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By Any Other Name

by Jeff Ubois [1], 8 May 2008

For people new to the work of the Bassetti Foundation, the concept of "responsibility in innovation" can be somewhat elusive. But like most other general concepts, responsibility in innovation is reflected in a wide variety of disciplines, though often by other names. For example,

  • Legal scholars sometimes frame the issue in terms of liability, or proximate [2] cause [3]. If innovation builds on the work of multiple actors, who is ultimately responsible [4] when something goes wrong?
  • Economists think in terms externalization of costs, minimax, and moral hazard [5]. To the extent innovation creates risks, how can they be measured and assigned? Engineering and medical societies may operate under codes of ethics or practice.
  • Designers may search for answers with user centered [6] approaches. Responsibility can rest with the end user.
  • University administrators may simply delegate the problem to their Institutional Review Board [7]. Responsibility in innovation means avoiding liability, and secondarily, protecting human subjects of research. Responsibility rests with experts [8].
  • Researchers in the field of Science and Technology Studies [9] (STS) have grappled with issues of agency and unintended consequences, public policy and innovation [10].

There is also a close relationship with concepts of sustainability [11], which is fast becoming a unifying principle [12] (or one word answer) for innovators in green technology, education, genetics, nanotechnology, design, and other fields. Because 'sustainability' is now applied so widely, the meaning of the word seems to be collapsing into an economic definition: someone else will pay in perpetuity. So while all responsible innovation must be sustainable, it's not clear that all sustainable innovation is responsible.

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Links in this document:

  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jeff Ubois
  2. 2] http://www.west.net/~smith/causation.htm
  3. 3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proximate_cause
  4. 4] http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=peter_gerhart
  5. 5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_hazard
  6. 6] http://www.upassoc.org/usability_resources/about_usability/what_is_ucd.html
  7. 7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institutional_review_board
  8. 8] http://www.irbforum.org/
  9. 9] http://en.stswiki.org/index.php/Main_Page
  10. 10] http://www.easst.net/
  11. 11] http://www.dmoz.org/Science/Environment/Sustainability/
  12. 12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability#Common_principles
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