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Social Innovation

Interview with Venkat Ramaswamy

Venkat Ramaswamy, Hallman Fellow of Electronic Business and Professor of Marketing at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, is a recognised thought leader on the topic of co-creation, and author of ‘The Power of Co-Creation: Build It With Them to Boost Growth, Productivity, and Profits' and The Co-Creation Paradigm. Here, he explains why adopting the right technology platforms is critical to scaling co-creation and how the co-creation approach can bridge the gap between business and local communities.

Q. What do you see as the biggest barriers to companies fully implementating a co-creation approach?

VR: I think part of the challenge is that companies do not yet have a fully developed vision for the potential of co-creation. If it's only seen as a tactic or an approach, then companies will be hesitant to fully invest both their time and money into it. However, it has potential to change the whole way a business works. I see parallels in historical shifts in business patterns. Once upon a time, quality was seen as something intangible, but once the concept was fully understood, companies worked out how to measure quality, and whole quality control departments were put in place. Companies made systemic changes to address quality. I believe the same thing will be true for co-creation, and indeed, some companies are already taking steps in this regard.

Q. What are the main challenges of scaling co-creation within organisations?

VR: It's very hard to do co-creation at scale without having a technology platform that enables it. To scale your co-creation activity you have to engage with people beyond the boundaries of the company. In today's digitalized world, clearly technology is an enabler in this regard. However, in many cases today, the business case for investing in technology is seen through the lens of productivity and efficiency, rather than looking for tools to boost engagement, which certainly poses a challenge.

Companies are beginning to realize, however, that collaborative tools can really help to engage stakeholders, stay on top of issues, spot problems before they happen, and even allow other stakeholders to flag these problems. Seen through this lens, I'm finding that a lot of companies are more open to the benefits of such platforms. They realize that they can help them solve problems at the intersection of business and society far more effectively.

Q. What role do you think co-creation has in Social Innovation?

VR: By engaging stakeholders in co-creation, companies become more aware of societal issues, as there are more voices in the room. This could be customers offering their thoughts on what products they want, NGOs offering expertise on a particular topic area, or citizens expressing their desires on the outcome of a project. If I'm planning to build a new power plant, for example, it's critical to engage the community in and around the planned development zone. Co-creation platforms can give these stakeholders a voice, and connect them to businesses in ways that were just not possible before.

the Future

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