain that you are intellectually committed to and invested in (e.g., in your business or personal life).

You will be successful if you describe the scope of the problem and explain why you are interested in using community innovation methods to find innovations in this domain and/or solutions to your stated problem.

I will give you feedback on these write-ups and will let you each know if I think you have identified an area that might be too ambitious, too trivial, too broad, too narrow, etc.

Project Proposal[edit]

Maximum Length
1500 words (~5 pages)
Due Date
May 1th
Turn in on Canvas

Building on your problem identification assignment, you should describe a method for finding innovations or solutions in the innovation or domain problem you have identified.

To do this effectively, you will need to have evaluated each of the four methods introduced in the first half of the quarter. That said, the primarily goal of this assignment is not to test your comprehension but to have you to tell me what you will do in your final project. You will need to understand the course material to construct a relevant and effective proposal. As long as you successfully use the course material to argue for your proposal's appropriateness, it is absolutely fine if your proposal is for a combination of, or even an elaboration or extension of, the methods we cover in the course.

A successful proposal will (a) describe clearly what you plan to do to find innovation and (b) use the course material to make an argument that your proposal is the most effective and appropriate way for you to go about finding innovation given the resources at your disposal.

I will give you feedback on these proposals and suggest changes or modifications that are more likely to make them successful or compelling and to work with you to make sure that you have the resources and support necessary to carry out your project successfully.

Final Project[edit]

Presentation Date
May 31st
Maximum presentation length
~10 minutes (to be confirmed)
Presentation deliverables
Turn in slides on Canvas (details to be announced)
Paper Due Date
June 10th
Maximum paper length
4500 words (~18 pages)
Paper deliverables
Turn in on Canvas

For your final project, I expect students to build on the first two assignments to describe what they have done and what they have found. I'll expect every student to give both:

  • A short presentation to the class
  • A final report that is not more than 4500 words (~18 pages)

I expect that your reports will include text from the first two assignments and reflect comprehensive documentation of your project. Each project should include: (a) the description of the problem or domain you have identified, (b) the community innovation methods you have used to find a solution and, (c) the results.

You will be evaluated on the degree to which you have demonstrated that you understand and have engaged with the course material and not on the quality of the innovations you have found. If you do not find great solutions to your problem in the communities you've identified, that's fine. Whether or not your proposal is successful, I want you to reflect on why the methods worked (or did not work) and how they might have worked better. What did you do right? What would you do differently in the future? What did the course and readings not teach that they should have?

A successful project will tell a compelling story and will engage with, and improve upon, the course material to teach an audience that includes me, your classmates, and MCCN students taking this class in future years, how to take advantage of community innovation more effectively. The very best papers will give us all a new understanding of some aspect of course materal and change the way I teach some portion of this course in the future.


I have put together a very detailed page that describes the grading rubric we will be using in this course. Please read it carefully I will assign grades for each of following items on the UW 4.0 grade scale according to the weights below:

  • Participation: 30%
  • Problem Identification: 5%
  • Project Proposal: 10%
  • Final Presentation: 15%
  • Final Paper: 40%


March 29: The User Innovation Paradigm[edit]


Assignment (due in class):

Think of an example of a user innovation that are you willing to share and discuss with the class. I'll be extra excited if you are the innovator!

Required Readings:

Optional Readings:

  • Kragh, Peter, and Sandra Walder. Join the User Innovation Revolution. Users Innovate Publishing, 2012. [Available from Instructor]

April 5: Finding Innovations: Lead Users[edit]


Required Readings:

  • von Hippel, Eric. Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2005.
    • Chapter 2: Development of Products by Lead Users (pg 19-32)
    • Chapter 10: Application: Searching for Lead User Innovations (pg 133-146)
  • [Case] Thomke, Stefan and Ashok Nimgade. Innovation at 3M Corp. Harvard Business School Press, 2002. [Available in Canvas]
  • von Hippel, Eric, Stefan Thomke, and Mary Sonnack. “Creating Breakthroughs at 3M.” Harvard Business Review 77, no. 5 (September 1999): 47–57. (Alternate link) [Also Available through UW Libraries]

Optional Readings:

Although it's long, the Project Handbook may be extremely useful for anybody who wants to use lead user methods for their class project:

Finally, this video by Eric von Hippel on lead user methods.

