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About Responsible innovation

Responsible Innovation aims to better align both the process and outcomes of research and innovation with the values, needs and expectations of society.

Innovative products and services in the areas of smart homes and smart health hold great potential to improve the well-being of people. When done right, such innovations can also help to address societal challenges, such as aging societies, mass migration, and environmental degradation. However, uncertainty is inherent to research, development and innovation activities. The implications of novel products, processes or business models for society and the environment are often difficult to anticipate. Dealing with these uncertainties in a responsible manner is key to staying competitive and bringing innovations to market.

This is where Responsible Innovation can help. Responsible Innovation involves:

  • Respecting ethical limitations

    Many companies feel the pressure to innovate ever faster to stay competitive. For citizens, the speed of development of new products, services, technologies and business models can be overwhelming. Policy makers struggle to provide the frameworks and rules that can maximize the potential of innovation for the common good, while effectively dealing with risks and ethical concerns they raise. Ethical frameworks can help deal with this problem by outlining the values, concerns and limitations that research, development and innovation should respect. Ethical limitations can vary in different cultural and legal contexts – ignoring ethical limitations, however, poses the risk of losing social license to operate. This is why, maybe counterintuitively, ethical limitations are good news for innovation. They provide guidance in a space of uncertainty and ensure that new technologies are not only acceptable, but also desirable for society.

  • Involving those affected

    Almost all creativity that goes into innovating is geared toward solving problems. Many companies have already learned that diverse teams and diversity in management can be great drivers of creativity and are better at solving problems than homogeneous ones. When it comes to innovating for users and application areas outside the company, involving those affected can be equally effective in enhancing creative thinking and problem solving.Concepts like open innovation and lead-user innovation have provided methods for leveraging this potential for companies. What responsible innovation adds to the equation is the ambition to make involvement meaningful and beneficial not only for the innovators, but also for the diverse stakeholders involved in open and lead-lead user processes. Considering both sides as equally important and striving for true co-creation can help overcome innovation barriers and increase societal acceptance, desirability and accessibility of innovation outcomes.

  • Balancing interests

    Different groups and individuals have very different expectations toward innovations and those that develop them. While some may hope to directly benefit and see an improvement of some sort in their life, others may worry about unintended consequences (such as the potential for weaponization of new technologies or potentially harmful long-term effects to health). Many innovations are hotly disputed when they first enter the market and the homes of users.Responsible Innovation encourages innovators to take both user needs and concerns seriously. This means communicating at eye level with those affected – for instance by explaining technologies in use rather than in abstract technical terms. It also means being transparent and accountable about how innovations are created, implemented and scaled. This creates trust and limits the risk of rejection of innovations at a late stage of development or market deployment.

  • Anticipating impacts

    Technology impact assessment is a well-established practice in many companies. However, such assessments are often one-time exercises at a relatively advanced stage of innovation processes, when significant costs have already been incurred. Systematically embedding impact assessment into all stages of the innovation process can help to recognise risks and potentially detrimental impacts at an early stage. However, anticipating impacts is not just about avoiding harm but also about actively seeking business opportunities in areas where innovations can do the most good. Involving users and other stakeholders in evaluating potential risks and impacts beyond purely technical concerns is an important part of this. Failing quicker and earlier in the innovation process can help avoid sunk costs and direct innovation processes toward those fields where innovators can make a positive contribution to society.

  • Co-designing systems

    The most radical and successful innovations do not come from improving existing products or technologies but from re-designing whole systems. The sharing economy, for instance, does not rely on new innovative products but has redefined the way products and services are distributed, consumed and paid for. Co-designing innovations at the systems level helps to find holistic solutions for complex problems. Looking beyond the boundaries of a company's core business also opens up completely new spaces for innovation and can help identify new business opportunities.

  • Building capacity

    Responsible innovation requires the building up of new skills and capacities within companies. In many cases, it can also mean linking and combining the capacity already present within different parts of a company. For instance, responsible innovation can profit from linking Corporate Social Responsibility and innovation capacities in a way that empowers both. It strengthens Corporate Social Responsibility by linking it with core business. It strengthens innovation performance by drawing on established procedures and tools for ensuring that innovators consider users, societal needs and future impacts from the start.

For more information, please turn to Responsible Research and Innovation in Industry–Challenges, Insights and Perspectives.