Background

Responsible Innovation research identifies the ethical and societal aspects of technological innovations – products and services – at an early stage, so that they can be taken into account in the design process. Considering ethical and societal questions at an early stage creates more support in society and helps prevent innovations from unnecessarily coming to a standstill.

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This approach will lead to the identification of the ethical and societal aspects of the proposed products and services, an understanding of the questions and objections they might generate and concrete recommendations for the design process. The last of these is the key objective of the Responsible Innovation approach. By taking this approach, responsible innovations can be created that can count on broad support.

Convincing results

The Responsible Innovation approach has matured into a tried and tested formula. The results are convincing:

  • A research project into cyber bullying has yielded ways of offering online support to victims, one of which takes the form of a virtual buddy.
  • A research project involving intensive collaboration from vehicle manufacturer DAF is researching how to ensure that technologies for driving more economically and safely actually work in practice. The results will be used to train drivers and in design for driving support systems, fore example.
  • Researchers working on a project about autonomous weapon systems have advised the UN Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions about drones and autonomous lethal weapons.

Opportunities for top sectors and the business community

The Responsible Innovation approach presents numerous opportunities for the Dutch top sectors and the business community. Rather than impeding growth and opportunities in the market, addressing innovations in a societally responsible manner can actually speed them up. Because ethical and societal aspects can be taken into account early in the design process, complex and cost-increasing adjustments later on can be avoided. This provides opportunities for better products and services through societally inspired innovations.

A successful pilot was carried out in 2013 as part of the then new top sector policy. Ten short-term research projects, based on the Responsible Innovation programme, were started in four different top sectors. The programme was subsequently followed up in the top sectors of Agriculture & Food, Horticulture and Starting Materials, Chemistry, Energy (in conjunction with the STEM programme for this top sector), High Tech Systems and Materials (HTSM), Life Sciences & Health (LSH) and Water. In the spring of 2015, 17 new projects were launched, all of which involve researchers and private parties tackling topics that the top sectors and scientists had jointly put on the agenda.

Societal Challenges

The Responsible Innovation programme has links with the European Societal Challenges, where Responsible Research & Innovation is a cross-cutting issue in the European programme Horizon 2020. In Brussels, Responsible Innovation has become a benchmark for European initiatives in this field, and this example is being followed internationally.

Platform for Responsible Innovation

The importance of the NWO Responsible Innovation programme is widely recognised, thanks to the experience and expertise gained and with the help of the NWO-MVI community. In 2016, the research programme developed into a platform for responsible innovation to provide information, inspiration and contacts for researchers, companies, government bodies and societal organisations.