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Part 10, The End of the Book Series

I hope you enjoyed the series and the book. My thanks and congratulations go to everyone who followed. I would be pleased to hear about your experiences through the comments section below.

In this final post I hope to draw the final message of the book together.

Aim of the Book and Series

As noted in the introduction to the book, its aim was to open a discussion that sees narration and aesthetics as central to daily decision-making practices in small scale production processes, be those artisanal working or scientific working situations.

The idea is that people working in such environments learn not only the technicalities of their work, but also co-construct the narrative through which decisions are made and possibilities are granted or excluded. This could be described as the narrative of doing things right, a concept that is constructed within the place of work through daily work talk. It is negotiated and fluid, refers to a shared understanding of a narrative framework and is recognized and codified through the appreciation of the values seen in the product. The narrative allows the framing of the decision-making process and the sharing of a language that allows thos working in the process to talk about it and share their appreciation.

In the case of craftwork, the shared understanding can be seen as expressed through an appreciation of the functional beauty of the work. Each object has its own functional beauty, defined by different criteria and affected by the amount of resources available, objectives and resources, meaning that the appreciation of beauty cannot be transferred from one to another without modification. No two processes are the same, as resources are different, meaning that the construction of their appreciation must also be different, even if the framework through which it is drawn in terms of the narrative is similar.

I call this a form of poiesis intensive production, this shared understanding of aesthetics is a driving force within the decision-making process, as its appreciation leads to the construction of networks of both colleagues and suppliers of materials, technology and tools, ideas and information, that are necessary for the production process.

To summarize; ideas of responsibility, narrative and the aim of the process may be related, I would say intertwined, and talked about in everyday chat at work.

Although in the science lab the language may be different, precision is discussed more than beauty, there are similarities in that precision is functional precision, as beauty is functional beauty. Functional precision relates to purpose and function. It is one facet of a functional goal, very much as beauty is for the upholsterer.

Overview of the Book

The book is divided into seven self-standing chapters, each representing a narrative from a particular perspective. It can be broadly seen as divided into two larger sections. The first section offers a representation of the current state of the art in RI research. Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4 are all related to this construction, narrating the development of the concept of RI from different perspectives. The construction of this broader narrative (my own RI narrative) leads to the second section, based upon an argument (outlined above) that sees the sharing of a concept of functional beauty in terms of its position within a workplace narrative and its relevance to decision-making processes.

The second section is split into three chapters, the first offering an overview of methodology and argument, followed by two case studies. The first case study involves a furniture restorer in South Manchester (UK) and the second a surgeon developing 3D bio-printing techniques in Utrecht (NL).

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Part 9, Case Study 2, The Scientist’s Narrative

Chapter 7 of the book is dedicated to Prof. Jos Malda, a world leading biotechnologist based in the Netherlands.

The Laboratory

Prof. Jos Malda heads a research group that focuses on biofabrication and biomaterials design, in particular for the regeneration of (osteo) chondral defects. The team is investigating regenerative means for repairing damaged joints in humans and animals, with particular interest in the knee. The team works alongside and within both the medical and veterinary facilities at Utrecht University, studying wear on both animal and human joints and have designed and built a production facility that allows for the 3D printing of living cells to make live repair implants that can be surgically implanted.

The chapter recounts the work from Malda’s perspective. He has long been involved with responsible innovation and its practices, and trains all of his team in ethics.

The chapter takes the model and issues addressed in the furniture restoration workshop and compares them to the laboratory and the narrative that Malda offers through recorded interviews.

The use of tools and the layout of the laboratory is compared, with the use of skilled visions and similarities in problem solving techniques also highlighted. The comparative shows how research in the lab can be seen as following similar lines of development to those in the workshop. The use of different generations of tools, based on a nuanced understanding of their capabilities and possibilities, the practice of building tools for specific uses, the application of techniques from other fields in problem solving and the view of the finished product within its lifespan (an implant seen not as a finished product but as something has to grow and survive wear, very much as the restorer sees the choice of materials and techniques used in the workshop).

Malda’s own Words

The second half of the chapter (like those previous) offers an interview transcription with Prof. Malda himself. He describes the reaction to his laboratory producing a 3D printed skull that was fitted to a young woman, delving into the problem of expectations for future medical treatment, the printing of organs and the thin line between repair and enhancement.

