MIS40910 – Critique – Dahlander, L. and Gann, D. M. (2010) ‘How open is innovation?’

The main motivation of the paper as remarked at its outset is to clarify the definitive of “openness” as currently used in the literature on open innovation and to re-conceptualize the idea for future research on the topic. To examine whether the paper meets its objectives we have used the Levy and Ellis (2006) framework to determine whether as a state of union / literature review if it can be deemed effective.


Webster and Watson (2002) define an effective literature review as being one that “creates a foundation for advancing knowledge” and as a basic premise to this, the research must have a methodological and systematic analysis of quality literature.

One initial accusation that can be made against this piece is that the source material is one-
dimensional as it was solely sourced from the ISI database. The database as the authors’ correctly state does cover an extensive portion of the literature but excludes, as conceded, books from seminal pieces in the field from Chesborough (2003) for example. “Openness”and “Innovation” are evolving terms so why exclude reputable magazine pieces from the likes of HBR (Harvard Business Review) and keynote conferences? By only using a single source for its base material the comprehensive coverage of the subject is immediately brought into question.


One of the challenges that emerge from examining a fragment topic is to determine what is relevant. Having chosen their search terms the authors initially returned 701 search results before having to screen out a significant amount of non-applicable papers. In an attempt to be broad over 70% of their initial search net was eliminated. Is this evidence that the original terms for the search where not of adequate focus or merely reflecting the nature of determining openness?

The paper uses backward and forward search to achieve a higher level of effectiveness which works really well. Where this is present is mapping of author contributions which showed that 244 authors contributed to the 150 papers and the low degree of connectivity amongst them.

Both the source and the current assessment efforts of “how open is innovation?” suggest that the question whilst interesting is not specific enough. A refocused question would surely enable a more cohesive and effective treatment of the topic.


In concluding the critique of this paper we go back to its stated ambition of clarifying the definition of “openness”. Rather than achieving this, it highlights topic divisions. The result of not achieving this goal means that future research is enabled with a cautionary note of focused questioning. With some respect to authors they have made a valiant effort to tackle the pruning of the roses and whilst not being progressive to the body of knowledge it has enabled the advancement of the topic by laying some beacons.

Referenced Articles:

1. Levy, Yair, and Timothy J. Ellis. “A systems approach to conduct an effective literature review in support of information systems research.” Informing Science: International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline 9 (2006): 181-212.

2. Webster, J., & Watson, R.T. (2002). Analyzing the past to prepare for the future: Writing a literature review. MIS Quarterly, 26 (2), 13-23.

3. Chesbrough, Henry William. Open innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology. Harvard Business Press, 2003.

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