From Technology Assessment to Responsible Innovation | Armin Grunwald | Future Up Close | CforRI
Hi there and welcome to Future Up Close here we explore the topic of Responsible Innovation. Today we have Professor Dr. Armin Grunwald. Armin is a Full Professor of Philosophy at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) based in Germany. There, he is also the Director of KIT's Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS). Since 2002, Professor Dr. Grunwald has been serving as the Director of the Office of Technology Assessment
at the German Bundestag. So - also, hallo und willkommen - hello and welcome. I was thinking about how to start our conversation. Why don't we start with a few grounding questions to provide our listeners with some context in regards to technology assessment and its connection with Responsible Innovation. Technology assessment (TA) is said to be one of the core roots of Responsible Innovation (RI) So what is TA and how did it begin? TA, technology assessment, was invented in the United States of America about 50 years ago in the realm of the American Congress. So it was designed as an instrument for the parliament to get scientific knowledge for making better decisions.
That is the basic idea. And from that origin TA spread, first to Europe in the 1980s and 90s, and now we have a large variety of TA institutions, many parliaments in Europe and increasingly also in countries of other continents. So the basic idea (of TA) is to look into science, into scientific knowledge, and to make use of this knowledge for making better decisions in policy making.
So it's about the influence of technology, and later on also of innovation, to all of the fields of policy making. This might be environmental policy, defense policy, agricultural policy, whatever, and all these policy fields are increasingly influenced by new technology and in many many cases it's necessary to get knowledge of expected or feared or plausible or possible consequences of those new technologies as early as possible in order to take them into account into decision making. Were there...So I think usually when it comes to ethics and even things like sustainability today there's a lot of awareness but in order to trigger, say, government funding and action, it takes some push. Did something happen in Germany that helped to root technology assessment properly? Yes the first was its establishment in the United States.
Everything... What happens in the United States of America creates awareness in Germany and also in many other countries of Europe. So that's quite normal for decades now. It (TA) was in the 1970s already. But later on we had really some huge events.
The first was our problematic history with nuclear power. You know, there were demonstrations against nuclear power plants in the 1980s and 90s and so on. And a large part of the resistance, which still goes on, was oriented to the fact that while establishing nuclear power in Germany in the 1950s and 60s nobody had taken care of how to dispose of high-level nuclear waste. So the technology was taken into operation without an idea of what to do, where to dispose, how to dispose of this really problematic type of waste. And we are still struggling with this issue. And this was a basic push to technology assessment because in TA we try to think through all the life cycles of new technology, not only to look at the benefits earned at the beginning, in the phase of operation, but also to look beyond and to take care of what will happen with that technology, with the waste, after the phase of having used it.
And so this was a very very basic push at the beginning. And the second one I would like to mention is the story of Stuttgart 21. Probably you don't know.
Stuttgart is one of the state capitals in Germany and the plan is to put the main station of the railway underground for several reasons - to establish high-speed train connections and so on. So a huge measure in the centre of the city of Stuttgart. There was a planning process over 10 to 15 years. Citizens had the opportunity to inform themselves and to give statements but nothing happened. Everything remained silent.
But as soon as the old main station got deconstructed, destroyed, and when trees were cut in its environment, then people started demonstrations. Huge demonstrations. And it had to postpone... the plan had to be postponed for years. And that was a signal that technology assessment must be done, and in particular, in co-operation with citizens, with stakeholders, with people affected and so on. So not just as an expert oriented TA but together with those people who have to live with the new conditions.
The third one. The third one could be different. It's about ethical issues of modern biotechnologies. The GMO issue. But also a life sciences in the area of human stem cell research. Technologies at the beginning and end of life.
Were we had a lot of really well observed discussions, also in the Bundestag, with a high awareness in the public. And it was clear that technology assessment was needed also in this ethical respect. That's interesting.
I'm wondering... So technology assessment originated in the 60s and then it progressed and spread across the world in the 80s with, e.g. nanotechnology in the Netherlands and then it just in general progressed. And now we have what we call Responsible Innovation (RI). And I heard in one of your talks that you said there isn't really too much of a difference.
