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Home > Focus > Journal of Responsible Innovation, Issue 2, a Review

Journal of Responsible Innovation, Issue 2, a Review

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 24 October 2014

The second issue of the Journal of Responsible innovation [2] opens with an Editorial written by Editor in Chief David Guston.

In "Responsible innovation: a going concern" (available on open access [3]), Guston describes how RI "continues to be a timely and important topic at the interface of scholarship and practice". He cites the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues report, Gray Matters, the Uk's Synthetic Biology Innovation Commercial and Industrial Translation Engine's commitment to an approach that includes RI, The Dutch Responsible Innovation Conference in the Hague (that also featured a poster presentation by myself) and the International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Innovation meeting on "Engineering Responsible Innovation in Products and Services" in Bergamo, Italy, as examples.

The Editorial then goes on to briefly describe the Journal issue's papers. The following review was prepared on behalf of the Bassetti Foundation as a guide to the articles. It aims to offer our readers an insight into the articles that can be downloaded through the Journal website.

The first research article is "Steering with big words: articulating ideographs in research programs", by Colette Bos, Bart Walhoutb, Alexander Peinea and Harro van Lente.

In this article, Bos et.al argue that "Nowadays, science should address societal challenges, such as 'sustainability', or 'responsible research and innovation'. This emerging form of steering toward broad and generic goals involves the use of 'big words': encompassing concepts that are uncontested themselves, but that allow for multiple interpretations and specifications".

The article uses the analysis of 'big words' as ideographs, taken from Mcgee (1980), who argues that 'big words' become the building blocks of ideology. The words in themselves are 'terms that seem to invite contest, but do not among indoctrinated audiences. Symbolic gestalts containing ideological commitments. Words that have different meanings within different formations' (Sullivan 2010). The authors analyse the vertical and horizontal structuring of these ideographs in each of the cases described above.

The authors use a nanotechnology case study to analyze the use of sustainability, responsible innovation and valorization as 'big words', arguing that as ideographs these 'big words' have to be articulated in order to become forceful, concluding that "'big words' are articulated at the various levels of research management, they may steer, or rather guide, scientific research into a particular direction, but not unilaterally. Big words are employed and mobilized both by program management (top-down) and by researchers themselves (bottom-up) and their mutual reference enables and justifies some specific research directions, while limiting others".

The second research article is Vincent Blok's "Look who's talking: responsible innovation, the paradox of dialogue and the voice of the other in communication and negotiation processes".

In this article Block develops a concept of stakeholder dialogue in responsible innovation (RI) processes. The author raises two main questions during the article, pertaining to (1) the role of stakeholder dialogue in the assessment of the grand challenges and the risks and uncertainties involved in RI processes to address these challenges and (2) which concept of dialogue is able to respect both the necessity of openness towards other stakeholders and the fundamental differences among the actors involved.

Blok refers to the self responsive nature of those involved in the dialogue, involving both self destruction and self constitution as the relationship of dialogue between the parties develops. The author argues that he has encountered four characteristics of stakeholder dialogue in RI processes, which are displayed in an easy to follow table (pp186), concluding that "the input of the communication process is found in the grand challenges of our time. The grand challenges block our routine responses, show the inadequacy of our current innovation strategies and call for our dialogicalresponsiveness to the other. The grand challenges are the input of stakeholder dialogue, since grand challenges destroy my self and demand that I become responsive to these challenges together with multiple stakeholders. The throughput of the communication process is characterized by the continuous and unceasing interplay between self-constitution amidst others (self-referentiality as a prerequisite to finding a common ground among stakeholders during the dialogue) and self-destruction amidst others (responsiveness to the appeal of the other during the dialogue)" (pp186).

The article is available on open access and can be downloaded through the journal website.

In the first of four Perspective pieces "Responsible Innovation Across Borders: tensions, paradoxes and possibilities", Phil McNaghten and a host of co-authors describe some of the key reflections made during a workshop entitled "Responsible Innovation and the Governance of Socially Controversial Technologies". The piece addresses the multiple productions and circulations of RI, invisibilities and emergence, questions of political economy, and affect care and capacity, concluding (amongst other things) that the theory and practice of RI tend to become separated, and that a need for capacity building exists in order to integrate and build RI into real world settings.

This short paper is also available open-access through the website.

In the second perspective piece, "Anticipatory Life-cycle Assessment (LCA) for Responsible Research and innovation", Ben A Wender with a series of co-authors advocate for the development of anticipatory LCA as non-predictive and inclusive of uncertainty, which can be used to explore both reasonable and extreme-case scenarios of future environmental burdens associated with an emerging technology.