April 12: Finding Innovations: Toolkits[edit]


Required Readings:

Optional Readings:

April 19: Finding Innovations: Broadcast Search and Contests[edit]


Required Readings:

Optional Reading:

  • Crowdsourcing. Cambridge, Massachusetts ; London, England: The MIT Press, 2013. (Amazon Link) [Available from Instructor]

April 26: Finding Innovations: Collaborative Communities[edit]


Required Reading:

May 3: Applications: Remixing and Creative Innovation[edit]

Guest Lecture:

Andrés Monroy-Hernández from Microsoft Research's FUSE Labs will attend to talk with us about creative collaboration. Andrés is a technologist and researcher in social computing and civic media and an expert in remixing. He has a PhD from the MIT Media Lab.

Required Readings:

Optional Readings:

  • Sinnreich, Aram. Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture. University of Massachusetts Press, 2010. [Available from Instructor]
  • Vaidhyanathan, Siva. Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity. New York: New York University Press, 2001. [Available from Instructor]

May 10: Applications: Hackers and the "Underground"[edit]

Required Readings:

Optional Reading:

May 17: Challenges: Commercialization and Communities[edit]

Required Readings:

Optional Reading:

May 24: Applications: Human Computation[edit]

The class will focus on issues in crowdsourcing and human computation. Our discussion will emphasize Amazon's Mechanical Turk Marketplace and Zooniverse.

Required Readings:

Assignment before class:

  • mTurk - Find and complete at least 2 "hits" as a worker on Amazon Mechnical Turk. Note that to do this you will need to create a worker account on Mturk.
    • Record (write down) details and notes about your tasks: What did you do? Who was the requester? What could you was the purpose of the task (as best you could tell)? What was the experience like? What research applications can you (not) imagine for this kind of system?
    • If you're not a US citizen, creating an requester account is much more complicated because it involves getting paid and ensuring that you have authorization to work. Please just skip this part.
  • mTurk Create a "requester" account. Doing so may require up top 48 hours to be approved so please do that immediately so you have it ready to go in class.
  • Zooniverse - Complete at least 1-2 tasks in two different projects of your choice on Zooniverse. Come to class ready to talk about it.

In class exercise:

  • Design and deploy a small-scale research task on Mturk. Note that to do this, you will need to create a requester account on Mturk. Be sure to allow some time to get the task design the way you want it! Some ideas for study designs you might do:
    • A small survey.
    • Classification of texts or images (e.g., label tweets, pictures, or comments from a discussion thread).
    • A small experiment (e.g., you can do a survey where you insert different images and ask the same set of questions. Check out the Mturk requester getting started guide
  • Prepare to share details of your small-scale research task in class, including results (they will come fast).

Note: In terms of running your task, it will cost real money and you have to put money on your Amazon account yourself. You've each got a $3 budget. Please use your credit card to put $3 on your account right away. I will pay each of you $3 in cash next week to reimburse you for the cost of running the experiment.

May 31: Challenges: Resistance to Innovation[edit]

Note: The final session will be devoted to final presentations.

Optional Readings:

  • Morison, Elting. “[Gunfire at Sea: A Case Study of Innovation.” Men, Machines, and Modern Times, 1966, 17–44.
  • [Case] Chesbrough, Henry W., and Alexander Stern. Webasto: Co-Creating Innovation with Lead Users. UCB - Haas School of Business, 2012.

Practices and Policies[edit]

Most of the rest of the material in the syllabus will be familiar to students who have taken other Communication Leadership classes. That said, most of this material is important enough that it warrants looking again.


As detailed in my page on assessment, attendance in class is expected of all participants. If you need to miss class for any reason, please contact a member of the teaching team ahead of time (email is best). Multiple unexplained absences will likely result in a lower grade or (in extreme circumstances) a failing grade. In the event of an absence, you are responsible for obtaining class notes, handouts, assignments, etc.

Office Hours[edit]

Normally, I do not hold regular office hours. In general, I will be available to meet before and after class and at other times that are convenient for you. Please contact me on email to arrange a meeting then or at another time.

Disability Accommodations Statement[edit]

To request academic accommodations due to a disability please contact Disability Resources for Students, 448 Schmitz, 206-543-8924/V, 206-5430-8925/TTY. If you have a letter from Disability Resources for Students indicating that you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss the accommodations that you might need for the class. I am happy to work with you to maximize your learning experience.

