Large Surveys on User Innovations

Eric Von Hippel of MIT and coauthors have been engaged with some interesting research in the Netherlands and Canada.

De Jong, Jeroen P.J. and Von Hippel, Eric A.,Measuring User Innovation in Dutch High Tech SMEs: Frequency, Nature and Transfer to Producers(February 27, 2009). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 4724-09. Available at SSRN:

Gault, Fred and Von Hippel, Eric A., The Prevalence of User Innovation and Free Innovation Transfers: Implications for Statistical Indicators and Innovation Policy(February 3, 2009). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 4722-09. Available at SSRN:

The Netherlands work is based on survey questions which were added to an existing panel survey that the EIM manages. Here is how the De Jong and Von Hippel describe the data in their paper:

"The Dutch research institute EIM manages a panel of high-technology SMEs in the Netherlands which it surveys every year. The panel was created to explore the nature of high-tech SMEs’ business processes, and to assess the effectiveness of innovation and entrepreneurship policies (EIM, 2006). In the fall of 2007, EIM gave the authors of this paper permission to include several questions about user innovation in this annual survey, and the data and findings we report upon here are derived from responses to these questions.

The panel defines high-tech firms as those who actively engage in R&D, and who develop and/or apply new technologies in their products (Grinstein and Goldman, 2006). They are innovative and process-intensive firms. Following the Dutch definition of SMEs, the panel contains only independent commercial organizations with 1-100 employees. Data were collected with computer assisted telephone interviewing. During a period of four weeks in November and December 2007, surveys were completed with 514 of the 779 panelists (66%). Respondents were all directors or managers with a good overview of their firms’ practices, including innovation. It appeared that since the start of the panel (November 2005), 16 respondents had been purchased by larger organizations, or had grown to the point of having more than 100 employees. These respondents were discarded from further analysis. Our data therefore reflect answers by 498 respondents. Since all respondents were participants in a panel that had been surveyed before (EIM, 2006), we were able to enrich our data by including previously collected data on background variables such as industry classifications."

What is interesting about this work is its focus on user innovation development, the assistance from producers and others in developing those innovations, the costs related to the innovations, and the ultimate transfer of the innovations to others. The authors report that fifty-four percent of their sample report "developing new and/or modifying existing process equipment or software for in-house use within the last 3 years" at a cost of more than €235,000. Of these developments, the authors find that a quarter have been transferred back to equipment producers or software vendors for commercial sale with 48 percent of these transfers happening at no charge. The authors go on to report that "narrowcasting information about their innovations to equipment producers which whom they have a preexisting relationship" is the preference of the innovators. Most of the questions used are available in Table 1 of the paper (although the questions are shown out of context from the larger survey).

The work on Canada is perhaps a better piece for those wanting an overview of this line of research. Questionnaires for this work are available online. Stats Canada undertook this survey in in 2007 and early 2008. Only manufacturing and logging establishments were surveyed with a more than 20 employees. Many of the findings are in line with the Dutch study but by the nature of the survey population, we are able to see more into the costs associated with process innovations by "user firms," which the authors report could be close to 10 percent of all R&D expenditure in Canada. In this paper, the authors also get into more detail on the possible policy implications of their work, for both statistical offices in terms of measurement and for policy makers wishing to promote societally beneficial dissemination of innovations.

I would last like to applaud the researchers for their presentation of new survey research that is tied into the larger discussion of how innovation measurement can be improved. In their conclusion they point out that the Oslo Manual, which defines much of how innovation measurement is standardized across countries, would not currently track many measures of innovation which the authors find to be prevalent. Specifically, the authors indicate that the Oslo Manual would not consider an innovation which is developed by and consumed by users only as an innovation, because it had not been commercialized.

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