Future Societies — Developing Responsible Innovation Systems (2/4)

The case of the rural energy sector in India — Building the framework

This series of blogs is the result of a distillation of the master thesis project of Yvo Hunink in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Technology at Delft University of Technology. The original report can be found in the TU Delft repository through . The video of the thesis defence presentation can be found through . A working paper is written that is still awaiting publication, meaning the research has not been subject to peer reviews.

The blog series exists of four parts: . Be sure to follow Energy Bazaar to see the upcoming articles. Special thanks to and for facilitating the research.

As articulated in the , the current innovation strategies do not account for all the values and goals of every actor in our societies, creating collective irresponsible situations, such as nuclear technology has shown. The objective of this research is to create a framework for assessment and guidance towards a responsible innovation system, that can be applied for any context. This article gives the theoretical foundations on which the framework is built, after which a combination of several innovation approaches is done, resulting in a new framework.

In discovering what kind of framework can assess and guide responsible innovation systems, it is important to ask: ‘What is a responsible innovation system?’. However, during the research it appeared that no definition exists in the current literature. Therefore, a definition needed to be constructed and this was done by splitting the question in two, towards:

  • What is responsible innovation?
  • What is an innovation system?

What is responsible innovation?

Responsible innovation is both an old and recent concept. Throughout the years, innovation has always been questioned on its responsibility, however, the manner in which this happens has varied. A new framework was introduced by the scholars in 2013. They define responsible innovation as follows:

“Responsible innovation means taking care of the future through collective stewardship of science and innovation in the present.”

In their framework, they define the 4 dimensions of responsible innovation. If you apply the 4 dimensions to your innovation process, the outcome is a more responsible one, in which collective irresponsibility might be reduced.

  • Anticipation — looking to the future, asking ‘what if?’
  • Reflexivity — holding a mirror to one’s own actions and those of others
  • Inclusion — participation of all stakeholders in the process
  • Responsiveness — having the capacity to react to evolving situations

While the initial framework by ) incorporates the systemic nature of responsibility in the inclusion dimension, the framework does not dictate what this dimension needs to consist of, nor claims to be applicable on a holistic view above this system, but rather operates on the organisational scale. To define the term responsibility in a complex innovation system is still one of the challenges in the current development of Responsible Innovation theory. ()

With the help of literature from van , , and , characteristics were determined for an innovation system that behaves responsibly in the collective innovation process. The innovation system needs to:

  • Apply the four dimensions to internal processes, while also mutually sharing them with partners.
  • Have an evolutionary environment
  • Receive influence of the same group of institutions throughout the complete collective innovation process on decision-making
  • Be an open knowledge network

Together they form, in the words of Hellström, arenas of trustworthiness and informal joint authority created between a number of actors who may be involved in significantly creating, perceiving and transforming risk generating practices with respect to a technological system.

What is an innovation system?

”Innovation system — all important factors that influence the development, diffusion, and use of innovations.” — (Edquist , 1997)

Visualising traditional and modern knowledge creation. ()

A deep dive into the paradigms of innovation and knowledge theories gave the following insight. Traditionally, knowledge is created linearly, like the shape of a tree, one single point of control. Modern knowledge production is much more decentralised and dynamic. It takes the shape of a rhizome, like ginger or bamboo is, for example. It may be apparent that because of the complexity of the different actors in the system, and the need for alignment of activities, the decentralised form of knowledge creation is required. Therefore, a modern approach towards describing innovation systems is sought, that meets the above requirements, acknowledging the contribution academic, political, social and economic influences to innovation.

Three approaches to describing modern innovation and knowledge creation met enough of the criteria to be further considered. Systems of Innovation , Triple Helix (), Quadruple Helix ()and Open Innovation . The below image shows on which scale of the innovation system they describe dynamics.

The scale of modern knowledge creation approaches.

Systems of Innovation

Edquist was the first to define an innovation system as a set of factors that influences innovation. This is helpful, because it opens the door for various institutions that contribute. An innovation system can be segmented into components, relations and functions, as is also found in the theory. Still, certain disadvantages exist that are relevant to responsible systems, partly presented by the scholar that created below image.

An innovation system in transition. ()

It might be seen that at least two forms of an innovation system exist. An emerging and a mature system. However, the change from emerging to mature could not be sufficiently explained by the researchers, meaning no evolutionary dynamics can be described. Also not the same group of different institutions is prescribed for the process, nor open knowledge transfer. It appears that Systems of Innovation is not completely suited to describe a responsible innovation system.

Helix theories

The following approaches seem to have a solution for some of those disadvantages. They promises evolutionary dynamics and describe a constant group of institutions.

The Triple Helix is a model of innovation studies, which argues that systemic innovation comes from the three institutions of Government, Industry and University (or Academia) and their intersections (). Respectively, they create political, economic and human capital. Institutional innovation and knowledge flows happen at the intersections of those institutions. The model is evolutionary, because it describes that when one of the spheres is weak, the others can take over activities on those intersections, creating a system that is in flux and constant change.

The Triple Helix model ()

However, there appears to be an important influence missing in the model. How is the effect that end users, non-governmental organisation (NGOs), media or culture have on innovation recognised by this conceptualisation? Fortunately, an extension of the model towards the Quadruple Helix provides a solution to the missing actors. , introduce this extension, by explaining that the media-based and culture-based public and civil society as a fourth sphere influence decision-making in innovation processes.

The Quadruple Helix (Carayannis & Campbell, 2009), with G,I,P & U respectively indicating Government, Industry, Public & University.

