Syllabus — Innovation Communities (COM597 B)

Innovation Communities: How Business Can Harness the DIY Dynamic
COM597 B — Masters of Communication in Communities and Networks (MCCN) Elective
Course 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

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 or 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.


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:

  1. Lead user search
  2. Innovation toolkits / open source innovation
  3. Broadcast search / crowdsourcing
  4. 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).


The assignments in this class are designed to give you an opportunity to try your hand at community innovation methods. There will be three assignments and each will build on the previous toward a final project.

Domain/Problem Identification

Maximum Length: 600 words (~2 double spaced)
Due Date: April 15

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

Maximum Length: 1500 words (~5 pages)
Due Date: May 4

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

Presentation Date: June 3 (if necessary, also May 27)
Paper Due Date: June 13

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:

  1. A short presentation to the class (10 minutes)
  2. 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.


Finally, the course relies heavily on participation 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 20-35 pages of relatively dense background about an organization that is often facing an ambiguous or difficult challenge.

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 ambigous business situations that you will likely encounter in your career.

Generally speaking, there are not right and wrong answers in cases. In business schools, professors teaching cases usually cold call on students in rooms of hundred students. Since our class will be much smaller than a typical MBA class, cold calling might not be necessary. That said, I do expect every student to be in class every week and to be prepared to discuss the cases and the readings. As a result, participation is a large portion of the grade.

Grades will be weighted in the following way:

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


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. The book is also available for purchase from MIT Press or Amazon and I think it is nice to support these open access efforts.

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.

Finally, because this is my first time teaching this material in the Communication Leadership program, I expect to make adjustments to the readings as the course develops. Any time I make a change to the syllabus, I will update this page and I will leave an announcement in canvas which should also be emailed to anybody registered for the course.


April 1: The User Innovation Paradigm

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:

von Hippel, Eric. Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2005. [Free Online]

  • Chapter 1: Introduction and Overview (pg 1-17)
  • Chapter 3: Why Many Users Want Custom Products (pg 33-44)
  • Chapter 9: Democratizing Innovation (pg 121-132)

Pisano, Gary P., and Roberto Verganti. “Which Kind of Collaboration Is Right for You.” Harvard Business Review 86, no. 12 (2008): 78–86. [Available as E-Journal from UW Libraries] [Alternate Link]

Baldwin, Carliss, and Eric von Hippel. “Modeling a Paradigm Shift: From Producer Innovation to User and Open Collaborative Innovation.” Organization Science 22, no. 6 (December 2011): 1399 –1417. [Available through UW Libraries]

Optional Readings:

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

April 8: Finding Innovations: Lead Users

Required Readings:

von Hippel, Eric. Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2005. [Free Online]

  • 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. [Available as E-Journal from UW Libraries] [Alternate Link]

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:

Churchill, Joan, Eric von Hippel, and Mary Sonnack. Lead User Project Handbook: A practical guide for lead user project teams. (Selections) [Free Online]

Finally, these teaching videos (linked at the bottom of the page) by Eric von Hippel on lead user methods might also be useful.

April 15: Finding Innovations: Toolkits

Required Readings:

von Hippel, Eric. Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2005. [Free Online]

  • Chapter 5: Users’ Low-Cost Innovation Niches (pg 63-76)
  • Chapter 11: Application: Toolkits for User Innovation and Custom Design (pg 147-164)

Hinkle, Mark. “Open Source: A Platform for Innovation | Innovation Insights.” Wired: Innovation Insights, November 13, 2013. [Free Online]

Raymond, Eric S. The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. Edited by Tim O’Reilly. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly and Associates, 1999. [Free Online]

“Living a Second Life.” The Economist, September 28, 2006. [Free Online]

Kohler, Thomas, Kurt Matzler, and Johann Füller. “Avatar-Based Innovation: Using Virtual Worlds for Real-World Innovation.” Technovation 29, no. 6–7 (June 2009): 395–407. [Available through UW Libraries]

Optional Readings:

Thomke, Stefan, and Eric von Hippel. “Customers as Innovators: A New Way to Create Value.” Harvard Business Review 80, no. 4 (April 2002): 74–81. [Available through UW Libraries] [Alternate Link]

von Hippel, Eric. “‘Sticky Information’ and the Locus of Problem Solving: Implications for Innovation.” Management Science 40, no. 4 (April 1994): 429–439. [Available through UW Libraries] [Alternate Link]

von Hippel, Eric. “Perspective: User Toolkits for Innovation.” Journal of Product Innovation Management 18, no. 4 (July 2001): 247–57. [Available through UW Libraries]

von Hippel, Eric, and Ralph Katz. “Shifting Innovation to Users via Toolkits.” Management Science 48, no. 7 (July 2002): 821–33. [Available through UW Libraries]

April 22: Finding Innovations: Broadcast Search and Contests

Required Readings:

Howe, Jeff. “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.” Wired Magazine 14, no. 6 (2006): 1–4. [Online]

[Case] Lakhani, Karim R., (A). Harvard Business School Press, 2009. [Available in Canvas]

Boudreau, Kevin J., Nicola Lacetera, and Karim R. Lakhani. “Incentives and Problem Uncertainty in Innovation Contests: An Empirical Analysis.” Management Science 57, no. 5 (May 2011): 843–863. [Available through UW Libraries]

Wright, Randall S. “Thinking of Running an Open Innovation Contest? Think Again.” MIT Technology Review, June 5, 2013. [Free Online]