Malda narrates the network capacity necessary for such work, reflecting the furniture restoration experience from the previous chapter, the value of teamwork (ditto) his visions and aims and financial value of his work for the university. He describes his push towards standardization which leads him on to EU funding and finally protocols, which leads us to the very point of the book and this series: Some are international but others are internally created within the project!

This brings us back to the conversation with the furniture restorer. The protocols that are created within Malda’s project reflect the philosophies and goals and aims and personal beliefs of the team. Just as the restorer carries out unseen work, reflecting the workshop philosophy (workshop protocol), the scientists also share an understanding, and it is one which they themselves create. Both teamleaders are striving for the right way of proceeding, within their own set of beliefs that is constructed through their networks. They are both using a set of tools, many of which they have constructed themselves, and they both see their work within a broader and longer term view.

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Part 8, Case Study 1: Furniture Restoration

Chapter 6 of the book Responsible innovation, A Narrative Approach is dedicated to fieldwork carried out in Manchester UK with a furniture restorer. This is a descriptive chapter, based on recorded conversations that took place in a workshop I used to work in myself. The question that the whole book tries to raise is about why certain people choose to work in particular ways, while others do it differently. This is fundamental for the question of responsibility.

The Restorer’s Narrative

The use of the word ‘narrative’ in the book title relates to how people narrate their working practices and how they make their decisions and choices, this chapter presenting the first of two extended narratives. The second comes from a scientist, with my personal question asking how closely the narratives of a furniture restorer match that of a scientist, the first carrying out high quality restoration work and the second biotechnology experiments.

Both chapters contain photos, as one aspect that appears similar is the layout of the workspace and how this both reflects and enables particular forms of working practices. The restoration workshop is compared to other workshops in the area, and as I am a furniture restorer myself, I draw conclusions based upon the relationship between tidiness and quality (I have 17 years’ experience in the trade).

The chapter contains an explanation of tacit knowledge acquisition (as discussed in part 7 of this series) within a setting that I know well, before the question that forms the central pivot of the book as it is applied to working practices; what matters to people and why? Ideas such as ‘for the good of all parties involved’ come up, as does the concept of skilled vision from chapter 5.

The skilled vision of the restorers allows them to share and talk about the workmanship and choices made during the restoration process using beauty as a measurement. A piece can only be beautiful if it has been done technically correctly, with flair and style, no corners cut, and with all of the decisions taken during the process in mind.

Only if the right questions were asked and the right decisions made, the work done well and the end product of high quality and fitting for the house that it will live in, can it be beautiful.

If any of the above is not right, it is not beautiful. Aesthetics as a measurement of correctness and quality, but also morality (no corners were cut, even though the customer will not and cannot know that).

The Recordings

The second half of this chapter consists of the transcription and analysis of several hours of recorded conversation between the furniture restorers and myself. They are discussions rather than interviews, wide-ranging and based upon shared understandings and shared knowledge. Topics covered include:

  • The relationship between the community and a small business
  • Aims, goals and company policy
  • Work as an art form
  • Investing unseen time
  • Using the ‘correct’ methods (doing it right)
  • The importance of style
  • Customer relations
  • The importance of being able to share your reasoning with others
  • The importance of having learned the work through an apprenticeship (situated learning, tacit understandings and knowledge)

Although all of this might seem far from technology and innovation, it is not really. All of the above relates to decision-making at work, driven by values rather than rules. In cutting-edge scientific research and innovation settings we find similar situations occuring, in this case driven by the fact that the rules have not been made yet. The process is driven by the values of the researchers, they strive for a goal that is much bigger than just a result and within a framework that is constantly being constructed in the workplace.

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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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Part 6, What do European Union Funded Projects look like?

SMART-Map

To link part 5 and part 6 of this series together, today we will take a look at two responsible innovation projects that were funded by the European Union (part 4) and have an Italian connection (part 5). Both projects were funded under the Horizon 2020 call, (2013 – 2020), while the book chapter offers descriptions of projects funded and completed in the previous (FP7) calls (from p.70). These newer projects build upon the experiences and results of those that went before.

See my previous post here for an overview of the EU vision on research and innovation.

SMART-Map

SMART-map (RoadMAPs to Societal Mobilisation for the Advancement of Responsible Industrial Technologies) was financed by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 Programme.

From the website we learn that its goal was to define and implement concrete roadmaps for the responsible development of technologies and services in three key game-changing fields: precision medicine, synthetic biology and 3D printing in biomedicine.