So I just want to ask you: What is the "Responsible Innovation" movement? Is there an actual difference? And if so, what is it? What is the difference? First it's interesting that, also, this idea of Responsible Innovation emerged in the United States of America. It was, as far as, I know in the context of the National Nanotechnology Initiative(NNI) started by Bill Clinton and Al Gore more than 20 years ago. So there was part of the budget dedicated to ethical research to a kind of TA to improve the opportunities to get really responsible innovation. And the United States, there was a Center for Responsible Nanotechnology at that time and from the United States it went to Europe and it was taken up by the European Commission which coined this term of “Responsible Research and Innovation”(RRI).
And in fact, there are many roots of RI or RRI in TA. So for example this idea of having an “open future” and we as humans today we are obliged to shape this future responsibly. There was an approach in TA called Constructive Technology Assessment (CTA) developed by colleagues from the Netherlands in the 1990s.
I guess this was the predecessor of RRI because this was TA not for parliaments or ministries but it was TA for the processes of the making of technology. So it went already to this stage of developing and making technology. RI then widened up the range.
The range of objects to be considered and addressees to be involved. The main innovation of RI, I see, is in the extension to go to industry, to enterprises. TA mostly addresses political bodies, public institutions, authorities and so on. So these are all occupied with shaping the boundary conditions for technology development. For example, promotion by public budget or regulation. But the makers of technology, they are mostly in industry, in the companies, and the innovations that emerge out of the technologies developed there.
So RI extended the scope and went more to industry. And this is quite important of course. And I welcomed this, this widening approach. And in the concepts, the basic ideas are very close to technology assessment. To gather all the knowledge we have in order to make some anticipations and foresights.
To involve participation, to have a broader view on the issue under consideration and so on. But this extension to industry, that was new. Were there any challenges? I'm assuming that the way that policy makers work would be quite different from engaging the industry. Going from one to the other? It's not really going from one to the other. It's more about involving both groups at the occasion of different questions.
For example the European Commission in this RRI program they often urged the consortia applying for funding to bring together science, enterprises, and policy makers and civil society. So this is a really...this is really an integrative approach bringing together people and groups and stakeholders from different directions in order to develop a broader view.
And not only to go for, let me say, optimization in economic respect. I have a side question. So TA started out in the US as a policy advisory tool, as you mentioned before, whereas Europe... Europe for me seemed to have taken TA... taken root as a way to deal with complexities of new information, technology, and its impact. So for me TA in the US, at least in the early days, was more about power - I could be wrong - but power, whereas in Europe it seems to be more about problem solving, and therefore, you seem to have had a much more enduring presence today in terms of aiding policy making and innovation development. Is that understanding correct? Because like you mentioned before, both TA and RI originated in the US but… they're not leading as much as European countries.
This is a very very interesting question Xiao Han. Very interesting. And I guess it has something to do with the innovation culture. In the United States there is a very strong entrepreneurial innovation culture.
A small group of people can develop huge industries. We saw this in the development, in the fast development of the Silicon Valley, companies in the last decades, while in Europe, innovation processes are more decentralized, more multicultural in a sense, because Europe is very diverse in itself. And in Europe, the relative significance of common good issues of political dimension is higher.
So while in the United States it's more the neoliberal idea that the companies will do best if they are not disturbed by the State, In most European states, we say…”well companies are fine but there must be some regulations of the market" because the market alone will not be able to take care of, let me say, privacy, climate change and some of these big issues. And I guess in TA, in its policy advising form, parliamentary TA for example, fits better to the European understanding of innovation. That might be the explanation for this movement.
