Responsible innovation: From MOOC to book

N. Srivatsa (Editor), Sofia Kaliarnta (Editor), Joost Groot Kormelink (Editor)

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In Chapter 1, we elaborated on the present context of complex socio-technical systems, and we introduced the notion of Responsible Innovation as an important and necessary aspect of developing new innovations and technologies.

In Chapter 2, we introduced various thought experiments, in order to explore how different dilemmas arise from the lack/confusion of values and responsibilities (Trolley problem, “Many Hands”, etc.). We saw that when there are multiple values to uphold, each of them important and desirable in their own way, there can be a sense of moral overload due to the inability to satisfy all these goals at the same time, given the constraints of time and resources.
Moreover, emotions may run high due to the potential conflict of values; in which case, counter-intuitively, emotional responses could be seen as an opportunity to explore those values rather than a liability preventing the emergence of a solution. Moreover, one can also be optimistic about the use of innovation to satisfy multiple (conflicting/constrained) values; after all, isn’t that what innovation is about?

In Chapter 3, we learned about the institutional context of modern innovation. We discussed how institutions - that is, embedded /explicit social conventions and rules that structure social interactions between individuals and groups - can profoundly preserve and influence favourable values and how they are manifested.

In Chapter 4, we focused on how companies think about innovation, in the contextof competition and opportunities. We learnt how incremental and radical innovations come about, the factors that influence them, and how to manage these innovations in a conducive way.

In Chapter 5, we highlighted frugal innovations, a type of innovation that is specifically targeted at Bottom-of- Pyramid consumers. Frugal doesn’t (just) mean cheaper technology, but rather, these innovations are tailored for the lifestyle and living conditions of the communities they will be deployed in. That said, frugal innovations are also not automatically “responsible”, and the issue of social standards must be justified before this question may be answered.

In Chapters 6 and 7, we looked at one of the most important values for any technology, namely safety and security. To ensure the potential safety of a technology, we learnt how to assess a new technology for potential risks. One of the reasons for this is best illustrated by the Collingridge Dilemma: when a technology is new, it is easier to shape its development in a way that is desirable, but we may not always know all the risks; on the other hand, once the technology becomes embedded in society, the dangers might become apparent but it becomes very hard to change it.

So, not all risks can be foreseen, and there will always be the possibility of ‘unknown unknowns’. In this case, we proposed the Precautionary Principle as a good maxim, so that we can develop new technologies with pre-emptive safeguards in order to mitigate as much as possible known risks.

In addition to understanding and identifying risks, it is also possible to quantify them and engineer for safety. As such, risk analysis and safety engineering were introduced. First we looked at one of the most commonly deployed methods for risk analysis: Cost-Benefit Analysis. Of course, there are some ethical concerns with this method, namely: how can we price the priceless?

We also introduced comprehensive risk analysis frameworks, with tools like Fault Tree Analysis, Bow-Tie and Hazard-Barrier-Target model, which allow for both a quantitative and logical understanding of risks and their consequences.

And finally in Chapter 8, we introduced Value Sensitive Design (VSD) as a framework for operationalising the values we want to preserve in our technologies. VSD can be formally represented in a Values Hierarchy matrix, and can be approached both top-down and bottom-up.

The visual and explicit representation allows stakeholders to debate and negotiate these values in a constructive manner. Moreover, one can critically deconstruct and question the operational criteria: are the values that we hold dear incorporated in the design, or conversely, do the criteria achieve the desired values?
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDelft University of Technology
Number of pages128
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

This E-book is based on the Massive Open Online Course Responsible Innovation
(for the re-run see: which was offered by the TU Delft in November 2014 - January 2015 on the edX-platform. It contains all the content covered by the web


  • OA-Fund TU Delft


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