Synthetic biology is an emerging science that could be extensively employed in industries. Some governments are already pushing for its employability but these new technologies bring about controversial impacts that could influence or violate existing normative values.

Precision medicinehas been growing in the last few years and is still expected to grow extensively. It allows people to map their genome not only to understand their genetic history but also to infer their disease risk profile. This is attractive to citizens as well as to industries that are hence investing always more in this field.

3D printing consists in producing 3D objects by superimposing layers of chosen materials. It is thought by some to be a revolution in the manufacturing industry because the objects resulting from 3D printing can meet the customers’ needs accurately. 3D printing has been also being employed in the biomedical field but it is already facing tremendous societal challenges.

The project aimed to develop a new format for open and collaborative dialogues between industry and societal actors (Industrial Dialogues) allowing the co-design of a tool (a SMART Map) that could help companies to address the questions of social and environmental responsibility they face in their innovation processes. The project tested these SMART Maps in actual industrial settings, ensuring that innovators can use them easily within their existing

The project produced industrial dialogue and materials alongside an E-book, a series of recommendations and the final road-maps. As with all projects all of these materials are made freely available to potential users.

ROSIE

The ROSIE project aimed to improve skills among entrepreneurs and innovation actors to promote responsible innovation in companies based in Central European countries where a lack knowledge, skills and policy frameworks to encourage responsible innovation may slow its developments. In order to address these issues the project developed and tested tools and training methods whose aim was to improve capacity to implement innovation responsibly.

This project grouped together various public administration and governance bodies with Chambers of Commerce and commercial and not for profit organizations from Crotatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Germany and Italy.

The project has a workbox website that includes introductory videos to responsible innovation, self-assessment tools, implementation plan and toolkit, consultancy and training materials. The workbox website also contains a series of training videos that address such issues as the setting up and running of a living lab and how the STIR methodology can be used to raise awareness and promote change in business.

The video I made that you can watch in part 2 of this series was produced for this project with the Bassetti Foundation playing roles in both.

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Part 5, Responsible Innovation in Italy: The Bassetti Foundation

The Bassetti Foundation

The Bassetti Foundation has long been a leader in the field of Responsible Innovation. Founded in 1993, the foundations has dedicated its website, experts and funding capacities to promote the idea of Responsible Innovation. To put that into context, they were probably the first to use this type of terminology, and for many years a search for the term on the Internet led only to their website.

I have been collaborating with the foundation since 2003, so the book tells an insider story. Chapter 4 of my book Responsible Innovation, a Narrative Approach is dedicated entirely to the work and development of the foundation as it stands today.

The chapter contains an interview with President Piero Bassetti, in which he discusses a broad swathe of questions about responsibility in innovation. How can we define responsibility? How can we decide what is right and what is wrong? What is the role of politics (and politicians) in innovation? Who are innovators responsible to? How can we deal with unknown (and unknowable) risk? Just to name a few!

This chapter also introduces Bassetti’s concept of Poiesis-intensive Innovation. This concept addresses forms of innovation that are not science or investment heavy, but are born through knowledge of how to do things (skills) and are driven by goals that differ from those commonly thought of or analyzed in mainstream innovation or business studies (aiming for beauty, or being directed by certain beliefs or philosophies for example).

This concept is not easy to understand, but if we imagine an innovation process that is driven by craft approaches rather than rational investment approaches we are getting close to the idea.

These forms of innovation occur in workshops or sheds, and is not based within mass production or necessarily have that as a goal, allowing creativity to take the lead. This is a core argument for this book, because the main question asked is how similar (or different) are innovation practices in a workshop to those in a laboratory? We will come this in later chapters as I describe experience in both types of workplace.

The Bassetti chapter closes with an analysis of the minutes taken from one of the first foundation meetings. The details that emerge show how forward thinking those present were, as many of the potential problems and issues that innovation brings today were forseen 20 years ago, with questions raised about how they might be addressed.

But I don’t want to spoil the experience and give too much away, it’s all in the book.

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Part 4, European Governance within Responsible Innovation

This week we take a look at Chapter 3 of the book Responsible Innovation, a Narrative Approach, that you can download here.

