Before Responsible Innovation: Teaching Anticipation as a Competency for Engineers

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This paper focuses on engineering ethics education utilizing Responsible Innovation (RI). As a forward-looking approach aiming to embed ethics within innovation practices, RI strives to align technology development with societal values. However, when teaching the concepts and methods of RI, we face two intertwined challenges. First, RI presupposes we can estimate the consequences of an innovation or design intervention, while evidence shows it is nearly impossible to fully predict the consequences of new technologies. RI acknowledges this by replacing an ambition to predict with a call to anticipate innovation-consequences. However, without a robust account of anticipation this merely kicks the can down the road. Second, RI seems to suggest that we know what is meant by a specific value (e.g., privacy, sustainability) and its relation to a specific technology. While such knowledge is key to an anticipatory perspective, values are often treated superficially and a historically in RI literature. To address these challenges, we argue that RI-focused education – and engineering ethics generally – should be fostering historically informed anticipation as a core competency. To do so, we will define and characterize a set of interrelated virtues essential for engaging in historically informed anticipation: moral sensitivity (an ability to identify values at stake), epistemic humility (an awareness of the limits of one’s understanding), and moral imagination (an ability to envision new perspectives and solutions). We suggest this can be cultivated via a novel teaching method that involves an in-depth historically informed normative analysis of a value technology dynamic (called a value-genealogy of technology).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEngaging Engineering Education
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the 48th Annual SEFI Conference
EditorsJan van der Veen, Natascha van Hattum-Janssen, Hannu-Matti Järvinen, Tinne de Laet, Ineke ten Dam
ISBN (Electronic)978-2-87352-020-5
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Event48th SEFI Annual Conference of the European Society or Engineering Education (Virtual/online event) - Virtual/online event due to COVID-19, Netherlands
Duration: 20 Sep 202024 Sep 2020


Conference48th SEFI Annual Conference of the European Society or Engineering Education (Virtual/online event)
Abbreviated titleSEFI 2020
Internet address


  • Engineering ethics
  • Responsible Innovation
  • Anticipation
  • Virtue ethics


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