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Home > Focus > Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 4, Issue 2

Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 4, Issue 2

by Jonny Hankins [1], 9 November 2017

In this the second of two posts [2] we review the second issue of Volume 4 of the JRI [3]. This Special Issue on the relationship between Technology Assessment (TA) and Responsible Innovation (RI) is by far the largest published to date, reflecting the journal's success in the field and the ever growing influence of the concept of Responsible Innovation in the academic world.

In his editorial piece Entangled futures and responsibilities in technology assessment, Editor in Chief Erik Fisher explains the logic that underpins the publication of this special issue, arguing that "If TA studies and evaluates new and emerging science and technology, RI develops principles and practices to guide their socially responsible pursuit".

Fisher introduces guest editors Ulrike Bechtold, Daniela Fuchs, and Niklas Gudowsky, before briefly describing each contribution as taking up the role of imagined futures in TA - from visions and prototypes to myths and utopias - and relating these to questions of responsibility, responsiveness, or responsibilization.

The Special Issue then opens with an introduction. In Imagining socio-technical futures - challenges and opportunities for technology assessment, Ulrike Bechtold, Daniela Fuchs and Niklas Gudowsky argue that a "main insight of this special issue is that we need to explore how the debate on imagined socio-technical futures is enriched by concepts such as R(R)I, taking into account that no future can exist without an awareness of the present setting of innovation processes and technology development".

The authors first describe the importance of the study and development of futures both within the TA community and beyond, before summarizing the rationale for the Special Issue as follows: "Considering the different roles TA and adjacent disciplines obtain while assessing, communicating and even co-creating futures - as producer, user and observer - this special issue sets out to investigate the different responsibilities these roles entail and the challenges which arise".

The authors go on to describe movement within TA approaches, drawing in comparative models from within RI and beyond, before describing how the research articles roughly cover three different aspects of the relation between future(s) and TA: how futures are handled; practical implications of the theoretical debate; and "extended TA perspectives".

The guest editors then describe the individual sections of the special issue: Research papers, discussion paper and responses, research perspectives and a pedagogy piece. Within the research papers the issues of Theoretical implications of TA's approach to future(s), Implications for practical settings - future perspectives on selected fields of application and Contributions of other disciplines and approaches to TA are all addressed.

The first research article is Assigning meaning to NEST by technology futures: extended responsibility of technology assessment in RRI by Armin Grunwald.

This article discusses technology futures, which the author describes as "the main medium of assigning social, ethical, and cultural meaning to new and emerging science and technology (NEST)
fields", adding that and it is exactly this meaning which gives rise to public, political, and ethical debates on NEST.

These ascribed meanings are described by the author as the most upstream point in RRI, in that they represent the origin of debate and reasoning around a technology's development, and are thus highly influential on how the debate surrounding such technologies develops and is steered. The conclusion drawn is that the issue of responsibility must also be applied to the construction of such technology futures, a conclusion that brings consequences for TA practices and practitioners.

The second research article is Technology assessment as a myth buster: deconstructing myths around emerging technologies by Helge Torgersen and Daniela Fuchs.

Departing from Roger Pielke's notion that society wades in a flood of (political) myths
when it comes to sociotechnical innovation, the authors aim is to to show that myths are not only a
nuisance, but that they can also yield a valuable resource for TA.

The article offers a series of models to demonstrate how myths related to technologies and their futures develop, arguing that understanding how myths come into life, how they work and what purpose they might serve facilitates their deconstruction and provides a clearer view on the issue at stake and its sociotechnical context. The relationships between technological myth and RRI and TA are explained and a future aim sated of devising a consistent methodology for myth analysis, using
appropriate examples of technological innovation.

The issue continues with Responsibilization through visions by Andreas Lösch, Reinhard Heil & Christoph Schneider.

The paper tries to address the question of "Who is made responsible for particular actions through the practical use of futures and visions in the diverse arenas of innovation processes?" by following the analytical research question "What responsibilities do visions of the future produce in the practices of their use?"

The authors argue that if we analyze what visions do in the corresponding practices of their use, we can also identify how visions contribute to the distribution of responsibilities in the practices of innovation processes, without which there would be no such processes in the first place.

