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28 February 2021
The management and implications of DiY laboratories for innovation and society
Historically, innovation has always come from expensive, structured, and well-resourced laboratories provided by universities, public research centres and large companies. However, in the past few decades, there has been a proliferation of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) laboratories across developed and developing countries (Sarpong et al., 2020). These laboratories are often established by science enthusiasts and “garage-style entrepreneurs” (Grohn et al., 2015) to learn, experiment and engage in the advancement of science, technology, and innovation. They are organized around open-source innovation governance architectures, and are characterized by loose and relaxed structures that encourage participation from volunteers, communities, venture capitalists and angel investors in unconventional settings such as museums (Ellis and Waterton 2005), pubs (Secord, 1996), and private homes (Meyer, 2013). As DIY laboratories serve as alternative homes for local talent (Heckeret al., 2018; Sleator, 2016), they pose competitive challenges to traditional innovation stalwarts such as universities and companies. Perhaps, their greatest competitive advantage comes from their low start-up costs and low cost-cost operating models (Grohn et al., 2015), which make them more efficient than traditional laboratories without compromising their potential for new discoveries (Sarpong and Rawal, 2020).
Representing platforms for technological innovation at the grassroots and embodying democratization that allows curious amateurs to experiment and test ideas (Meyer, 2013), DIYs have increasingly become appealing, especially in developing countries. Despite the promise of DIY laboratories as important sources of innovation and its contribution to improving and increasing citizen participation in STI policy and governance (Seyfried et al., 2014; Rask, 2013), diverse concerns have emerged about their operations (Ferretti, 2019; Wolinsky, 2005), their ethical implications (Wrexler, 2016), and their threat to public health and environmental safety due to frequently operating under regulatory radars (Gorman, 2011; Revill and Jefferson, 2013). DIY laboratories are therefore double-edged “hackspaces” that can promote science, innovation, and technology, but are also prone to abuses that can endanger whole societies and countries. Both the promise and problems of DIY laboratories have received little scholarly attention. While management and strategy research has extensively investigated innovation in traditional companies, incubators, and research centers, the scopus has not kept pace with newer organizational forms such as DIY laboratories.
Consequently, we know little about the operations and management of these laboratories. Yet, a thorough understanding of how DIY laboratories operate is crucial to help policymakers and other stakeholders plan to realize their benefits and mitigate their negative externalities. To this end, this special issue aims to extend our understanding of the opportunities and limits of DIY laboratories, how they are managed and their implications for science, technology, and innovation. We therefore invite rigorous contributions, including conceptual and theoretical papers, state-of-the-art reviews, empirical research (quantitative and qualitative), and case studies from academics and policy experts to advance research on DIY laboratories from multidisciplinary perspectives. Some indicative themes of relevance to this special issue include, but are not limited, to the following:
• The antecedents of DIY laboratories: What entrepreneurial and institutional factors or characteristics drive the emergence of DIY laboratories? What are the typical profiles of entrepreneurs that establish these laboratories?
• The competitive strategies of DIY laboratories: How do DIY laboratories compete with traditional laboratories? What resources and capabilities underlie their strategies? How do competitive strategies differ between DIY and traditional laboratories?
• The effects of DIY laboratories: What are the health and environmental implications of DIY laboratories on society? What is the economic and sociocultural importance of DIY laboratories to society?
• The ethicality of DIY laboratories: What are the ethical and security implications of DIY laboratories? How do DIY laboratories manage ethics?
• Nonmarket political strategy of DIY laboratories: How do DIY laboratories engage with political stakeholders? How do these laboratories participate in science, technology, and innovation policy? How do DIY laboratories manage the politics of funding?
• Nonmarket social strategy of DIY laboratories: How do DIY laboratories manage their contributions to, and effects on society? What is the nature of the social responsibility of DIY laboratories? What is the nexus between DIY laboratories and environmental sustainability?
• Innovation Protection and Diffusion: How do DIY laboratories protect their innovation? How do they manage the appropriation of returns to their innovation? What strategies do they use to diffuse or commercialize their technology?
• Corporate governance: How are DIY laboratories governed? What are the implications of DIY laboratories’ governance structures for their innovation performance and society?
• Evolution and Transition of DIY laboratories: How do DIY laboratories evolve from informal setups to traditional laboratories?
• Government policy and DIY laboratories: How are governments promoting or managing DIY laboratories?
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