The European Commission Approach

The European Commission has its own take on responsible innovation (RI) and its own acronym. In these circles the term RRI is used, standing for Responsible Research and Innovation, reflecting the use of the concept within its research funding mechanisms. This terminology has been in use since (about) 2011, and since then RRI has become a cross-cutting issue in the most recent calls for research funding after steadily growing in importance.

For those who may not know, the European commission funds research throughout and beyond Europe, publishing calls for project proposals that fit within different categories. This fits within a policy of promoting innovation as an economic driver, following the line that innovation will bring jobs and economic growth.

The RRI inclusion brings in the idea that this research should work towards addressing some of the societal challenges that EU citizens face. This idea grows out of EU treaties, as do the ways that the idea of RRI are put into practice.

The challenges are the following:

  • Health, demographic change and wellbeing
  • Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy
  • Secure, clean and efficient energy
  • Smart, green and integrated transport
  • Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials
  • Europe in a changing world – inclusive, innovative and reflective societies
  • Secure societies – protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens.

It’s difficult to work out exactly how much money we are talking about here, but somewhere in the region of 70 billion Euros over 7 years for the current funding program, a figure that is put around 500 billion for the coming call. The book details where you can find all of the documents that explain how and why this path is being followed.

How to Proceed?

Within the approach there are several issues that each research project must address:

 Public Engagement

  • the establishment of inclusive participatory multi-actor dialogues between researchers, policy makers, industry and civil society organizations, NGOs, and citizens;
  • to foster mutual understanding and co-create research and innovation outcomes and policy agendas effective in tackling societal challenges,
  • fostering wider acceptability of results.

Open Access

Making research findings available free of charge for readers. This has been a core strategy in the European Commission to improve knowledge circulation and thus innovation. It is illustrated in particular by the general principle for open access to scientific publications in Horizon 2020 and the pilot for research data.

Gender

  • Fostering gender balance in research teams, in order to close the gaps in the participation of women.
  • Ensuring gender balance in decision-making, in order to reach the target of 40% of the under-represented sex in panels and groups and of 50% in advisory groups.
  • Integrating the gender dimension in research and innovation (R&I) content, helps improve the scientific quality and societal relevance of the produced knowledge, technology and/or innovation.

Ethics

Amongst others, the following ethical issues must be addressed:

  • the involvement of children, patients, vulnerable populations,
  • the use of human embryonic stem cells,
  • privacy and data protection issues,
  • research on animals and non-human primates.

Science education

A sustainable and cross-cutting interaction between the relevant actors in the field is crucial:

  • different levels of the education system,
  • universities and other higher education establishments,
  • research and innovation funding and performing organizations,
  • civil society organizations and NGO’s,
  • industry, policy-makers,
  • professors,
  • teachers,
  • students and pupils,
  • Science museums and science centres.

The book chapter goes into greater detail, before offering an overview of several of the projects that have been completed over recent years through this mechanism, which I hope offers a more concrete idea of how this money is being used.

The chapter concludes with an interview with René von Schomberg, widely seen as the architect of this move. I have written a previous post about him here, but the book offers more detail gained through a series of interviews.

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Part 3, The Academic Approach to Responsible Innovation

In part 3 of this series we return to chapter 2 of the downloadable book.

Academic Books about Responsible Innovation

If we want to get an overview of the academic approach, we have to start with the first collection of articles in English: Responsible Innovation, Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society, published in 2013 and edited by Richard Owen, John Bessant and Maggie Heintz . This collection set the groundwork by addressing many of the themes that were to follow:

1. Identifying and managing the risks of innovation in the present and future

2. Building reflexive capacity into science and innovation to identify and manage the unanticipated wider impacts of innovation

3. Opening up dialogue around innovation and emerging technologies to understand wider acceptability and public concerns

4. Regulation, governance and adaptive management

5. Key questions regarding the concepts of responsibility, accountability and liability.

The book includes the influential concept of Value Sensitive Design from Jeroen van den Hoven that I mentioned in part one of this series alongside addressing the fundamental issues of governance, problems of communicating science, debate and dialogue, anticipation and hype.

A further font of publication has been the S.NET group. S.NET is the Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies, with their series of publications leading the way with an entire collection related to the governance of science and scientific research.

The International Handbook on Responsible Innovation is the newest collection, edited by Rene von Schomberg and myself. Released in 2019, the handbook gathers together 65 authors and 36 chapters bringing together the main developments within the field since its inception.