It becomes clear at an instance, that the intersections between institutions become widely more complex. Still, the connection to the Responsible Innovation dimension of inclusion, and potentially also others, becomes enlarged by the extension with the public/ civil society as a sphere. Imagine the potential of responding much earlier to public dissatisfaction with a technology, because it became apparent during a participatory approach of the government. For example, the whole public protest against windmills has taken up huge amounts of time in The Netherlands for windmills to be installed. Only if consensus on this development was reached earlier by including the public more, the introduction of renewable energy in the Dutch system might have gone quicker.

However, both Helix concepts still do not sufficiently describe what a relation between institutions or actors should look like, or how an open knowledge sharing environment between them can be established.

Open Innovation

One of the most recent and most rapidly developing topics in innovation management is Open Innovation and it does go into specifics on relations between organisations. The interest in Open Innovation spans many disciplines from economics to psychology and has moved governments to adjust their policy frameworks towards Open Innovation. () first introduced Open Innovation to the world, however, it consist of elements that are not new in itself, such as absorptive capacity, complementary assets and exploration versus exploitation. () () Open Innovation is directly connected to Responsible Innovation, because in the set of tools that suggest for responsible practices, it is mentioned as a tool for enhancing the dimension of inclusion.

Opening up the innovation process of firms lies at the base of the Open Innovation perspective, where one of the most frequently used definitions is: ’A distributed innovation process based on purposely managed knowledge flows across organisational boundaries, using pecuniary and non-pecuniary mechanisms in line with the organisation’s business model’. () Basically, there is a situation of two-way knowledge flows. It is, perhaps, best compared to closed innovation, for example traditional internal R&D of companies, which often generates a very specific and select set of solutions, with only the values and perspectives of the company performing the R&D. With open innovation, there is room for influences from outside, which might generate a larger set of possible solutions, not all necessarily directly applicable for the company itself.

Closed vs Open Innovation

An important limitation is that research finds that neither completely open, nor completely closed organisations behave the most productively. show that firms with Open Innovation practises tend to have more innovation . However, they also state that openness is not without it costs. The term over-search was introduced, a situation where too much effort and reliance is put on the external sources, draining the internal resources significantly. It means there exists an (reversed) U-shaped curve regarding Open Innovation. To little Open Innovation is bad, but also too much Open Innovation is bad, but being in the middle can generate tremendous benefits.

More relevant research, that takes India as a data input, finds something interesting regarding the openness of companies to scientific external knowledge. () Whenever foreign scientific knowledge is used, performance of the firm is increased significantly. However, the study finds that domestic scientific external knowledge has a negligible effect on a firms performance. Together with the costs of openness to external knowledge, this will result in a negative effect for the firm, and from a strategic view should therefore be prevented. It does not sketch a good situation for Indian universities, since it prevents from companies wanting to cooperate with them.

Also, the research that focuses on how Open Innovation behaves in larger ecosystems and communities, such as developed systems of innovation, is rather limited. What is argued is that the governance of such ecosystems is different compared to dyadic (two-party) Open Innovation. () Despite the limited evidence, states that Open Innovation in the light of innovation systems has broad potential for future research.

Creating the framework

It might be clear, that none of the above described approaches to innovation meet the four requirements of a responsible innovation system fully. However, it appears that they are rather complementary to each other and when combined into a new framework are able to apply the four Responsible Innovation dimensions in an open knowledge network that behaves as an evolutionary environment with a group of institutions that remains the same throughout the process. Below image gives a visual representation of the combination of theories, including some paths that have not been explained in the blog series, but appear in the .

The theoretical combination leading to the Responsible Innovation Systems Framework

The definition of a responsible innovation system is then constructed as follows:

A responsible innovation system is an open knowledge network that allows for the Quadruple Helix to emerge and the regional innovation system to develop, while the dimensions of anticipation, reflexivity, inclusion and responsiveness are internally and mutually shared among the actors.

It can be seen that a sub-combination between Innovation Systems and Triple Helix is used, which was proposed by . It provided the foundation for the framework, dividing it in the elements of components, relations and functions. It is extended with the Quadruple Helix in the components, is replaced in the relations element with Open Innovation and redefines a part of the functions with of the Responsible Innovation dimensions.

A synthetic representation of the Responsible Innovation Systems framework

The framework can be used for organisations, events, alliances, cooperations, collaborations or any other project where the influence of multiple institutions and actors is required. An analysis is done, that should expose whether the complete Quadruple Helix can be recognised in the components, if there are two-way knowledge flows in the relations and if in the functions knowledge creation and innovation is happening (forming the Knowledge and Innovation spaces). Finally, also in the functions, the responsibility can be concluded by analysing if the Consensus Space has formed, which happens when the four dimensions of Responsible Innovation are internally and externally applied by entities that are innovating, meaning that objectives, role divisions and collective resources are mutually agreed upon by all relevant actors, allowing all values from the different institutions to be included in the innovations.

The last insight, before the framework can be used, is that the collective innovation process exists of many different activities. Ideally, the framework should be usable in all parts of the process, however, testing the framework might become difficult if this is not accounted for. Therefore, the collective innovation process is segmented in 3 phases, namely the exploration, construction and implementation phases. It has helped to create suitable data collection methods for each of the phases. This is used during the case study in India, which is the topic of the next part of this blog series.

Energy Bazaar

Developing knowledge for distributed energy markets for emerging countries


Yvo Hunink

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Design goes where complexity takes it. Working on the boundaries of chaos and order, so that we can create a world of justice and peace @ City of The Hague

Energy Bazaar

Developing knowledge for distributed energy markets for emerging countries