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How should firms reconcile their open innovation capabilities for incorporating external actors in innovations aimed at sustainable development?

Behnam, Sarah, Cagliano, Raffaella, Grijalvo, Mercedes
Journal of cleaner production 2018 v.170 pp. 950-965
business enterprises, lifestyle, sustainable development
Subsequent to the decades of research and business advancement in sustainable development, the importance of sustainability is undoubtful; however, existing paths toward it are not yet sufficient. Correspondingly, innovation has recently emerged as a persuasive means to enhance sustainability. As with all conventional innovations, the integration of broad and diverse actors in innovation projects aimed particularly at sustainable development is essential, but it is argued to require reconciliation, owing to the peculiarities of the sustainability context. The innovation literature (particularly the open innovation stream) extensively investigates and is able to provide us with businesses' capabilities for integrating external actors for conventional innovation projects. Elaborated from the literature, we identify and conceptualize four capabilities as bundles of open conventional innovation capability – namely, networking, competence mapping, relational, and desorptive capabilities. Starting from the conceptual framework of open conventional innovation capabilities, eight innovation projects aimed particularly at sustainability with diverse and broad actors were used as an empirical context for qualitative, multiple-case studies. The results suggest that open sustainability-oriented innovation capabilities conform to the open conventional innovation capability framework; however, the capabilities must be reconciled with the particular sustainability context. In particular, the results suggest that desorptive capability (the ability of aligning/empowering internals for external acquirements) requires particular and strong reconciliation with the sustainability context, whereas the required reconciliation of networking, competence mapping and relational capabilities strongly depends on the outcome characteristics. In this regard, the findings reveal that for innovations to develop a sustainable product-service system that would dramatically change existing systems and consumers’ lifestyles, capability reconciliation is required for all key partners of the project. On the other hand, for innovations to develop a sustainable product or service, established open conventional innovation capabilities can be used.