The publishers Springer have a book series called Responsible Innovation that offers articles based upon work presented at a series of responsible innovation conferences hosted by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. Many of the authors are Dutch, reflecting the importance of the Netherlands in the development of a particular standpoint on RI born from its governmental funded Responsible Innovation project.

Themes Addressed

One of the themes that is prevalent in the academic debate (and also from an EU perspective, something that I will look at in part 4), is public deliberation and involvement in the research process. As the field of responsible innovation has developed, this topic has become a core issue, as the idea that innovation should work for the public good must be based on an understanding of what the public want. This is not an unproblematic field however, as politics and power relations play their respective roles, and lots of literature has aimed to raise these issues (see the book chapter for further details).

A further group of researchers have embarked upon ethnographic fieldwork in order to find some answers to various questions about what actually happens if researchers aim to put a responsible innovation process into practice in real life settings, recounting their experiences (including about how their actions were interpreted by those involved).

Factors that come up include material barriers to participation and various issues related to the difficulty of stakeholder involvement, language and communication, politics, power, selection of public, alongside a host of others that are typical to the social sciences in general.

Journal of Responsible Innovation

As the name suggests, this journal is dedicated to responsible innovation. It is currently in its seventh volume, and represents about a third of all journal publications that address the issue of responsible innovation. From January 2021 the journal will be open access (it currently contains a mix of open access and paywall articles), containing articles from across the field that address all of the aspects so far discussed and much more from a host of different perspectives and standpoints.

The Bassetti Foundation website contains a series of reviews of the journal (each article is summarized), all of which are available here.

Several other journals publish academic articles about responsible innovation, names and details are available in the book.

Summary

There is a lot of academic literature out there, much of which is available open access. The field is very wide and multidisciplinary which means there is great variety. The academic field is only one of many within responsible innovation though, next week we will look at another, European governance approaches and policies regarding research funding.

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Part 2 The Responsible Innovation Circus Rolls into Town

A lighthearted view of Responsible Innovation

Alternative Teaching Methods for Responsible Innovation

There are many ways of presenting complex arguments about ethics, and some interesting examples of theatre in use. The embedded video above was made for the final closing conference of a European Union funded project ROSIE.

The video presents a light-hearted look at the problems faced when trying to introduce the RI concept to small businesses. It was made in character (following the tradition of action theatre in academic use as a teaching tool for ethics) and addresses the problem of the gap found between the language used in RI publications (of all sorts) and that used in the small business world.

It uses a circus metaphor to represent the balancing act prescribed through various EU and Standards documentation related to Responsible Innovation, using the balance metaphor for a high-wire walk and their prescribed goals and approaches as juggling balls.

In making this video I was very much influenced by a US based university professor who uses radio plays, theatre and art in his teaching that he produces himself.

Richard G Epstein

Richard G Epstein works in the Department of Computer Science, West Chester University of PA, where he teaches courses on computer science, software engineering and computer security and ethics.

His university home page provides access to some of his publications, and I would like to have a look at three of them. He produces teaching aids that are extremely entertaining and require no technical understanding.

Artistic Work

The Case Of The Killer Robot is a series of fake newspaper articles that report the story of an accident at work involving an industrial robot and its operator. The early articles are descriptions of the accident but as the work moves on it slides into legal and ethical territory. Who is actually guilty for the malfunctioning of the machine and who should be held legally responsible? One of the programmers is found to have misunderstood a piece of code scrawled on a post-it and his translation error is deemed to have caused the death, so he is charged with manslaughter.

The reporters visit the factory and interview fellow workers, producing articles within which they reveal problems within the organization and managerial team and slander the poor programmer’s personality, all in perfect local journalism hack style. They have expert interviews and uncover both design faults and personal differences between members of the development strategy team.

The issue of responsibility is really brought to the fore, although in a fictional setting the ethical dilemmas faced during the development and working practices involved are laid bare. It makes for a very entertaining and thought provoking read.

The Plays

The second work I recommend is one of the author’s plays entitled The Sunshine Borgs. The play is set in the near future and tells the story of a bitter ex-playwright who has lost his job and seen the demise of human participation in the arts caused by the development of computer programmes that write plays and music for human consumption.

The play investigates the threat that high power “intelligent” computing could pose to human creativity. Robots have taken over as actors, lovers, authors and just about everything else. Pain and suffering, poverty and crime have been all but eradicated but has humanity lost its passion? The play contains a twist that I won’t reveal and the writing style even manages to portray the effect that working in a computer environment can have on language use and thought processes.