The paper seems to build upon ideas of scenario thinking, as outlined on this website in this 2009 book review [4], arguing the need to move from retrospective to prospective LCA and the integration of societal values within the process.

The third perspectives piece is "Responsible Innovation in Surgery: a proposal for an anonymous registry of surgical innovation". In this article Kevin Hodges and Peter Angelos argue for the creation of an anonymous online registry of surgical interventions. They argue that such a tool would be a valuable tool for promoting responsible innovation in surgery, given its current position in an "ethical and regulatory no-man's land".

The article describes the advantages and problems that the implementation of such a registry might encounter, and demonstrates why the authors believe that such a registry could work in the USA.

The final paper in the Perspectives section is Jathan Sadowski's "Exoskeletons in a disabilities context: the need for social and ethical research". The author argues that issues surrounding non military use of exoskeletons have been overlooked for far too long by social scientists.

After a description of the potentials and current developments in exoskeleton technology, the author goes on raise a series of socio-political and ethical points. Problems of the perception of disability, possible dependence and selectivity due to cost are only some of the issues raised. The author concludes that "while exoskeletons are being designed, and before they are widely incorporated into society, the questions raised here (among others) should at least be on the table and perhaps even tentatively, if not definitively, answered".

The Review section of the journal contains 2 papers.

In the first paper Lanz Flemming Miller reviews "Better humans? Understanding the enhancement project". The reviewer argues that the author "Hauskeller offers a humorous, even-handed, and well-read examination of the enhancement project", and describes its greatest strength as being a compendium of sharp arguments about the problematic bases of the enhancement movement.

In the final section Jeffrey Holbrook reviews "Early engagement and new technologies: opening up the laboratory" edited by Doorne et al. Holbrook argues that the book "will likely be consulted in the future as a seminal volume exploring strong interdisciplinary collaboration in the R&D process and laboratory settings".

The issue closes with a dedicated Pedagogy Section, that includes an article and several student commentaries.

In "Teaching global perspectives: engineering ethics across international and academic borders ", Mary Sutherland et.al report on the pilot offering of an intensive summer program for graduate students, Global Perspectives: Engineering Ethics Across International and Academic Borders. This article is also available for download with free access from the journal website linked above.

The article describes the process from the point of view of the ideators and instructors, describing how the summer project evolved during its term due to the needs and requests of the students involved. Much of the success it appears is born from providing a safe place in which those involved in ethics and engineering could voice their views and experiences, and the school's aims are described as to "consider both the opportunities and challenges surrounding collaborative ethics work".

In the conclusion the authors argue that their "program shows that facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations among students from different academic cultures is an effective method for generating ethical engagement, and also points to the important role that students may play as co-inquirers in projects that aim to analyze how different factors promote and inhibit ethical research and practice".

The comments that follow the article were offered by the students involved, and are considered an assessment strategy rather that a set of results.

The students describe the experience of participating in the program, as well as the problems faced once they tried to approach some of the issues beck in their university settings, and contain some interesting proposals to bear in mind for future work.

The papers can be downloaded individually or the journal can be downloaded as a whole, with many articles freely available as noted above.


ALL THE REVIEWS of the Journal by Jonathan Hankins:

Volume 1 part 1 [5] / part 2 [6] / part 3 [7]

Volume 2 part 1 [8] / part 2 & 3 [9]

Volume 3 part 1 [10] / part 2 [11] / part 3 [12]

Volume 4 part 1 [13]


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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tjri20
  3. 3] http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tjri20/current#.VEi6ErP7sYw
  4. 4] /it/rassegna/2009/05/a_case_study_in_scenarion_thin.html
  5. 5] /en/focus/2014/03/a_review_of_the_journal_of_res.html
  6. 6] /en/focus/2014/10/journal_of_responsible_innovat_1.html
  7. 7] /en/focus/2015/02/journal_of_responsible_innovat_2.html
  8. 8] /en/focus/2015/06/journal_of_responsible_innovat_3.html
  9. 9] /en/focus/2016/01/volume_2_journal_of_responsibl.html
  10. 10] /en/focus/2016/09/journal_of_responsible_innovat_4.html
  11. 11] /en/focus/2017/02/journal_of_responsible_innovat_5.html
  12. 12] /en/focus/2017/03/journal_of_responsible_innovat_6.html
  13. 13] /en/focus/2017/10/journal_of_responsible_innovat_7.html
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Journal of Responsible Innovation, Issue 2, a Review
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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