Governance challenges and technology innovation for social use*

Aygen Kurt and Penny Duquenoy


This paper takes as its theme the consideration of ethics in technology development and takes as its foundation work undertaken in the European Union?s (EU) Science in Society EGAIS Project (Framework 7) in which the authors are partners. The Ethical Governance of Emerging Technologies (EGAIS) project investigates the ethics governance processes for European co-funded research and development projects. Our position in this paper will be to discuss some of the results from the project and then consider the implications for non-government funded developments, such as innovations that occur independently or within small organisations. We will base our argument on the innovation theory (and discourse at European level) as a means to understand the development picture, and draw out similarities and differences between the more regulated domains of funded-research and the increasingly common innovative developments that occur outside any regulatory framework.

This abstract begins with a short overview of the area, a flavour of some of the results from the EGAIS project, and progresses to examples of contemporary cultures in development. We raise some questions that are pertinent to ethical responsibility and new technologies.

Innovation has been at the heart of European funded research and policy discourse more explicitly since the beginning of Framework Programmes in the 1980s. Today it continues to be vital and more importantly the ethical aspects of technological innovation and “responsible innovation” are becoming essential elements of the funding mechanisms. The European Commission (EC) has recently launched a consultation on the future of research and innovation funding in Europe with a focus on increasing research funding into innovation and spurring its economic impact on society (European Commission, 2011). To pave the way for this approach, late last year the EC published a communication paper about the launch of a European Innovation Union setting the rationale and targets to improve Europe?s ability to drive innovation in products, services and processes to tackle major challenges facing society today (European Commission, 2010).

In this picture, embedding ethical thinking into technology development culture of Europe and raising awareness for ethical implications of new technologies and innovations is a difficult task. On the one side one has the innovation-driven techno-economic paradigm is embedded in the EU?s research policy discourse and on the other hand, integrating ethical thinking into the innovation design processes might hinder the pace of innovation and competition. However, within the boundaries of an emerging European knowledge system (Stein 2004), enhancement of innovation and rise of competitiveness together with social, ethical, legal and cultural implications can go hand in hand as long as they are sourced, produced and consumed within the system.

In the EGAIS project, we have coordinated the analysis of a number of EU-funded technology development projects to understand whether the ethical and social aspects of the technologies being produced were recognised, and if so, how the project partners resolved the issues, and what the governance arrangements were. In this project we were looking for instances of projects taking a perspective broad enough to recognise social and ethical impacts, to move beyond the technological point of view, to give thought to ethical principles (not just law, e.g. in the case of privacy) and the use of processes that allow these considerations to emerge, to be discussed, and resolutions implemented. Few projects demonstrated these characteristics. (The submitted paper will give more detail).

As mentioned earlier, the projects we studied are all examples of funded-research which are in one way or another contributing to and utilizing of the accumulated knowledge of the European Research Area, which is defined by the EU?s own policy discourse. However, if we look at other areas of innovation which are not funded within the EU-sourced mechanisms, but still having an impact on the European societal lives, the key challenge appears to be how ethically embedded technology development culture will inform our practices and how ethical norms in this context would be defined. Social media and open source systems embedded in a social media context are good examples which do not fit in the boundaries of the funded research idea.

Linus Torvalds, founder of Linux, for instance refers to the three key motivations that drive progress (in relation to technology). These are survival, social ties and entertainment (in Himanen 2001). However, when it comes to designing open source software, the programmer?s key and only motivation would be entertainment. Torvald?s notion of entertainment involves the desire to know, curiosity, innovation and enjoyment of the challenge. If this challenge and enjoyment do not exist, and the technology is no longer an entertainment, then something like Linux would not have come about.

In this respect, Himanen (2001) suggests that the open source innovator?s, namely the hacker’s (in his words) work ethic would be guided by various values, that are passion, freedom, social worth, openness, activity and caring, with a focus on „concern for others as an end in itself and a desire to rid the network society of the survival mentality that so easily results from its logic? and creativity.

In such a “beyond the borders of the system” approach, the questions we need to ask would be:

  • Who are we expecting ethical responsibility from in technology development?
  • How can the technologist / innovator/ entrepreneur be capacitated in a competitive and supply-driven knowledge economy?
  • How can technology regimes be created (and what should they be composed of) for ethically responsible technologies to flourish?
  • What could be embedded within the research, innovation and knowledge systems for society to cope with the ethical aspects of technologies produced outside of the system?

*The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013 under grant agreement n° SIS8-CT-2009-230291


European Commission, (2010). Communication From the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative: Innovation Union. Brussels, 6.10.2010. COM(2010) 546 final.

__________________, (2011). Green Paper: From challenges to opportunities: towards a common strategic framework for EU research and innovation funding. Brussels, 9.2.2011. COM(2011) 48.

Himanen, P. (2001). The Hacker Ethic. Random House: New York

Stein, J. A. (2001) ,Is there a European Knowledge System?, in S. Borrás (guest ed), special issue of Science and Public Policy on Towards a European System of Innovation? Vol. 31 No. 6, pp 435-447.