Why is responsible innovation beneficial?
Zachary J. Davis
Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering
Team Manager at the Danish Technological Institute
Technological innovation needs to become more responsive to societal challenges and concerns, to stay in line with the increasing demand for accountability within tech development through new laws, policies and quality standards. Institutions and organisations working in research and innovation are subject to increasing public and political scrutiny. The European Commission puts a strong emphasis on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This is also starting to incorporate industry and business which will be asked to make efforts to shape their activities and performance in ways that are socially desirable and ethically acceptable.
With this guide, our mission is to strengthen the RRI and CSR movement by creating ways for the tech industry and the wider innovation ecosystem to include societal engagement within business processes. Our view is that, with increasing requirements for accountability, companies should have the know how, methods and tools for the new direction towards fully responsible tech innovation.
Responsible innovation is more than just top down accountability. It is also about:
- Taking care of your business’ reputation.
- Responding to a customer driven demand for responsible innovation.
- Boosting morale amongst your employees who gain a greater sense of purpose in their work when societal values are considered.
- Building a stronger network of partners, stakeholders, clients and customers through societal engagement.
- Increasing your own sense of contributing towards a better future.
The Tech Industry’s Guide is designed to help you find the best approach to make responsible tech innovation possible: by engaging citizens.
Why do we need to consider ethical and societal issues in tech innovation?
Innovative technologies are expected to bring radical changes in society, for example in the interactions between people in situations such as:
- at work where new technologies change the way we communicate, or even transform the nature of work itself
- in health care where technology changes the interaction between patients and doctors
- in public and private urban space where new technologies affect the interactions between strangers
- on a global level in how we, as stakeholders, are engaged in various processes, thereby potentially transforming norms, values and habits
Patient Advocate, Bulgarian Association for Personalized Medicine
Therefore, we need participatory processes to address society’s existing values and subsequently build upon these to formulate new ways forward in tech innovation processes, policies and governance. The current approach is to engage citizens indirectly, through political, cultural and academic platforms, but the information does not necessarily reach the tech industry. Our mission with this guide is to forge a more direct link between the tech industry and citizens, so that nothing gets lost in translation. The citizens’ perspective can directly feed into your innovation processes, while your company can benefit from the stronger reputation, satisfied clients and customers, more relevant tech development, larger network and ethical contribution to society.
What is your company’s motivation and goal in engaging citizens?
Having explained what societal engagement is, and why it is beneficial in general terms, it is now time to start thinking about your company’s own interest in engaging with citizens. Defining your motivation and setting a clear goal will help you to make further decisions as to how to organise the whole process. Which of the reasons mentioned above –reputation, employee morale, relevance, new opportunities, network, contribution to positive impact –apply to your company’s ambitions? What would you like to get specifically out of discussions with citizens?
It might be useful to start having conversations with your colleagues to find out about the company’s ambitions and how societal engagement could be a resolution. Setting a clear goal is, in particular, challenging as it requires asking yourself critical questions about the current approach to tech innovation. To what extent are you in control over the implementation of your technology? Can you predict all the positive and negative consequences of an application? How will you mitigate the negative impact? It is not just about answering such critical questions, but also about formulating new ones to hold up a mirror to your own company’s approach. Above all, ask yourself as a company: which insight can citizens provide me, that we do not have?
How can users help in the creation of new modern technologies?
The Tech Industry’s Guide has been created as part of the EU-funded SocKETs project, which aims to align innovative technologies with citizens’ needs and values through societal engagement. This 3-year project is coordinated by the Danish Board of Technology with partners from six countries.
This guide and its contents reflect only their authors’ view. The Research Executive Agency and the European Commission are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.
The SocKETs project (Societal Engagement with Key Enabling Technologies) has received funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation under grant agreement no.958277.
Case Example: ethical issues from citizens’ perspective
When discussion ethical issues regarding implementation of AI in the manufacturing industry it is extremely important to engage with citizens and other effected actors. By doing so you get insights from people that only have their own options at stake. In the Spanish case, they hosted a workshop focusing on the socio-ethical issues of implementing AI into manufacturing and especially issues regarding the future of work.
At the workshop there were first an expert talk on the subject, a panel discussion, and an exercise where the participants discussed different issues regarding AI in manufacturing. The discussion raised concerns above several issues including:
- Minorities: the absence of women as role models in AI.
- Education of kids and specially girls into STEM disciplines.
- Education on becoming aware of implications of AI.
- Privacy: how can it be assured using AI à protection of data.
- To promote critical thinking about new technologies.
- Importance of role models that can bridge between industrial needs and the portion of new educational grades.
- Silo-mentality between social and natural science.
- Unemployment due to the adoption of AI.
- Mental and physical health issues that can emerge due to AI in the workplace.
All in all, the workshop gave new perspectives on the concerns that are related to the adaption of AI. This information can be used to understand the non-technical side of implementation of AI in manufacturing.
Questions to consider
To answer the following questions about the motivation to undertake societal engagement in your company, use the direct link below for the relevant page in the PDF Guidebook..
- Why would you like to bring in more societal engagement into your company?
- In which ways would you like to bring in more societal engagement?
- What would you like to find out about the perspectives and values of citizens in regard to the type of technology being developed by your company?
- To which extent is there a sense of accountability in your company, and to whom?
- How do you think citizens perceive your technology?
Setting the goal
Setting a goal for societal engagement is the key to subsequently choosing the right method and approach to achieve the desired outcomes. The easiest way to arrive at a goal is to ask yourself a diversity of critical questions. Below are examples of such questions, but it is beneficial to formulate your own questions which apply to your tech industry’s focus.