The Author describes this work as a comedy but it is too close to the bone to make you really laugh. Questions such as the legal rights of robots and the possibility of charging a human with robot abuse are raised when the main character’s unwanted robot companion commits suicide as a result of the playwright trying to educate a soul into his hated but extremely useful houseguest.


Another of his plays entitled NanoBytes addresses the problem of nanotechnology, an interesting story of the head of a nanotechnologies company and a small mishap regarding molecular sized computers that can be injected into people in order to stop anti-social behaviour. A much shorter read but with some equally interesting twists and an insightful tongue in cheek description of American family and business life.

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Part 1, Responsible Innovation, an Overview

The first part of this introductory course looks at chapter 1 of the book Responsible Innovation, a Narrative Approach, free to download here.  These posts offer a guide to the book, a kind of online lecture series. The questions raised in the book relate to the development of new technologies, from the governance perspective but also from the perspective of those working within various research and development projects.

Responsible Innovation, an Overview

The aim of this week’s post is to introduce the concept of responsible innovation and some definitions that we find in use today, look at the aims and goals proposed and the backgrounds (both political and academic) that allowed the development of the concept and the definitions.

We can understand responsible innovation as having the goal of managing the development of technology while it is still possible to do so, so at its early stages of development. It grows out of a tradition of technology assessment, a process put into place (often by governments) whose aim is to assess new technologies before they come to the marketplace in order to address possible risks and suitability for introduction.

Responsible innovation adds an idea to this approach: Rather than just looking at risk and suitability it proposes the idea that innovation could be steered towards public good. So it should have public good as a goal, as well as not being risky etc.

In order to be able to do this there must be a possibility of developing and adapting the development process. In its design stage it should take into account this goal and aim at resolving pressing public issues. To do this though the process must be flexible and steerable. This brings into discussion when in the process these things can be done, presenting us with a dilemma: If the intervention comes too late, the development process will be fixed and difficult to change, but in the very earliest stages it may not be possible to see how the developments will be used. In the one case change is difficult to bring, in the other it may be difficult to determine what we are actually dealing with.

Nanotechnology development offers an easy to understand example, and it has been a driver in the thinking process. But in general terms we can see the move to responsible innovation one from assessment of technology to the management of its development.

This has been implemented here in Europe by the European Commission and various other UK Research Funding bodies. In order to get a more precise idea of what we are dealing with, we need some form of definition .

Definitions in Common Use

As we are dealing with a new and emerging field, there are several definitions in use today. We start with the most widely used, that of René von Schomberg, who describes responsible innovation as:

a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view to the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products (in order to allow a proper embedding of scientific and technological advances in our society).

This definition has been influential within the European Commission as von Schomberg works within the Directorate General for Research and Innovation. The Commission has also published various papers and its own variations, links to which you can find in the book.

The definition here refers to several of these EU documents, and is drawn from an understanding of the actual treaties and agreements that make up membership of the European Union and have been agreed by the nation states (the Treaty of Rome and Lund declaration for example). It uses what von Schomberg calls normative anchor points that can steer towards positive benefits.

The second most widely used definition comes from Stilgoe, Owen & MacNaghten. This definition comes from a research council background, and was devised based upon public debate on science and technology in the UK:

Responsible research and innovation means taking collective care for the future, through stewardship of innovation in the present

This definition comes from an article that describes the idea in more detail, a description of which is in the chapter. The definition is based on an idea of science for society, and has 4 dimensions that have become fundamental for responsible innovation. It should be:

anticipatory (describing and analysing both intended and potentially unintended impacts); reflective (on underlying purposes, motivations and potential impacts); deliberative (inclusively opening up visions, purposes, questions and dilemmas); responsive (a collective reflexivity process sets innovation direction and influences its trajectory)

These ideas have led to a lot of public involvement at early stages in development processes.

Van den Hoven offers a vision of the role of design (read more in the book) describing the process as one of moral overload: How can you design something that is user-friendly, secure, cheap, durable, environmentally friendly, stylish and saleable at the same time?

There are several other definitions in the book too, from different backgrounds and which use different language.  I think that’s enough for today though.

It’s not a complicated subject. It’s a question. Could innovation work better for society, and if so how do we get it to do so?