That's super interesting. I've been wondering about that for a while. Moving on to Australia: so it seems to me, major change and disasters have often played a key catalyst, a trigger, for developing TA and RI activities in different countries. So in my previous conversation with Professor Tsjalling Swierstra he mentioned that for example 2008’s Global Financial Crisis may have played a key role in, say, the Horizon 2020 project. So my question is: what can Australia learn from Germany to set ourselves up for success? Do we realistically need to experience some sort of innovation challenge, change, issue in order for us to speed up our application of RI here in Australia? The first lecture we can learn from the spreading of TA to many countries is that each country has its own culture of how to deal with new technology, how innovations are created and disseminated, how technology is governed, how the power...the balance of power is guaranteed among various actors and so on. So it's always an issue of finding...finding the best solution for that situation.
There is no one fits all solution with regards to TA. But instead it’s...it always has to be adapted to the conditions at place. In that country under consideration.
And in this sense, I do not think that Germany could give some direct lessons to Australia but Australia has to think itself about how to make it in an optimal way. I had..I made a visit to Brisbane, to the university and to CSIRO last year and we talked a lot about RRI and in particular in the Australian context. I also had a discussion with the former chief science advisor of Australia. He was, for me, surprisingly very very interested in this parliamentary technology assessment issue.
But I guess it's more or less a kind of...searching a process: where the best activities could be placed. And what has been proven, progressive anyway, is to have a kind of national network of some people who are interested in RRI and to cooperate and exchange ideas. We founded a German network on TA about 15 years ago. It works well. It has biannual conferences and so on,
we have our own journal in German language together with Austrian and Swiss partners. And this idea of having a national network moved, migrated, to Poland, to Russia and at the moment there are some movements in China. In this direction. So, this would be a good infrastructure to disseminate and to further develop the idea of RRI. Interesting.
I would like to ask you about RI in practice. What does a RI project look like to you? I know it will be different depending on the type of project, who's involved, all these kinds of things. I'm just trying to imagine a project in action from your perspective. What generally happens, who's generally involved. Whether you have examples to share with us? Yes, an example. Perhaps let's look at the issue of care robots. So it is still a bit futuristic but there are already many stories about it.
And there are developments towards having care robots in some future and now there are different approaches possible. The classical approach in, let me say, an old-fashioned innovation system would be, well some companies think about this they cooperate with some scientific institutions with robotics, institutes and so on, and they think about well what could care homes and people in care homes, perhaps, like to have. And then they start developing processes, develop prototypes and so on. And in the traditional way they go to care homes only at the late stage of the development process. In Germany we had many experiences in the preceding field of AAL - Ambient Assisted Living.
There was...there was huge public budget spent to develop technologies in this AAL sense. For example, to allow older people stay longer at home. But these failed.
They were technically wonderful but at the very end the market did not accept them because these older people, they had different ideas...to those ideas that the engineers had thought they would like to have. So I guess, this is a lesson to be learned. To go to care homes, to talk to care personnel, to talk with their relatives, to talk to the people living in care homes as long as possible in order to, let me say, develop a requirement analysis. What do they really want? And in that case I guess there's a much better chance that after the development process, after the innovations are ready for market, that they then also will be accepted. So I guess this is a kind of win-win situation.
The care homes and the older people - they will benefit from this because they will be able to make use of the new technologies and also the companies will have a benefit because they will be able to sell their products. So that's good for both of these groups. This sounds very much like… I used to work in marketing and this sounds like a very good benchmark for just research: to understand who you're designing the innovation for and to actually understand whether they would... how they use something, where they would use it, what are the pain points they have.
Is it quite similar to marketing research, market research when we talk about going into the field and speaking with users? Yes in a sense there's some relationship. Yes you're right. But it's more. Let me explain it at the occasion of some German experiences. German scientists and engineers have been developing so many wonderful solutions over the last decades but at the very end...there weren’t any problems to be addressed by these solutions.
And now you could say “okay they did wrong market research” but it's more, because market research is just asking people, making surveys, it is about getting some ideas from observing lifestyle patterns, developments and so on while RRI attempts to accept consumers but also citizens and other people affected on equal footing. So it's not just to explore what they think but also to get into a dialogue with them. For example, in Germany we developed the approach of “Real-World Lab” research where we go to the citizens - we do not expect them to come to our campus - we go to them and we talk to them.
