Developing Communities of Innovation by Identifying Innovation Champions

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Mini review:

This article gives a good introduction to the concept of communities of practice and tries to expand the idea to communities of innovators. Although the authors do not present any new research it provides some interesting avenues to think about societal innovation labs. Below and excerpt focussing on identifying innovation champions and the abstract.  You can access the full article here.


Elayne Coakes, Westminster Business School, London, UK, and Peter Smith, The Leadership Alliance Inc., Holland Landing, Canada



Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to propose that a form of communities of practice (CoP), a community of innovation (CoInv), is the best support for sustainable innovation. It aims to outline a method for identifying champions of innovation in organisation.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper draws on extant research to argue that innovation is facilitated and supported by innovation champions, who have most influence outside traditional organisational structures when they are members of a close-knit community – a CoInv. A potential method for identification of champions of innovation is highlighted.

Findings – Innovation champions are special people, with particular personality types and psychological profiles. In order to succeed in championing innovations in organisations they need both procedural and resource support, and social and cognitive support. The influence of innovation champions comes through social contacts, multiplied through the communities in which they participate, through the genuine esteem in which they are held. Developing CoInv around such champions makes practical sense for organisations.

Originality/value – Identifying champions of innovation will permit a CoInv to form that links social networks and transcends organisational internal boundaries and forming such a community will potentially trigger more successfully supported innovations.


“Identifying innovation champions and mapping their social networks

Identifying legitimately influential individuals, and visualising the complexities of their relationship patterns have traditionally been difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Network visualisation and analysis (NVA) has been reported as an important new cost-effective way to address this challenge (TLA, 2006). Its application to CoPs has been described (Smith, 2005a), and its application to the identification of influential individuals (opinion leaders) has also been detailed (Smith, 2005b). In NVA practice, data regarding individuals who seem to fulfil given descriptive identifying archetypes are collected from a target organisational community, e.g. innovation champion archetype. These data are then analysed to produce lists of qualified individuals ordered by their influence.

Social network analysis (SNA) may also be applied to the data to suggest the relationships between organisational actors and to map their social networks, SNA is a very rich theoretical methodology that is only recently emerging as a practical and dynamic approach to real organisational problems (Kilduff and Tsai, 2003), although the ability of SNA to reliably clarify the complex relationships between network agents has been questioned (Snowden, 2005). A number of simplified descriptive SNA texts exist, for example Scott (2000). Because of its highly mathematical nature, computers are typically used for calculation and display (Borgatti et al., 1999).

One of the practical NVA applications reported by TLA (2006) involved a major retail organisation with branches in a number of different cities that undertook to identify its most influential individuals with regard to innovation, and leadership. A further objective was to gain insight into the organisation-wide network of communications and trust-tagged relationships related to these themes.

In the study, e-mail-delivered questions that relate to the above objectives were posed to all members of the three most senior management levels across all the company’s locations and departments. The questions were based on archetypes describing relevant innovation and leadership identities. Members of the target community responded by picking, from a list displayed to them on a dedicated Internet site, the names of individuals that they had personally directly experienced as corresponding to the archetypes. The final response by the group to the questions was around 75 per cent.

The NVA identified a significant number of individuals demonstrating noteworthy innovation and leadership influence. Although there were names that appeared in both the innovation and leadership lists, significant differences overall were evident, indicating that innovation champions form a recognisable archetype; this supports our contention that they are not typically team leaders. This information was used in the case described to facilitate setting up steering groups and knowledge sharing communities on already existing trust-tagged networks.

This approach requires further more rigorous research to substantiate its usefulness in identifying innovation champions and facilitating the formation of CoInv, but does seem to offer promising potential in this regard.”



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