Comm Lead Electronic Mail Standards of Conduct[edit]

Email communications (and all communications generally) among Comm Lead community members should seek to respect the rights and privileges of all members of the academic community. This includes not interfering with university functions or endangering the health, welfare, or safety of other persons. With this in mind, in addition to the University of Washington's Student Conduct Code, Comm Lead establishes the following standards of conduct in respect to electronic communications among students and faculty:

  • If, as a student, you have a question about course content or procedures, please use the online discussion board designed for this purpose. If you have specific questions about your performance, contact me directly.
  • I strive to respond to Email communications within 48 hours. If you do not hear from me, please come to my office hours, call me, or send me a reminder Email.
  • Email communications should be limited to occasional messages necessary to the specific educational experience at hand.
  • Email communications should not include any CC-ing of anyone not directly involved in the specific educational experience at hand.
  • Email communications should not include any blind-CC-ing to third parties, regardless of the third party’s relevance to the matter at hand.


Grades in this class are based on a rating scale: Rating-scale grades are based on the faculty member's assessment of each assignment as opposed to a calculation from earned and possible points. The broad criteria for the ratings are given below. The ratings for some assignments may be multiplied by a constant (e.g. 2 or 3) so as to count more toward the final grade. The final grade is calculated as the average of all ratings.

4.0 - 3.9
Excellent and exceptional work for a graduate student. Work at this level is extraordinarily thorough, well reasoned, methodologically sophisticated, and well written. Work is of good professional quality, shows an incisive understanding of digital media-related issues and demonstrates clear recognition of appropriate analytical approaches to digital media challenges and opportunities. Clients who received a deliverable of this quality would likely develop loyalty toward the vendor to the exclusion of other vendors.
3.8 - 3.7
Strong work for a graduate student. Work at this level shows some signs of creativity, is thorough and well-reasoned, indicates strong understanding of appropriate methodological or analytical approaches, and demonstrates clear recognition and good understanding of salient digital media-related challenges and opportunities. Clients who received a deliverable of this quality would likely recommend this vendor to others and consider a longer-term engagement.
3.6 - 3.5
Competent and sound work for a graduate student; well reasoned and thorough, methodologically sound, but not especially creative or insightful or technically sophisticated; shows adequate understanding of digital media-related challenges and opportunities, although that understanding may be somewhat incomplete. This is the graduate student grade that indicates neither unusual strength nor exceptional weakness. Clients who received a deliverable of this quality would likely agree to repeat business with this vendor.
3.3 - 3.4
Adequate work for a graduate student even though some weaknesses are evident. Moderately thorough and well reasoned, but some indication that understanding of the important issues is less than complete and perhaps inadequate in other respects as well. Methodological or analytical approaches used are generally adequate but have one or more weaknesses or limitations. Clients who received a deliverable of this quality would likely entertain competitor vendors.
3.0 - 3.2
Fair work for a graduate student; meets the minimal expectations for a graduate student in the course; understanding of salient issues is incomplete, methodological or analytical work performed in the course is minimally adequate. Overall performance, if consistent in graduate courses, would be in jeopardy of sustaining graduate status in "good standing." Clients who received a deliverable of this quality would likely pay the vendor in full but not seek further engagement.
2.7 - 2.9
Borderline work for a graduate student; barely meets the minimal expectations for a graduate student in the course. Work is inadequately developed, important issues are misunderstood, and in many cases assignments are late or incomplete. This is the minimum grade needed to pass the course. Clients who received a deliverable of this quality would likely delay payment until one or more criteria were met.

Academic Misconduct[edit]

Comm Lead is committed to upholding the academic standards of the University of Washington’s Student Conduct Code. If I suspect a student violation of that code, I will first engage in a conversation with that student about my concerns.

If we cannot successfully resolve a suspected case of academic misconduct through our conversations, I will refer the situation to the Anita Verna Crofts, Comm Lead Associate Director of Academic Affairs. The Comm Lead Associate Director of Academic Affairs, in consultation with the Comm Lead Director, can then work with the COM Chair to seek further input and if necessary, move the case up to the Dean.

While evidence of academic misconduct may result in a lower grade, Comm Lead faculty (indeed, all UW faculty) may not unilaterally lower a grade without taking the necessary steps outlined above.


In closing, Comm Lead students are expected to:

  • Write coherently and clearly.
  • Complete assignments on time and as directed.
  • Not miss more than two classes a quarter, unless due to extreme circumstances.
  • Engage as much as possible with colleagues and the instructor.
  • Stay current with the latest developments in the field of communications and digital media.