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Responsible" innovation: com' effect or reality?

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At a time when innovation claims to want to respond to major societal challenges, how can the notion of responsibility be defined? For organizations, the concept of responsible innovation is not quite the same as it is for scientists working on the issue. Cédric Gossart is one of them. He questions what a truly responsible innovation is.
 
« Lompanies are quite quick to define themselves as 'responsible'," observes Cédric Gossart with amusement. As a researcher in management sciences at the Institut Mines-Télécom Business School, he notes that organizations like to value their innovations as meeting this criterion of responsibility. However, a problem results from this self-qualification: the term responsibility takes almost as many forms as there are companies to highlight it. It therefore seems necessary to rigorously question what responsible innovation is.
 
This is the task that Cedric Gossart is partly tackling. On 21 June, he took part in the scientific seminar "Responsible Research and Innovation: Interdisciplinary Issues" led by LITEM, a research laboratory in management and economics, and organized in interdisciplinary collaboration with five other laboratories on the Plateau de Saclay and supported by the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme de Paris-Saclay. His talk entitled " Are digital social innovations responsible? This "confronts directly the notion of responsibility as perceived by companies with a more theoretical vision of responsible innovation carried by the academic sphere.
 
"Purpose is an important aspect in the idea of responsibility," explains the researcher. Thus, technological, social or organizational ruptures must respond to issues of sustainable development or inclusion. But while organizations see this criterion as sufficient, it lacks a crucial dimension. "It is also necessary to include the way in which innovation is achieved," insists Cédric Gossart. The notions of eco-design, privacy-by-design or non-discrimination from the development phase are just as important.
 
Yet this second dimension is too often absent today from the justifications for corporate responsibility. The researcher from the ITM business school recalls the case of a start-up that develops pollution sensors. The start-up adopts a participative approach: the sensors accompany users on their daily journeys to assess air quality and draw up maps of the areas least exposed to fine particles and volatile compounds. In this case, the purpose of this digital social innovation is clearly part of a responsible approach. "There is indeed a response to a social issue: pollution. On the other hand, no information is given on the environmental impact of the servers, on the life cycle of the sensors. In a truly responsible approach, we have the right to expect that the beneficial impact of this start-up will offset its environmental footprint," says Cédric Gossart.
 

Who to judge responsibility?

A more rigorous measure of accountability would require that companies do not assess themselves. Currently, responsible innovation is an element that organizations use to justify their response to sustainable development issues. It is a section in annual activity reports. "Companies explain themselves, in a communication approach, the actions they undertake and how they evaluate themselves," explains Cédric Gossart. "In a few rare cases, they go further by having themselves labelled by independent organisations. »
 
However, responsible innovation does have an academic and rigorous definition. In 2013, British researchers Jack Stilgoe, Richard Owen and Phil Macnaghten published an article in the journal Research Policy by associating four criteria with it. Anticipation consists in considering the consequences of the innovation developed. Reflexivity makes it possible to question its very development. The inclusion of stakeholders is also an important criterion for establishing accountability. Finally, responsiveness is to be taken into account, in order to adapt the innovation to new elements, such as a change in legislation or feedback from users.
 
Cédric Gossart acknowledges, however, that "the problem with digital social innovations is finding a business model. It is therefore tricky to meet these criteria while finding a market. "But while the cost of responsibility may seem to be a hindrance, Gossart reminds us that even frugal innovations can be successful. This is the purpose of the participation of Cees Van Beers, researcher at TU, Delft, in the seminar on responsible innovation. "For him, an innovation is responsible when it reaches the poorest people. "Perhaps an additional criterion to be integrated into the notion of responsibility...
 
The original of this article appeared in I'MTech 
 

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