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

Aneta Piperkova
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?

Milica Miloševic
Director, Stetoskop.info


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.