We might make a kind of co-development co-design of projects for example in the area of sustainable development of urban quarters. So...the roles are different. With market research the consumers are the consumers. In RRI the consumers are the partners.
Is there a project that you've worked on before that you thought “this is fantastic, the process worked really well". Do you have an example of that? Just your best practice project you've worked on? I come back to this issue of care homes. We had a wonderful project three, four years ago with care homes, for people with dementia.
And so it was really a huge challenge to get access to these care homes, as a scientist, to talk to the care persons, to their relatives, and sometimes, even with the people with dementia, if possible. We developed a requirement analysis - which the new technologies could be useful to allow those people with dementia the largest extent of autonomy possible. Perhaps you know, dementia has its ups and downs and the better a person is in order, the more autonomy can be given to this person. So we thought about the kinds of AI supported surveillance technologies detecting the status of the persons and giving them as much autonomy as possible, adequate to that situation.
And now our colleagues from the Technical Institute at KIT, they are developing this kind of technology. So we are not yet at the state of saying “well, it had a wonderful impact and now all the care homes use it” but there are some optimism that this will be a very good story. Sounds really good! So if, just say, I am a medium sized company, I am doing something tremendously innovative, and I am ethically conscious I have a full team of engineers with me and I would like to make sure that my team is equipped to do TA or Response Innovation. What should business leaders keep in mind when they choose experts or build teams to suit their innovation needs? Can I just go and hire an ethicist to come on board? What do I need? I guess, first of all and this holds for all the answers: it depends. It depends on the issue under consideration, on the context, on the market, and so on and so on.
And the economic sector etc. It's always different. But in order to try to give a more abstract answer... Establish a cooperation with a TA or RRI institute.
I guess it is too narrow to engage an ethicist. This might be okay in some very specific cases in, let me say, biotech or life science or whatever but in most cases RI, Responsible Innovation, is more of an interdisciplinary issue. So it needs of course sometimes ethics, or often it needs ethics, but it also needs an idea about the market, about governance structures, about involvement of citizens, about participation, about how to organize some dialogue. This is more social science knowledge.
So I guess it needs cooperation with institutes, which have interdisciplinary competence in this field. And then it's better not to speak about scientific disciplines but about the issue to be addressed. And depending on the issue, and depending on the target to be met, then you can identify, to determine which disciplines you need in order to fulfill the task. So I always put it in this way: to get the problem and the challenge clear first and then to look for the approach, for methods, for persons, for disciplines and so on. This really often is a challenge: to really clarify the issue. And this must be clarified not only from an economic point of view but also from looking at the environment where the innovation shall be put into.
So in this environment, it is usually a social environment. This may be a company in case of production plants, but often it's a kind of everyday life environment. Or it's a school environment or a care home as we had. And in all these environments there are customs, there are concerns, there are expectations, there are daily life routines, and all these should be taken into account when thinking about what would be a responsible innovation for this type of social environment.
You know what it sounds like? And I can be completely wrong But it sounds like.. you know you know during a film production usually they don't have a locked in team. And what happens is that when they have a script, when they have the story ready, then they will know how, and what they need, and what skill sets they need to have, to build this production. And then they recruit people with specific skills to come along. And they kind of gather, they gather for a few months, they work on the project and then they go away.
And what happens after that is, actually, everybody works in a network and everyone kind of gets more skills And over time you actually have lots of very equipped people, experts that have worked on multiple projects. It's a completely different field but it sounds like the same structure. Yes, you are right. It's a very interesting association and a good analogy. The issue is that in those fields as you described, this approach is, let me say, kind of self-evident: how to do differently is self-evident. But in innovation and in particular in innovation close to science it's not that evident because in the traditional approach scientists, and sometimes also the engineers in companies, they think, they thought they knew about the social environment. They had their own ideas about the social environment
and based on their own ideas they started the development process and developed innovations. And then they at least in Germany they again and again got astonished to see, well, this innovation does not fit, people did want to have something different. And so this is a change. Responsible Innovation implies an opening of the innovation culture and indeed is a good hint to look at other practice fields where this approach already is at place.
