Inclusive Innovation in Biohacker Spaces: The Role of Systems and Networks

Paper by Jeremy de Beer and Vipal Jain in Technology Innovation Management Review: “The biohacking movement is changing who can innovate in biotechnology. Driven by principles of inclusivity and open science, the biohacking movement encourages sharing and transparency of data, ideas, and resources. As a result, innovation is now happening outside of traditional research labs, in unconventional spaces – do-it-yourself (DIY) biology labs known as “biohacker spaces”. Labelled like “maker spaces” (which contain the fabrication, metal/woodworking, additive manufacturing/3D printing, digitization, and related tools that “makers” use to tinker with hardware and software), biohacker spaces are attracting a growing number of entrepreneurs, students, scientists, and members of the public.

A biohacker space is a space where people with an interest in biotechnology gather to tinker with biological materials. These spaces, such as Genspace in New York, Biotown in Ottawa, and La Paillasse in Paris, exist outside of traditional academic and research labs with the aim of democratizing and advancing science by providing shared access to tools and resources (Scheifele & Burkett, 2016).

Biohacker spaces hold great potential for promoting innovation. Numerous innovative projects have emerged from these spaces. For example, biohackers have developed cheaper tools and equipment (Crook, 2011; see also Bancroft, 2016). They are also working to develop low-cost medicines for conditions such as diabetes (Ossolo, 2015). There is a general, often unspoken assumption that the openness of biohacker spaces facilitates greater participation in biotechnology research, and therefore, more inclusive innovation. In this article, we explore that assumption using the inclusive innovation framework developed by Schillo and Robinson (2017).

Inclusive innovation requires that opportunities for participation are broadly available to all and that the benefits of innovation are broadly shared by all (CSLS, 2016). In Schillo and Robinson’s framework, there are four dimensions along which innovation may be inclusive:

  1. The people involved in innovation (who)
  2. The type of innovation activities (what)
  3. The range of outcomes to be captured (why)
  4. The governance mechanism of innovation (how)…(More)”.