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Quick description of the project

Ultrathin nanomembranes or NAMEs can enable efficient and scalable system designs for (photo)electro-catalytic applications that allow a sustainable production of fuels and basic chemicals/materials (Lewis, 2016). However, the technology’s success depends not only upon technological breakthroughs but also upon its absorption of socio-ethical values ‘upstream’ in the R&D process during its competition with the existing dominant solutions. It is therefore necessary to both understand the socio-ethical embedding of NAMEs and to create a responsible innovation path (RI path) for this technology in which socio-ethical values are absorbed into the design process. In the NWO project, we conceptualize the innovation path of NAMEs as taking place in a quadruple helix innovation system where four types of values are constantly negotiated and accommodated: market value (industry), political value (policymaking), moral value (civil society) and research value (academia). An RI path for NAMEs can accommodate the four different types of helix-specific values while minimizing the corresponding helix-specific risks.

Here's a quick video that explains artificial photosynthesis

Aim and Objectives

Our aim is to study the socio-ethical embedding of NAMEs in a quadruple helix system and to create a RI path for NAMEs that facilitates the absorption of helix-specific values in the design process.

Our objectives are:

  1. To develop a governance framework for responsible innovation paths that can facilitate the absorption of socio-ethical values in the design and system integration of NAMEs

  2. To analyze the relationship between NAMEs and the four helixes of the quadruple helix system

  3. To create a RI path for NAMEs in which helix-specific values can be absorbed into the design process through an inclusive, reflective dialogue between NAMEs and its quadruple-helix stakeholders.

RI-paths: pluralism in a quadruple helix system

In our project we conceptualize RI paths as innovation paths (Garud et al. 2010) that occur in quadruple helix innovation systems (Carayannis and Campbell 2009, 2010). The quadruple helix model of innovation posits that successful innovation results from the participation of four different kinds of groups: academics, industry, policymakers and citizens. In a more recent (‘processual’) understanding of this model, the four stakeholder groups are replaced with four value co-creation processes: the process of creating market value, the process of creating political value, the process of creating moral/ethical value and the process of creating academic value (McAdam et al. 2018; Popa et al. 2020b).

What is a RI-path?

RI paths result from the optimal accommodation of these four processes. Because of this, RI paths result in artefacts that optimally absorb the four values pertaining to each of the four helixes. In practice these processes will often conflict with one another or give rise to “friction” (Popa et al. 2020b). Because of this, the relational co-creation process in an RI path involves dialogue, reflection, negotiation and the kind of “calibration” that makes possible “cooperation without consensus” (Centellas et al. 2013).

The creation of RI paths can be seen as a way of managing the momentum of an innovation path in such a way that one helix does not overpower others, thereby jeopardizing a technology’s potential for positive disruption.

Pluralism in the lab

One of the puzzles before us in this project is the often-discussed question of value ‘absorption’ or ‘accommodation’ or ‘integration’ or ‘sensitivity’ in the field of responsible innovation (Owen et al., 2013; van den Hoven, 2013). From a pluralist perspective, there is at least prima facie some tension in this concept because values are – according to pluralists at least - both incompatible and incommensurable (Lassman, 2011; Ligtvoet et al., 2016; Mouffe, 2013; Walzer, 1983). Values are incompatible in that they cannot both be applied at the same time without loss and they are incommensurable in that there is no higher-order value on the basis of which they can be judged or to which they can be reduced. Given this incompatibility and incommensurability, value absorption is not as straightforward as one might think. But then how does it work? What does it mean then to be a pluralist and pay heed to a multiplicity of values in R&D? Is it the finding of the most reasonable consensus? Is it the integration of the most values? Is it the delaying of the moment when the innovation process ‘collapses’ on one specific value configuration to the denial of others? Or is it maybe none of the above as pluralism might not survive under laboratory conditions.

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