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.

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.

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.