Think, News, Knowledge

Responsible innovation: How does it work?

14 July 2023

"Technology is neither good, nor bad; nor is it neutral." once stated Melvin Kranzberg, a US American historian of technology. Innovations are not good or bad per se - but always connected with an intention. They arise in certain situations, due to specific needs and also against the background of the people involved.

This has not only been clear since today. As early as the 1960s, so-called "technology assessment" emerged as a subfield of research in the philosophy and sociology of technology to assess the (economic, ecological and social) side effects of technologies on their environment. The basic problem here is (experts speak of the "Collingridge dilemma"): As long as a technology is not sufficiently developed, it is difficult to assess its effects. On the other hand, as the level of development increases, it becomes more difficult to control consequences.

With the rapidly increasing influence of technology companies, there is a growing call for responsible innovation (so-called. Responsible Research Innovation "RRI).

More than ever, not only the usability of developments, but also negative consequences such as misuse, an unintended use or unforeseen consequences must be included in the planning and justified to stakeholders.

The fine line on which this demand moves is currently evident in the EU in the regulation of artificial intelligence: Innovation should become more responsible - At the same time, the industry fears location disadvantages due to too tight regulations.

It is necessary to balance stakeholder interests and differing value systems, prudence, competitive advantages, benefits and risks.


In addition to classic governance measures such as regulation and standardization, companies themselves have two main means of making innovation more responsible:

  • The provision of new (primarily scientific) knowledge, insights, and assessments: the spectrum of methods for impact assessment is broad and ranges from so-called "impact assessments", potential analyses, modeling, empirical surveys and analyses to scenario development[1].
  • The installation of participatory approaches, to stakeholders and their alternative knowledge in every development step, e.g. in so-called "Communitis of Practice" or workshops.


The following recurring steps can serve as a guideline for companies[2]:

  • "Anticipate": Describe and analyze possible impacts (intended and unintended) that may result from the innovation. This is not about predictions, but about exploring different perspectives (economic, social, environmental).
  • "Reflect": Make reflections regarding the motivations, motivations and possible consequences of various uncertainties in the project, such as ignorance, framings, questions, dilemmas and possible social changes.
  • "Engage": Make visions, consequences, questions accessible to a wider audience in dialogue.
  • "Act": Use your insights to influence the direction of innovation.


In addition to innovation-specific evaluation aspects, the Guide[3] of the British Standards Institution for "Responsible Innovation" as central to define responsible persons for the individual steps.

The question is: Who is responsible for being responsible?

Too often, it is assumed that duty is found "at the top" of the company. Managers are expected to act conscientiously. Managers, in turn, rely on risk management or the executive board.

However, a broader commitment is definitely indicated. Depending on the case, it makes sense to involve the following groups:

  • Co-developer of the innovation (e.g., other companies, business partners within the value chain, technology suppliers, and industry stakeholders).
  • Market representative, consumers and end users
  • Regulators and standardization authorities
  • NGOs representing specific groups (e.g. patient organizations, environmental groups).
  • Individual citizensthat may be influenced by an innovation


It is advisable to start impact assessment before the innovation reaches a "point of no return."

Furthermore, the entire process must be understood in an agile manner and in terms of interactive consensus building. The so-called "Consequence Scanning" serves this purpose.[4] , which revisits three questions to record changes and their causes:

  • What are the intended and unintended consequences of a product or function?
  • What are the positive outcomes we want to focus on?
  • Which consequences do we want to mitigate?


The impact of a technology/innovation and its future developments can be addressed and managed within a structured framework.

The challenge for all involved remains to think innovation through critically, creatively and systematically, to take responsibility and to engage in a broad and open exchange of views.

There are many reasons to innovate wisely and responsibly. Let's go, let's ask the "uncomfortable" questions together!






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