Open Innovation in Science: Involving the general public in science brings new insights

In an Open Innovation project unique to Europe, dubbed ''Tell us!', the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft has brought patients, family members and healthcare professionals into the effort of generating research questions.

State Secretary Mahrer: 'The results show that Open Innovation allows for new perspectives in science. The crowd-sourcing of ideas and creativity always brings new questions to the surface. This leads to an increase in innovations and concrete solutions from the scientific community.' The Austrian federal government, which is currently developing a national Open Innovation strategy, supports the project as a lighthouse project that will bring international visibility. The aim now is to launch specific research in the field of mental illness based on the results of 'Tell Us!'.

Vienna, 2 December 2015. Nearly 20,000 visitors to the online platform, from more than 80 countries and with 400 high-quality contributions – that is the result of 'Tell Us!', a crowd-sourcing initiative in the field of mental illness. The outcome far exceeded experts' expectations. The question that had been placed before project participants was this: 'In your opinion, what questions about mental illness should science take up?' Offered with great intensity, the responses came from patients, their family members, doctors, therapists and other experts. The submissions were analysed and clustered, rated by the crowd and a jury of experts, and then developed into research approaches.

DI Josef Pröll, President of the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft: 'According to the WHO, 22 percent of all diseases in Western societies are already attributable to mental disorders. This means that there have been or are more than 83 million people affected by mental disorders. The ranks of the mentally ill in Austria total to some 900,000 people, and it is safe to assume that the number of unreported cases is far higher. Employing this method of surveying the 'crowd', the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft bundled the potential of all stakeholders in this issue (such as patients, their family members, therapists, nursing professionals and physicians), asking them to share their experiences and to discuss the problems they have encountered. The model for this approach was provided by a project of Harvard Medical School. We saw a tremendous need for new research. Using pattern-recognition processes, we identified three subject areas in which the crowd participating in the survey saw a particularly urgent need for research: the mental health of children and adolescents, the destigmatisation of mental illness and the effort to achieve greater progress in the field of healthcare research.'

Involving stakeholders increases novelty

The results of the project show clearly that science can benefit by systematically opening up research processes and integrating Open Innovation methods into its work: the jury of experts, which represented the entire spectrum of expertise on mental illness and included scientists, therapists and individuals directly affected by these diseases, attested to the highly novel nature of the results. Most of the questions presented have scarcely been investigated, or have not been investigated at all, and require a very interdisciplinary approach to address.

Two examples of this:

  1. Patients and the experts who care for them have a burning interest in research into the role that those concerned – family members and the patients themselves – can play in destigmatising mental illnesses. The scientific mechanisms of action are completely in the dark, however, as they have scarcely been a focus of research. Mag. Claudia Lingner, General Manager of the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft: 'This calls for cross-disciplinary, close interplay among the social sciences, neurology, psychology, communication and information sciences in order to address such novel and complex questions in ways that are scientifically meaningful. There's an enormous field of activity here, and an opportunity to develop highly new insights.'
  2. What steps can be taken to prevent children who live in a family with sufferers of mental illness, or who experience a trauma themselves, from becoming mentally ill later on? For many of the families affected, and for therapists and physicians, this is a question of great importance, but in science it means breaking new ground: the factors involved in early identification of children with risk potential are largely unexplored; here, too, a decidedly interdisciplinary approach is required for scientific investigation of this new question.

Austria develops national Open Innovation strategy

The ‘Tell Us!' initiative by the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft is in line with an Open Innovation Strategy launched by the Austrian federal government. Dr. Harald Mahrer, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy: 'As one of the first countries worldwide, we are currently developing a national Open Innovation Strategy. The findings of the 'Tell Us!' crowd-sourcing initiative play a significant role in this effort. The initiative is absolutely a lighthouse project and unique on the international scene. On the one hand, it provides important impetus for more transparency and participation in science. On the other hand, it sets new benchmarks in the development and application of Open Innovation methods in the European research landscape. The findings gleaned must now be quickly taken up by the research process in other scientific disciplines. And we must decidedly anchor the use of Open Innovation methods in the Austrian system of research and innovation.'

State Secretary Mahrer emphasised that collaboration transcending the boundaries of organisations and disciplines played a major role in Austria's future competitiveness as a business location, including in light of increasing competition with Asia. 'For a small, open economy with few natural resources of its own, a high degree of innovation is the only life insurance. With the Open Innovation Strategy, we intend to tap unused innovation potential in Austria. We are relying on active participation by the citizenry right from the outset. After all, we have eight million experts in the country, and we want to raise the potential for creativity. Anyone can contribute his or her ideas and help draft the Strategy, at In line with the motto: "Don't just watch – get involved".' State Secretary Mahrer also announced that the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology, together with the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy, would be conducting a stakeholder workshop in Vienna on 18 January 2016 within the framework elaborating the national Open Innovation Strategy. Representatives from science, the business community and the fields of social innovation/civil society are cordially invited to attend this workshop.

Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft plans systematic steps in the research of mental illness

The logical next step following 'Tell Us!' is a rapid transfer of its findings to concrete research activities. To achieve this ambitious objective, the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft is already in contact with national and international partners. The aim is for science to build a bridge to society and the economy, addressing research questions interdisciplinarily and in partnerships between the science community and application-oriented institutions. 'In 2009, 900,000 people received benefits in Austria as a result of mental illness. The costs are estimated at around EUR 850 million per year', DI Josef Pröll noted, adding: 'Each statistic represents the fate of an individual person. As a society, we need targeted research here, as well as new solutions from science.'

For Mag. Claudia Lingner, as Managing Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft, it is important to begin the scientific work without delay: 'We can understand the broad participation in our Open Innovation initiative as an assignment. We take this assignment very seriously.'

About 'Open Innovation in Science'

'Tell Us!' and LOIS are part of an initiative unique to Europe, 'Open Innovation in Science', the aim of which is to establish Open Innovation methods in the sciences. The entire initiative is supported by the Austrian Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft and has the involvement of a prestigious Advisory Board that includes representatives from the WHO, Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Society. The aim of systematically opening up the innovation process is to introduce new knowledge from beyond the research field itself. For more information, visit



About the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft

The Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft (LBG) is Austria's independent research incubator with a focus on the health sciences. It operates 18 research institutes and clusters with about 600 employees. Acting according to its motto, 'Research for people', the LBG deals with socially relevant research questions.


Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft
Dr. Lucia Malfent
Project Manager Open Innovation in Science
tel.: +43 (0) 1 513 27 50-21
mobile: +43 (0) 676 392 19 40
e-mail: lucia [dot] malfentatlbg [dot] ac [dot] at