I've never thought about the connection, opportunity, until you said that before. I want to ask you something about the role of qualitative insights in driving innovation decisions. It seems to me that the more complex an innovation is, the more we need to rely on qualitative insights to better understand human behavior and how it shapes and changes innovation outcomes as a result. However in practice if we look at business spending, last year about USD80 billion was spent on market research. only 20 percent of that was spent on qualitative research. So engaging people, audience, to find out why they do certain things.
I understand that this is due to a number of practical challenges for example time, cost and difficulties of actually finding candidates to come and talk to you. So my question is: how can we make qualitative insights more accessible so that we can make more informed decisions? Perhaps to better understand both the soft and hard impacts of innovation. It's a very good and also difficult question. First of all we need quantitative models, we need data, in order to understand systems.
So that is quite clear. We cannot have all the issues in our mind and think about relationships and dependencies and, and, let's say, free and independent variables and so on. We really have to do quantitative work where possible. But there is one issue: we are talking about the future today, yes? And I guess we don't have any data from the future.
Probably you agree. And also looking at big data. In big data there is no data of the future. All the data we have is from the past.
And this is fine in order to understand systems, to look for sensitivities, dependencies and so on. But extending this knowledge to the future is a difficult issue. It is, in epistemology, highly precarious.
And we all know about the many experiences where predictions failed. Completely failed. This is simply because humans sometimes behave differently from the expectations. And this is our freedom. This is our creativity. So sometimes people then start claiming that, well, in spite of all the data and models we are not able to make good predictions I'm happy about this.
I’m happy that we cannot predict in a very very certain way because otherwise our life would be determined. We only can predict what has been determined today already like in astronomy for example. Humans are free, humans develop new things, humans are creative, so this makes predictions in the old fashioned sense of the 1960s and 70s impossible, impossible for human society. Well, but, I understand of course that managers do want to have the best predictions available, whether a market success will be possible or not. Yes of course.
And similar other things. And for improving the possibility to do predictions as best as possible. So of course we need big data and artificial intelligence and algorithms and all these issues. But we should not forget that they all operate on the basis of past data.
And.. sometimes, when the time comes also the surprise comes because the data from the past did not tell us about the future. What was expected. And I guess this is a kind of “conditio humana”, human condition, “condition humaine”, which cannot be overcome because it's simply the other side of the coin of our freedom and creativity. Which I like very much. So we need in addition to the database - quantitative reasoning - we need qualitative reasoning. I just presented my basic argument because of the missing data of the future. And this is always a good,
very simple but good, story to talk to managers and to enterprises because they really understand. And then the next step is to talk about qualitative reasoning. Good arguments. And what I really like is to have good arguments in the way of developing scenarios for the future. So that means not predictions but possible futures or more plausible futures, perhaps even probable futures. This is perhaps sometimes a bit difficult but...if it’s possible it's fine.
And so in this type of thinking the future is not just closed down to one prediction but it's opened up. It fits very well to the title of your series. It's opened up to a variety of possible futures and then the enterprises can think "Well, we have this range of possible futures and now we should develop all innovations not only with respect to this one prediction but to a broader range of possible futures” which needs some effort, which needs, perhaps, more money than to close down to one possible future but it increases the probability to really get return on investment. How do you close it down to... If you have five (i.e. “too many”!) possible futures, how do you close it down to e.g. two (i.e. “manageable number of”) futures?
Yes it’s possible, again by using quantitative data and models if possible. For example in energy policy we have huge models of the energy market of the energy supply system in Germany, Europe and so on and we apply these models in order to get some insights about future developments. Not in order to make a prediction but we feed these models with different input data. For example, we assume different developments for the future in terms of policies. For example, the political future could become a more green one then there are some parameters related to thinking green and then we can run the model in this direction.
