Balancing responsiveness and investor security in Responsible Innovation

Our colleague Dr Auke Pols will be presenting at the Fourth Annual OZSW conference (Dutch research school in Philosophy), 9-10 December 2016 on the topic ‘Balancing responsiveness and investor security in Responsible Innovation’.

Here’s an abstract of the talk:

In recent years, Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) has become a popular framework for developing and implementing new technology in the EU, as witnessed by its incorporation in Dutch and EU funding schemes. Building on process values such as anticipation, inclusiveness, responsiveness and reflexivity, RRI seeks to invite and incorporate stakeholder input from early on into the design process (Stilgoe et al. 2013). The hope is that this will lead to technical innovations that better fit societal and ethical values.

A general criticism of RRI is that it often ignores questions of power, politics and institutional settings (Van Oudheusden 2014). One significant political aspect of RRI that has received little attention so far is that RRI operates in a policy context where technical innovations are by and large developed by or in cooperation with the private sector. In this paper I argue that one fundamental problem of this arrangement is that the private sector prefers guaranteed returns on investment and thus stable and predictable policies supporting the innovation, or investor security. I show that this preference is in tension with RRI’s value of responsiveness and its stress on the importance of agility and flexibility when innovating. Basically, there is a trade-off here: increasing investor security diminishes motivation and opportunities to be responsive and vice versa. I explain how RRI could respond to this value conflict, using examples taken from the field of renewable energy technologies.

Renewable energy technologies illustrate this tension particularly well, as they often have difficulties competing with entrenched fossil fuel technologies and thus require significant and prolonged policy support and investor security to get off the ground. For example, the EU has an ambitious biofuel blending target for 2020 meant to create investor security and thus stimulate biofuel innovations for transport energy (Pols 2015). This target became controversial when it turned out that many biofuel projects created serious environmental and social problems. Nevertheless, in the face of diminishing social acceptance and ethical acceptability of biofuels, the EU changed its target only slightly. This was done to maintain investor security in the hope that this would stimulate further biofuel innovations that would solve the problems caused by earlier biofuel innovations (cf. Levidow et al. 2012). Thus, though this policy change exhibited some responsiveness towards the signalled problems, this responsiveness was made dependent on and limited by investor security. Hence the need to investigate the role investor security should play in RRI.

References

Pols, A.J.K. (2015). The Rationality of Biofuel Certification: A Critical Examination of EU Biofuel Policy. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 28(4), 667-681. DOI 10.1007/s10806-015-9550-2.

Levidow, L., Papaioannou, T. and Birch, K. (2012). Neoliberalising technoscience and environment: EU policy for competitive, sustainable biofuels. In: L. Pellizzoni and M. Ylonen (eds.) Neoliberalism and technoscience. Theory, technology and society, 159-186. Farnham: Ashgate.

Van Oudheusden, M. (2014). Where are the politics in responsible innovation? European governance, technology assessments, and beyond. Journal of Responsible Innovation 1(1), 67-86.

Stilgoe, J., Owen, R. and Macnaghten, P. (2013). Developing a framework for responsible innovation. Research Policy 42, 1568-1580.

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