British Standards Institution Call for Comments: Responsible Innovation

Those of you interested in how the responsible innovation debate has begun to take hold in the business world might like to take a look at a call for input from the British Standards Institution. They are developing a Standard on Responsible Innovation.

Many of you may have seen the Kite Mark symbol above on various things you have bought but maybe not thought about what it is or how it is awarded, so here I offer a bit of insider information.

The British Standards Institute has published a draft of a standard on responsible innovation and await (your) comments, which can be made (after free registration) until 29 October 2019 as part of a typical timeline for the development of a published Standard. The draft document is published through the BSI website linked above with a view to amendments on the draft and publication in 2020.

What are Standards?

Taken from the BSI website, Standards are described as:

an agreed way of doing something. It could be about making a product, managing a process, delivering a service or supplying materials – standards can cover a huge range of activities undertaken by organizations and used by their customers.

The distilled wisdom of people with expertise in their subject matter and who know the needs of the organizations they represent – people such as manufacturers, sellers, buyers, customers, trade associations, users or regulators.

They are designed for voluntary use, you’re not forced to follow a set of rules that make life harder for you, you’re offered ways to do your work better.

Standards are knowledge. They are powerful tools that can help drive innovation and increase productivity. They can make organizations more successful and people’s everyday lives easier, safer and healthier.


The British Standards Institution

The role of the BSI is described on the website as:

the UK’s National Standards Body (NSB), representing UK economic and social interests across all European and international standards organizations. Working with many different industries, businesses, governments and consumers to develop British, European and international standards, that are developed by dedicated panels of experts, within technical committees.

A standard undergoes various stages of development, beginning with the Proposal stage, which is aimed at affirming the market need for a standard. Once a proposal for a standard is approved, the relevant panel of experts in the area is tasked with drafting the standard, as per internationally agreed principles of standards development.

As soon as a draft is mature enough, it undergoes public consultation when it is made available for anyone to view and comment (Public comment stage, the stage that this draft is now in). Every public comment BSI receives on a draft standard is considered by the relevant panel of experts and BSI staff and the final published standard is updated as appropriate.

Following public consultation and before a draft can become a published standard, it undergoes further edits until the panel is satisfied with its quality and only when consensus has been reached.

The standard is a specification, working practices are described that the business can aim to work towards. It is a sort of tutoring system to help businesses work towards a set of goals, in this case a responsible innovation approach.

So if you have time why not have a look at what they are proposing? And maybe comment. It might help its development and even work towards making the world a more responsible place.

The EU Vision on Research and Innovation

The European Union has a system of research and innovation funding that is divided into blocks of time. We are now coming to the end of Horizon 2020, started in 2014 and about to close next year, and over this period the EU has invested somewhere in the region of 80 billion Euros in innovation and research across the EU.

It’s a lot of money by anyone’s standards.

The concept of responsible innovation that I have been writing about in this series (RI) has been adopted by the EU in a slightly changed format. The EU use the term Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in all of their documents, as they are funding research and innovation and not just innovation. The RRI concept has been applied to all of the recent blocks of funding to a different degree, over time it has developed and become ever more important, to the point that today it is a ‘cross cutting issue’.

That means that anyone applying for funding has to address the issue of responsibility within the research project.

What the EU are looking to do is to steer research by funding those projects that address what they call the ‘grand societal challenges’ faced by the European population. These challenges are as follows:

  • 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.

All of the contents within these challenges are spelt out on the EU website here, so for example the food security challenge explanation begins with:

A transition is needed towards an optimal and renewable use of biological resources and towards sustainable primary production and processing systems. These systems will need to produce more food, fibre and other bio-based products with minimised inputs, environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions, and with enhanced ecosystem services, zero waste and adequate societal value.

Each challenge has a short description like this one above and then a more in depth explanation of the goals and aims and an extensive workplan.

So all of the above should be done while following an RRI approach, so what might that be?

From another section of the website:

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) implies that societal actors (researchers, citizens, policy makers, business, third sector organisations, etc.) work together during the whole research and innovation process in order to better align both the process and its outcomes with the values, needs and expectations of society.

In practice, RRI is implemented as a package that includes multi-actor and public engagement in research and innovation, enabling easier access to scientific results, the take up of gender and ethics in the research and innovation content and process, and formal and informal science education.

All done via actions on thematic elements of RRI (public engagement, open access, gender, ethics, science education), and via integrated actions that for example promote institutional change, to foster the uptake of the RRI approach by stakeholders and institutions.

This really is a concerted effort carried out on a massive scale, with the aim of steering the research and innovation process via a funding policy based on objectives.

In my next post I will describe some of the projects that have been funded so we can see what this actually looks like on the ground.

Some Free Reading Materials about Responsible Innovation

Last week I opened a discussion about responsibility in technological innovation, and this week I would like to have a look at some (free to access) literature on the subject from a few different perspectives.

SELF DRIVING CARS

There are a couple of really interesting documents to begin with. The journal Glocalism has an article written by Jack Stilgoe about his experiences of test driving a Tesla and his thoughts on the world that self driving technology might bring. Stilgoe is well known in this field, a university Professor who also writes for the Guardian newspaper he can communicate across the spectrum.

The abstract reads as follows: “In the last five years, investment and innovation in self-driving cars has accelerated dramatically. Automotive autonomy, once seen as impossible, is now sold as inevitable. Much of the governance discussion has centred on risk: will the cars be safer than their human-controlled counterparts? As with conventional cars, harder long-term questions relate to the future worlds that self-driving technologies might enable or even demand. The vision of an autonomous vehicle – able to navigate the world’s complexity using only its sensors and processors – on offer from companies like Tesla is intentionally misleading. So-called “autonomous” vehicles will depend upon webs of social and technical connectivity. For their purported benefits to be realized, infrastructures that were designed around humans will need to be upgraded in order to become machine-readable. It is vital to anticipate the politics of self-driving worlds in order to avoid exacerbating the inequalities that have emerged around conventional cars. Rather than being dazzled by the Tesla view, policymakers should start seeing like a city, from multiple perspectives. Good governance for self-driving cars means democratizing experimentation and creating genuine collaboration between companies and local governments.”

You can read his piece online or download it for free here.

Another document that you might want to download for free is the Responsibility Driven Design for the Future Self-driving Society booklet from Fabio Besti and Francesco Samore.

This is a full colour picture book that addresses the role that design plays in the development of the technology and the way this development will change the world. This is a free 75 page downloadable booklet divided into various sections that includes a section on workshops held as part of a university course and that raises a lot of questions about what the future of autonomous mobility will look like, the claims made by those who promote the idea, and examples of projects already underway. I myself wrote the conclusion.

FOOD

I also have another free to access co-authored article in the journal Glocalism about food procurement that is in many ways related to the photo I used on last week’s post. The question raised in this article is about sustainability and choices made over what food we buy. Is it more responsible to try to buy local produce than imported foods? This is also free to download here.

ENGINEERING

IEEE Spectrum is the blog attached to one the largest engineering journals in the world, and you can find an overview blog post on responsible innovation here.

This post again raises the issue of engineering responsibility and by extension engineers’ responsibility in the innovation process.

CRITIQUE

As we might imagine all of the above is not entirely unproblematic, as this post on the University of Nottingham blog demonstrates. This is quite an old article as it comes from 2014 and time moves quickly in such a rapidly developing field, but it raises lots of interesting and fundamental questions that we are still battling with today.

Next week I will introduce the European Union perspective and take a look at some of their documents, reports and projects.