A while back, I gave some advice to those about to launch – or re-ignite – a community in this blog post, 5 Key Elements to Make Communities Work.
Facilitators are vital to the success of open innovation communities. However, the role of a facilitator might not have to be limited to providing relevant content or to encouraging members to connect with each other and contribute to the ongoing discussions.
Perhaps there is an additional role for the community facilitator in helping the members address IP issues, which, if not handled appropriately, can be a huge stumbling block in creating a productive virtual community in which people truly build on each other’s ideas and thus generate more powerful innovative outcomes.
As I mentioned in this blog post, Why Intellectual Property Still Matters for Open Innovation, you can organize your community in layers in which the first layer is focused on more general interactions in which you do not really share insights or develop ideas that are impacted by IP issues. You can then have another layer – or move such discussions out of the community and into private settings – if you have a discussion that is moving toward the exchange of ideas that may have IP implications.
The trick is to develop specific rules of engagement to manage the expectations of your members. Once you have these rules in place, your IP facilitator can help oversee them and help the members have this in mind as they engage in discussions and hopefully build on the ideas of others.
There could also be a set of questions that the community members need to ask themselves regarding the ideas they are putting forth:
If this idea is executed, will it affect my business in a positive or a negative way?
Could this idea provide our company with a strategic advantage over competitors? Or the other way around?
Do we have the knowledge and resources to make this idea a reality by ourselves or will we need to partner?
Do we already have relationships with the key partners needed to make this idea a reality or do we need to identify new potential partners?
The IP facilitator can step in when people grapple with these and other IP-related questions and issues. You could even monitor discussions in the open, unprotected layer and if certain key terms pop up, then the facilitator could alert those having the discussion and let them know that they should consider moving the discussion to another part of the community in which there are some protective guidelines on IP issues.
Besides the above activities, an IP facilitor can also add value by writing informative blog posts about IP and host real-time chats where community members can ask questions regarding IP issues. More importantly, he or she can help the members feel more secure as they share their ideas and thus the quality of the discussions can reach a higher level. This could be a key differentiator for a community.
Please view this as a discussion starter and let me know what you think of this.