Does Open Innovation Open Doors for Underrepresented Groups to Contribute to Technology Innovation?: Evidence from a Space Robotics Challenge


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Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are increasingly being recognized as important policy goals for organizations across government and the industry. Improved DEI has been linked to both substantive improvement in innovation performance and societal good. However, despite a stated emphasis on DEI, progress has not kept up with aspirations. One indirect policy approach that holds promise is wider adoption of Open Innovation (OI) as part of an innovation toolkit. Proponents contend that OI reduces barriers to entry and garners productive contributions from diverse contributors. While there is anecdotal support for the diversifying potential of OI, so far, there is a dearth of empirical evidence connecting OI to DEI with consideration of performance outcomes, beyond `winners´. To study this link directly, this article leverages data from a previously conducted unique field experiment that explicitly tracked the population of potential solvers and their performance on a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) space robotics problem. We found that while OI attracted different solvers than the reference internal workforce, there was important variation in both the extent and direction of the observed differences, with respect to attributes of DEI. For instance, OI attracted proportionally fewer female solvers than the already male-dominated space workforce; and that proportion decreased further among solvers providing quality solutions. On the other hand, OI proved effective at granting access to an international pool of young professionals with potentially novel perspectives. Overall, our findings suggest OI can be an effective tool for achieving some diversity policy goals, but it is not well-suited for achieving all stated aspects of diversity. Therefore, we suggest a more targeted approach to matching the opportunities for OI to achieve specific policy objectives.



Diversity, Inclusion, Open innovation, Engineering organizations