Boudreau, Kevin J., and Karim R. Lakhani. “How to Manage Outside Innovation.” MIT Sloan Management Review, July 1, 2009. [Available through UW Libraries]

Optional Reading:

Crowdsourcing. Cambridge, Massachusetts ; London, England: The MIT Press, 2013. [Amazon Link]

April 29: Finding Innovations: Collaborative Communities

Required Reading:

von Hippel, Eric. Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2005. [Free Online]

  • Chapter 7: Innovation Communities (pg 93-106)

[Case] Rao, Hayagreeva, Robert I. Sutton, David W. Hoyt. Mozilla: Scaling Through a Community of Volunteers. Stanford Graduate School of Business, 2009. [Available in Canvas]

Hill, Benjamin Mako. Almost Wikipedia. [Free Online]

Murray, Fiona, and Siobhan O’Mahony. “Exploring the Foundations of Cumulative Innovation: Implications for Organization Science.” Organization Science 18, no. 6 (November 1, 2007): 1006–1021. [Available through UW Libraries]

May 6: Applications: Remixing and Creative Innovation

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:

Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Penguin Press HC, 2008. (Introduction) [Free Online]

[Video Case] Lakhani, Karim R., and Zahra Kanji. Threadless: The Business of Community. Harvard Business School Press, 2008. [Link in Canvas Email]

Hill, Benjamin Mako, and Andrés Monroy-Hernández. “The Remixing Dilemma The Trade-Off Between Generativity and Originality.” American Behavioral Scientist 57, no. 5 (May 1, 2013): 643–663. [Available through UW Libraries] [Free Preprint]

Optional Readings:

Sinnreich, Aram. Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture. University of Massachusetts Press, 2010. (Excerpts) [Forthcoming in Canvas]

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 13: Applications: Hackers and the "Underground"

Required Readings:

Mollick, Ethan. “Tapping into the Underground.” MIT Sloan Management Review 46, no. 4 (2005): 21. [Available in Canvas] [Available through UW Libraries]

Rosenbaum, Ron. “Secrets of the Little Blue Box.” Esquire Magazine, 1971, 116. [Free Online (text)] [Available in Canvas (photocopy with a picture)]

[Case] Viard, V. Brian, and Pamela Yatsko. Blizzard v. Managing Intellectual Property (A). Stanford Graduate School of Business, 2006. [Available in Canvas]

Wayner, Peter. “Tweaking a Camera to Suit a Hobby.” The New York Times, May 26, 2010, sec. Technology / Personal Tech. [Free Online]

Optional Reading:

Mollick, Ethan. “The Engine of the Underground: The Elite-Kiddie Divide.” SIGGROUP Bull. 25, no. 2 (2005): 23–27. [Available through UW Libraries]

Scacchi, Walt. “Computer Game Mods, Modders, Modding, and the Mod Scene.” First Monday 15, no. 5 (2010). [Free Online]

May 20: Applications: Human Computation

This session will be coordinated by guest lecturer and crowdsourcing expert Aaron Shaw from the Northwestern University Department of Communication Studies.

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

Required Readings:

  • Revisit Jeff Howe's Wired article, The Rise of Crowdsourcing. [Free Online]
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk Requester UI Guide (pp. 1-15). [Free Online]
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk Best Practices Guide. [Free Online]
  • von Ahn, Luis. Massive Scale Human Collaboration (TedX video lecture). [Free Online]

Required Tasks:

In preparation for this session, you should complete some tasks in each of the following systems:

  • Amazon's Mechanical Turk (complete at least 2 "Hits" as a worker).
  • DuoLingo (Complete an exercise in any language you like and try at least one "Immersion" task).

Please come to class prepared to describe and discuss your experience as a crowd worker!

May 27: Challenges: Commercialization and Communities

von Hippel, Eric. Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2005. [Free Online]

  • Chapter 6: Why Users Often Freely Reveal Their Innovations

[Case] Greenstein, Shane, Rebecca Frazzano, and Evan Meagher. Triumph of the Commons: Wikia and the Commercialization of Open-Source Communities in 2009. Kellogg School of Management, 2009. [Available in Canvas]

Hill, Benjamin Mako. “Problems and Strategies in Financing Voluntary Free Software Projects.” In Proceedings of LinuxTag, 2005. [Free Online]

Optional Reading:

Frey, Bruno S., and Reto Jegen. “Motivation Crowding Theory.” Journal of Economic Surveys 15, no. 5 (2001): 589–611. [Available through UW Libraries]

Raasch, Christiana, and Eric von Hippel (2012), “Amplifying user and producer innovation: The power of participation motives” MIT Sloan School of Management Working Paper (October) [Free Online]

Hutter, Katja, Julia Hautz, Johann Füller, Julia Mueller, and Kurt Matzler. “Communitition: The Tension between Competition and Collaboration in Community-Based Design Contests.” Creativity and Innovation Management 20, no. 1 (2011): 3–21. [Available through UW Libraries]

June 3: Challenges: Resistance to Innovation

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. [Available in Canvas]

[Case] Chesbrough, Henry W., and Alexander Stern. Webasto: Co-Creating Innovation with Lead Users. UCB - Haas School of Business, 2012.

Comm Lead Polices and Practices

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.

Disability Accommodations Statement

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

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

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 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.

Final Thoughts

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.