Virtual communities as a vehicle for science-based external knowledge sourcing

Dan Herlin & Benedikta Hedegaard-Knudsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Over the past decade the world has witnessed a dramatic development of information and communication technologies (ICT), and one of the most profound manifestations of online communication is that of virtual communities (VCs). VCs are proliferating across the Internet in various forms, and companies have become increasingly interested in utilizing VCs as a tool for external knowledge sourcing and innovation. In the literature, we find that most work on this topic predominantly relates to market -­ focused crowdsourcing through user -­ or challenge-­ driven VCs. In this light, this paper aims to investigate the benefits that a research-­based VC holds for science-­ based R&D intensive firms in acting as a vehicle for unguided search of scientific opportunities, as to ultimately enhance their innovative capacity. Our research takes point of departure in the combinatorial view of innovation where we recognize that external sources of knowledge hold great potential for innovating firms. We take an exploratory and multi-­disciplinary approach where we combine literature of cognitive economics, sociology, innovation, ambidexterity and network theory. Moreover, we conduct a prospective single-case study of Novozymes (NZ) -­ a leading biotechnology firm in the industrial enzyme business. Here, we assess NZ’ R&D organisation and its current innovation model to conclude that NZ is to certain extent is trapped in sub-optimal routinized exploitative R&D strategies. While NZ’ current innovation model has proved highly efficient in the past, looming challenges in the enzyme market places Novozymes in a position to benefit from more explorative R&D strategies. We identify a set of enabling properties that makes virtual communities particularly conducive for overcoming a number of barriers found in real life (IRL) communities. More specifically, we highlight how VCs can overcome barriers of time and geographical proximity as well as barriers of cognitive-­, disciplinary-­ and organizational separation. We conclude that VCs hold potential to act as a brokerage mechanism for bridging structural holes and facilitate external knowledge sourcing, and ultimately make out a keystone in the development of ambidextrous organisational capabilities. As a result, we suggest that NZ can engage in more explorative R&D strategies by means of a VC set-up, without compromising the efficient model if innovation currently in place in the organization.

EducationsMSc in Management of Innovation and Business Development, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2011
Number of pages161