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.

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.

Responsible Innovation, a Free Introductory Course (with book)

Introduction

As readers might know, I am a great champion of open access publications. One of the great things that the inclusion of the concept of Responsible Innovation into European Union policy has been the explosion of open access reports and books.

These reports etc. are written by people who are at the top of their fields, and they have generally been written in a more accessible way so that non experts can understand them. If you scroll back over the last year you will find many of them reviewed on the website.

Last year I was fortunate enough to work on editing a book, it is available as hardback, or on download, but is not free. It is a commercial publication and I have to admit in my line of work that we do need publishers, and they need to make money. So it’s not free.

Last month I had another book published through the University of Bergamo. This time though it is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle format but also on free download via the University. Therefore, anybody who would like to download it and have a look is free to do so. And I would like to offer a guide through it.

But what is it about? I hear you say.

Follow The Book Online

Over the coming weeks I am going to write a series of posts that offer an overview, to see if I can tempt you into buying a paperback or downloading it. But we could say that it’s about decision-making in innovation. Broader than that it is about how people who work together cooperate to build and share an understanding of what the right way to do something is.

Can we see this ‘right way of doing it’ as being constructed right there, in the workplace? What if some of the team changes and new people with new ideas come in? How might that change the way things are viewed?

These questions can be addressed to any workplace, but (as we might imagine on Technologybloggers), my interest is in how technology is developed and how the trajectory of this development path is steered.

This might not seem like an important question at first glance, but I think it is. The development of systems and disruptive technologies brings huge changes, and the questions asked during this development process change it, making its possibilities change.

Ask not what the technology can do for you, but how you can affect its development.

The COVID crisis had led to innovation across entire systems. The trajectory of a wide range of technologies has been changed by users. We have expanded the list of the right ways to work with tools (that may be programs or infrastructure, 3D printers or networks.

Returning to the book. The chapters can be read independently, so I am going to offer an overview each week of the questions raised. If you would like to follow the narration with a book, just download your free copy here. I will try to provide you with a University level Introduction to Responsible Innovation course.

I hope to make you curiouser and curiouser.