Conference Connecting Practices: insights from the industry
What is there to gain for a company by engaging in responsible innovation initiatives? During the conference Connecting Practices, representatives of industry revealed a myriad of motives.
‘With a multistakeholder approach we become a better bank which develops better products. And if you have to repair something in hindsight, that is bad for your reputation’, said Françoise Rost van Tonningen, Head of the Ethics Office at Rabobank. ‘We want to motivate the best people to come and work for our company. Showing them that we work on a better world is one of the ways to do so’, added Job van Harmelen, Director Corporate Communications at Thales Nederland. Peter Haring, Ecosystem Director Foods at Unilever took it one step further: ‘As a multinational, we feel the moral obligation to lead the troops when it comes to sustainability.’
The fact that these three organisations see the value of responsible innovation, doesn’t mean they are not struggling with challenges though. During the morning session at Friday January 19th, Thales and Unilever presented two questions that arose at a company table meeting organized in fall 2017 by NWO-MVI and VNO-NCW. During the day, conference participants could give their input either through an app on their mobile devices or by two big screens in the coffee corner. A committee of researchers, the company involved and a cartoonist collected and analysed the input, and presented the results of this consultation at the end of the day in the form of two insightful cartoons.
Who’s responsible for responsible innovation?
The first question was presented by Job van Harmelen from Thales. ‘How can we motivate corporates to put responsible innovation on the agenda? At Thales, we help people make decisions. But at what point will we ask machines to make these decisions? How far does our responsibility as a private company stretch to raise questions like these, if there is no demand from society?’ This question led to an impressive amount of well thought-out responses, from which the committee distilled six concrete possible actions: enabling, learning, seducing, connecting, persuading and forcing. Van Harmelen: ‘My take away is: Who is responsible to implement this in an organisation? Too often we all are, so in fact, nobody feels obliged to do anything about it.’
What is responsible?
The second question presented by Peter Haring was: Who determines what makes an innovation responsible? ‘We were happily surprised by the engagement of the congress participants and received numerous responses, which came down to: The end of discussion is the end of innovation. Conflicts make things shine, as long as there is an open debate. For me, this means that at Unilever, we will have to keep in constant debate with our customers, to align our views with theirs and create a better world together.’
Illustrations: pink: Nikki Vrijhof (Procescartograaf), blue: Lisette Platjouw (Procescartograaf)