In the face of looming challenges like childhood obesity, environmental collapse, and soaring health care costs, we need dramatic and sustained innovation. The driving question behind my research is how technology and organizations can support the innovation process to solve these challenges. In particular, I examine what I define as collective innovation, an innovation process that harnesses the diverse and untapped human, social, and economic capital from distributed networks to discover, evaluate, and implement new ideas. Open, ubiquitous, sociotechnical systems support collective innovation affording greater speed and deeper and broader participation than was imaginable even a decade ago. While collective innovation is a new and exciting collaborative process that has the potential to massively transform society, it is poorly understood. I use grounded theory and design research (Easterday, Rees Lewis, and Gerber 2014) to establish theory and design principles and to develop infrastructure for collective innovation. My pioneering scholarship leads the academy's understanding of this fast-evolving, scalable infrastructure, and directly contributes to its improved functioning to benefit society at large.
The first premise of collective innovation is that direct collaboration between stakeholders can radically enhance rates of innovation (Gerber and Carroll, 2012; Gerber and Hui, 2013; Gerber, 2014). The second premise is that even across weakly connected, heterogeneous networks, changes in the design of our infrastructure can bring forth effort and resources that would otherwise lie fallow (Gerber, 2014; Shaw et al, 2014, Hui, Gerber, and Gergle, 2014; Gerber, 2007; Gerber, 2006). The third premise: Actively engaging a greater number and variety of people to participate in the innovation process expands the breadth of problems addressed and increases the quality of the solutions (Gerber, 2014; Gerber, 2007). This work is embodied in the three ongoing major endeavors of my career thus far at Northwestern: 1) Crowdfunding, 2) Digital Loft, and 3) Design for America.
My scholarship produces three types of results: 1) theory for collective innovation, 2) design principles, and 3) novel sociotechnical systems to support inclusive and continuous innovation in society. My work has resulted in 27 publications in the Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, Computer Human Interaction, and Management literatures and ACM Interactions and IEEE Internet Computing trade publications. My research has been highlighted in the press including the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Wired, National Public Radio’s Marketplace and generously and consistently supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, Hastac (sponsored by the MacArthur and Mozilla Foundations), and Microsoft.
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