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Part 7, Poiesis-intensive Innovation

Poiesis-intensive Innovation

The concept of poiesis-intensive innovation has been developed by Piero Bassetti, President of the Bassetti Foundation, over the last decade. It is central to the book, as it brings responsibility within innovation into the workplace. The short chapter in the book explains its importance as an analytic framework that can be used when looking at processes constructed at work.

We can think of poiesis as the addressing of ethical and aesthetic issues combined via a production process. This is an idea that comes from Plato, and we can see it as related to the modern world of the maker: the making addresses every aspect of being, so not merely producing something but making something in a way as if it grows out of both knowledge and skills, but also philosophies, beliefs and aims.

This form of innovation is driven by soft forms of knowledge such as design, function, organizational patterns, aesthetics and worldviews, and is often associated with small worplaces such as workshops and small-scale laboratories.

It relies on the situated learning of tacit knowledge.

The Role of Tacit Knowledge

We can see tacit knowledge as knowledge that cannot be explained, but is either shown or seen, learned through the experience of working in a particular setting. If we think of an apprenticeship or someone who goes to work in a small research group we can imagine that they learn how to proceed through the experience of being in the situation, things are not necessarily explained but are experienced.

It’s not just technical skills that we are interested in here though. The junior member of the group also learns why things are done in this way, the reasoning behind everyday choices and decisions and also aims and goals. They learn through being a member of a community of practice, with this learning experienced and understood through the practices lived.

If we think a little broader, we can apply this idea to research settings and to many situations where innovation is carried out. If the learning mechanism described here can be applied to these settings, we might be able to find something that we might call poiesis-intensive innovation; an innovation process driven through shared understanding of the goals, aims and ways to proceed, through the application of a broad range of skills held by those involved.

From here we can make a leap to thinking about poiesis-intensive responsible innovation, an innovation form that reflects the various models of responsible innovation that we have seen so far in this series, but is not based on following a set of rules. It grows out of the working practices and beliefs held in the workplace.

This communication (within the workplace) requires a language and a mechanism for appreciating and communicating actions taken. In the book I use the concept of ‘skilled visions’ to describe one possibility. A skilled vision is shared by those in the workplace, it is the learned ability to see the choices made during the process in the product but also within the process. It is vision based, fellow workers see the process and the decisions made during the process and understand how they were made and more importantly why.

Why was a particular material used? Why was it sourced from here and not there? Why was a particular standpoint on privacy taken? Each individual working in the process sees what happens and can interpret developments within the (understood through practice but not explained) aims of that particular project.

Case Studies

Chapter 5 in the book also contains two short case studies, Roadrunner Engineering and Officina Corpuscoli.

Roadrunner Engineering produces bespoke prosthetic legs and feet, using an interesting mix of high technology, personal experience and old-school mechanics and engineering skills. Their approach is personalized, but at the same time pushes research in the field to the limit. They publish the findings of their research online, open-access, and operate within a philosophy that we might imagine is driven by the aim of making life better for users of their products.

Officina Corpuscoli works within the field of synthetic biology, synthesizing fungus that are used to produce a host of different materials for both industrial, artistic but also educational use. Reflecting the responsible innovation approach, projects include trying to produce materials that will be able to degrade plastic in order to turn it into an energy source, provoking public debate around synthetic biology and environmental issues, and replacing plastics wherever possible.

All the links for further exploration are in the book.

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