The article analyzes such responsibilizations through visions as socioepistemic practices in experiments with smart grids in Germany, in the global movement of FabLabs that aim to make digital fabrication accessible, and in the case of the discourses on Big Data.

Futures of ageing and technology - comparing different actors' prospective views by Ulrike Bechtold, Leo Capari and Niklas Gudowsky follows the futures argument.

The aim of this paper is to identify and compare different actors' imagined futures in order to gain an understanding of what more robust anticipatory knowledge might look like in the area of ambient active living (AAL).

The authors argue that ambient and assistive technologies (AT) have the potential to increase individual autonomy, social participation and quality of life for ageing populations, and that in looking to implement these technologies, national and supranational funding schemes have strongly supported primarily market-driven research activities. They argue that this means that other societally relevant aspects (such as specific social and cultural contexts) are likely to be underestimated if not neglected, leading them to examine three recent participatory forward-looking technology assessment studies that involved experts, stakeholders and laypersons in discussions about the future of ageing and AT, in order to identify the diverse futures they imagine.

The authors' aim is to show different ways an ageing society of the future can be pictured, and contribute to the discourse on European demographic change as a Grand Challenge.

The authors argue that different actors produce different visions for the future: in Value Ageing (VA), experts sketch scenarios; in Parliaments and Civil society in Technology Assessment (PACITA), it is stakeholders and in Citizens Visions on Science, Technology and Innovation - Ambient Assisted Living (CIVISTI), it is laypersons who develop visions of the future. The article raises the question of how these different futures compare to each other, with the results describing several shared issues of concern but also that different stakeholders hold different positions regarding other issues. Entire standpoints differ in terms of whether they take an optimistic or pessimistic perspective, address data or local privacy, individual behaviour choices and the importance of the recognition of formal and informal care.

As we might imagine, the authors argue that given the different sensibilities and focusses from the different groups, "the involvement of multiple actors has the potential to illuminate multiple layers of one and the same issue", and conclude by calling "for a multi-actor and multi-method foresight approach as a first step to integrating different views in RRI activities in the context of grand challenges such as ageing societies".

The following research article is Imagined technology futures in demand-oriented technology assessment by Michael Decker, Nora Weinberger, Bettina-Johanna Krings and Johannes Hirsch.

This article poses the research question; can we as TA practitioners help stimulate actors to productively imagine options for desirable technological futures in a specific action context? The context chosen is caring for people with dimentia in Germany.

To address the question the article asks whether the process of demand analysis can be used to enable stakeholders and users to envision and assess future technologies following the line suggested: the action context - the care-giving arrangement - is briefly presented; then the methodological procedure is described regarding how the imagining of technological solutions was achieved; finally, the results are presented and discussed.

The project described, 'A Mobile and Independent Way of Life for People with Dementia' (or Movemenz), pursued the goal of determining whether and - if so, in which form - it is possible for technological assistance to help people with dementia maintain their mobility.

The authors address several factors that may impinge upon the development and marketing of such technology, before describing a procedure that involves identifying the needs in the care-giving arrangement and discussing the possible approaches to a technological solution before deciding on a specific technological solution.

The results of the project are presented followed by a discussion, in which the authors answer their question positively, concluding however that the imagining of technology futures represents a special methodological challenge.

Laboratory settings as built anticipations - prototype scenarios as negotiation arenas between the present and imagined futures by Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer and Martin Meister follows the argument of the preceding research article described above.

The authors argue that a specific type of future concepts - situational scenarios, and especially their manifestation as prototype scenarios - should be conceptualised as hybrid realities and as negotiation arenas between the present and imagined futures.

The article argument is drawn from about 60 interviews with researchers from the field of ubiquitous computing, which we conducted 2013 in the USA, in Japan, and in the EU, and uses Latour's pasteurization of France within its framework.

The authors distinguishing among three different manifestations of situational scenarios: narrative scenarios, prototype scenarios, and implicit scenarios before presenting their argument of Scenarios as negotiation arenas between the present and imagined futures. Specification functions, evaluation function and demonstration function of prototype scenarios are all discussed, before the summary closes the article.