Or we can run the model in a more neoliberal direction. Or we can run the model into a more nationalistic direction with cutting off world trade, free trade and so on. So this makes the range of possible futures clear. And, if not possible, we can simply talk with experts but also with citizens, with stakeholders, about plausible futures in a qualitative way.
We can organize scenario workshops, for example, in order to think about the future of a specific region. We did this for several regions in Europe. How do you see your future? You have this strength and these weaknesses and then we can talk about where we want to go. So this type of thinking is not only explorative in the sense of data driven from the past, it's also normatively driven by thinking where we want to go in the future.
So we have different approaches in order to deal with this openness of the future in order to close down this openness a bit, because if we take into account the full openness we don't have any orientation of what could be done. I feel like I can keep asking questions about your work. I'm just conscious that our time is kind of nearly up and so I want to get to my last question which is about your career. So you have been working in TA and RI for a number of decades, if I can say that, including holding senior positions, like I said before when I introduced you, the Head of The Office for Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag since 2002.
That's a long time! I assume that you would have worked on many projects. So I'm wondering what is something that you see but most people often don't? Something that maybe everybody should know, should be aware of? So yes, thank you, this is a 100 percent question. One wish or one vision with respect to a very ugly problem we have in Germany and many other countries is the high level radioactive waste. We had a very bad story in Germany over the last decades and now I'm Chair of a national committee to observe and to take care of a new process, a complete relaunch of the sighting process to find a good place on how to dispose and where to dispose of high-level nuclear waste. And my vision is that we will be able to manage this in a peaceful way.
This would be very different to the past because in the past there were riots and so on, really complicated situations. In the future I'm going for a new process with public participation, a highly transparent, science based and peaceful. And I put my effort that this will go forward. My concern, on the other side in the broader sense, is that we continuously are in risk to overlook the vulnerabilities of our modern societies. This was already my concern before the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, which uncovered a lot of our vulnerabilities.
We did a study for example for the German Bundestag about 10 years ago about the vulnerability of the German electricity supply and possible consequences of a blackout. And this was a devastating result we got. And today I look at the field of digitalization. We all are very happy about digital technologies and this is wonderful in particular in case of the pandemic. But we increase our dependency on these technologies day by day. One example is, if we go, if we were to abolish the possibility of paying by cash and indeed in some countries we have already now difficulties to pay by cash.
Then this option - paying by cash - will disappear. In case that the internet would break down because of a war or some virus, some digital virus or whatever, then nobody would be able to buy anything without cash. So this is perhaps a simple example but I'm afraid that we are running into many many deep vulnerabilities by increasing our dependence on the functioning of all these digital technologies. And my concern is that there is no Plan B. What would we do “in case of..”
and I will take my possibilities and opportunities to raise awareness. I will use this pandemic that we are experiencing now as an example of what could happen. We are in risk to think “well, everything is going wonderful, we have wonderful innovations, everything will be better” and so on and so on. But there is something about the dark side of the history of this development and we should not forget about this. I was imagining what the world would be like without, well, without the internet.
For the younger generation, they wouldn't really know what the world would be like because they were born into the internet generation. It is kind of a scary thought isn't it? Because sometimes we think of, for example, countries that are still paying in cash, we... kind of think that...oh that's because they're “behind”. But at the same time that's actually a Plan B like you said.
If something goes wrong, they can still operate without totally being stopped. Yes. So there are always good arguments to go for digital technologies. So...there's no necessity to tell about this.
And this is fine. But, there is another side and this is all the experience of technology assessment not only to look at the bright side of technology but also to think about what could be happening in the background, which is not on our… not on our table. We sometimes have to uncover what's going on.
And to go for Plan B. Well, thank you so much for your time. Like I said before, I feel like I've just started to talk to you and reading through your talks, I've got quite a few more questions.
And hopefully we can have a chat in the future again. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you Xiao Han. It was a pleasure.