The next research article in this special issue is Eclectic, random, intuitive? Technology assessment, RRI, and their use of history by Silke Zimmer-Merkle and Torsten Fleischer.

In this paper the authors describe which kinds of historical representation appear in TA and responsible research and innovation (RRI) practitioners' line of vision and how historical knowledge could be used to assess enactor-selector games.

With this conceptual contribution to the ongoing debate of orientation for TA and RRI, they call for a more deliberated treatment of 'historical knowledge' in both fields, asking whether history - that is, academic historical scholarship and comparable engagements with the past - can be beneficial for TA and RRI, and if so, how.

After a description of the roles of enactors and selectors within TA, the authors describe what they call the eclectic, random, intuitive - historical expertise in current TA practices and RRI, before discussing how academic histororical knowledge could be used within TA and RRI and explaining which concepts of history may be suitable for TA practice.

In the conclusion the authors call for further debate on the why and how of historical collaborations with TA and RRI as well as for conducting interventions in an effort to generate examples of good practice and propose a movement towards stimulating interest in the potential contributions of 'history as an academic endeavor' to TA and RRI, and finally to illustrate some of the associated opportunities.

The journal continues with Big data and technology assessment: research topic or competitor? By Gernot Rieder and Judith Simon.

This paper explores the dual relationship between Big Data and TA, arguing that as well as providing a topic for TA, big data also represents a competitor, rivaling TA in several of its core functions, including the assessment of public views and visions, means and methods for exploring the future, and the provision of actionable knowledge and advice for political decision-making.

The article therefore proposes to explore the relationship between Big Data and TA from two
distinct perspectives: First, to discuss whether and in what ways TA can contribute to the current debate around Big Data; Second, instead of merely conceiving Big Data as a new research topic for TA, to consider their relationship as one marked by rivalry and competition.

In a concluding section, the authors go beyond this scenario of competition and replacement and instead envision possibilities for cooperation and mutual learning between TA and Big Data analytics, embedding their considerations within the context of responsible research and innovation.

The authors argue that Big Data may rival TA in its capacity within the following fields: the assessment of public views and visions, means and methods for exploring the future, and the provision of actionable knowledge and advice for political decision-making, going on to explain these issues in greater detail, raising both possible advantages and possible pitfalls of the various techniques on offer.

The authors conclude by outlining a possible approach that would allow the alignment of Big Data governance with the aims and goals of RRI.

The following article in the journal is a discussion paper. In Responsible innovation as a critique of technology assessment, Harro van Lente, Tsjalling Swierstra and Pierre-Benoît Joly develop the argument that RRI can be seen not only as a development as it has often been proposed, but also as a critique of TA. They propose this critique through a viewing of RRI as a reappreciation of ethical deliberation, and RRI highlighting the ambiguous consultation of stakeholders. They suggest that "while both of these matters have been addressed by TA discourse and practices, we contend that RRI, in its inchoate and aspirational forms, represents an opportunity to revisit and reappraise these discourses and practices".

One of their arguments is that TA tended to ignore what have been described as soft impacts, a field that RRI incorporates into its model alongside other problems of moral ambiguity. A second critique revolves around the role and importance (and choice) of stakeholders in the models.

The discussion paper receives several responses, including from Michael Nentwich who works within the Institute of Technology Assessment, Vienna, Austria, who argues that the presentation offered of TA is too narrow. Nentwich criticizes their characterizations of old and new TA, the nature of RRI and the critique of TA as not addressing moral ambiguity and the limitations of stakeholder involvement in TA.

Rinie van Est of the Rathenau Instituut, The Hague, The Netherlands also responds in a paper that describes three challenges faced by both TA and RI: representation, issue identification, and directionality. Since Parliamentary TA and RI can inspire each other in many ways, a more intensive interaction between Constructive Technology Asessment (CTA)/RI practitioners and Parliamentary/RI practitioners is both desirable and necessary.

Several of the previous criticisms are repeated, such as the lack of historical clarity of TA offered, the moral ambiguity issue and the outdated nature of its description, arguing that CTA can in fact be seen as the origin of RI if characterized correctly.

Pierre Delvenne of the SPIRAL Research Centre, University of Liège, Liège, Belgium also responds, arguing that the article has several merits, but disagrees with the authors' claim that RRI would be 'a next step of TA' or even a 'form of TA arguing that RRI could instead lead to a travesty of TA, threatening the vitality and the uniqueness of TA institutions in the long-term and warning against blindly following the money that RRI offers.

The Perspective section of the journal follows the responses, with The renaissance of techno-utopianism as a challenge for responsible innovation by Sascha Dickel and Jan-Felix Schrape.

The authors argue that techno-utopian narratives such as those demonstrated within the development of nanotechnology are here to stay, and therefore the RRI community should engage in a hermeneutic reading of these visions as performative fiction. The authors use the case of desktop 3D printing to demonstrate in what way an analysis of techno-utopianism is able to reveal how responsibility for innovation gets redistributed.

The authors describe the narrative patterns of utopian discourses found during their case study of 3D desktop printing, before raising the question of how RI should deal with these discourses. The authors conclude that: "The case of 3D printing utopias thus shows what kind of insights the hermeneutic approach offers for questions of RI: It can reveal, how responsibility gets redistributed in utopian visions, who is responsibilized for the invention and application of technologies and their consequences, and who may claim responsibility to speak and act in the 'name' of the future. Hence, an important lesson can be learned from desktop 3D printing: In the context of the new media ecology, it is no longer sufficient to analyze the visions and expectations of traditional actors of innovation (states, big companies, universities). In the contemporary renaissance of techno-utopianism, radical futures might also be narrated, performed and materialized by makers and hackers, citizens and activists, who take responsibility for shaping the future".

A pedagogy article follows. In Interactive reflection trainings on RRI for multiple stakeholder groups, Ilse Marschalek, Maria Schrammel, Elisabeth Unterfrauner and Margit Hofer build on the perceived gap between 'RRI in theory' and 'RRI in practice' and demonstrates the need for RRI training for different stakeholder groups so as to overcome this gap through the eyes of the RRI Tools project.

Experiences gained from the various training exercises are described, which result in recommendations and guidelines on how to set up a multi-stakeholder workshop in terms of
setting, methodology, content and participants. The training described illustrates exemplary exercises that would serve a different purpose: to raise awareness for RRI, to enable mutual understanding of different stakeholder groups' perception on RRI, to reflect on RRI and to implement RRI in daily practices.

The authors describe the RRI project in detail, its motivations and concepts of RRI adopted, the online toolkit and the training offered, before discussing feedback and reflections and lessons learned during the process. The article concludes by addressing some future needs and aims.

The journal issue concludes with a review of Responsible innovation. A new impetus for technology assessment?, edited by Alexander Bogner, Michael Decker and Mashid Sotoudeh.

The review is authored by Christine D'Anna-Huber, while the book is the proceedings of the 6th annual conference of the German language network of TA institutions (Netzwerk Technologiefolgenabschätzung, NTA), held in June 2014 in Vienna. The book is described as generally asking two questions: Is there something TA needs to learn from RRI, or would it be better advised to keep its distance, pointing out that there is more impartiality to its own approach, since in its anticipation of the implications and consequences of technological developments it looks beyond what society deems to be 'responsible' at a given moment in history?

The author concludes that the volume, with its rich array of carefully edited contributions, offers policy-makers, researchers as well as an interested public the knowledge they need to take part in a debate about the relationship between TA and RRI, what each can offer and learn from each other, and a new impetus for TA provoked by the development and adoption of RRI principles on a political level.

An extremely detailed and thought provoking special issue, the first of many to come I hope. Readers can access the issue here [4]. As ever several of the articles are open access.

Complimenti as we say here in Milan.


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  1. 1] http://www.fondazionebassetti.org/schedabiografica/Jonny Hankins
  2. 2] http://www.fondazionebassetti.org/en/focus/2017/10/journal_of_responsible_innovat_7.html
  3. 3] http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tjri20/4/2
  4. 4] http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tjri20/4/2?nav=tocList
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Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 4, Issue 2
Articles by:  Jonny Hankins
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