Technology in and for Society: Innovating well for inclusive transitions

Conference Rationale Innovating Well for Inclusive Transitions

The world faces unprecedented challenges in health, food, climate change and biodiversity, and these require systems transitions or even transformations in areas like energy, agrifood, health systems and manufacturing. These transitions will require political, economic, behavioural and cultural changes. Emerging technologies such as genome editing, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, nano-scale technology and cyber-physical systems will also have a critical role to play in finding solutions. 

However, technology can carry negative consequences and risks for individuals, societies and environment, as witnessed in previous waves of industrial revolution and in current debates around e.g. artificial intelligence and gene editing. Recent experiences with COVID-19 vaccines illustrate how public acceptance of novel technologies and of their governing institutions is far from given. Furthermore, divides in access to and use of technologies threaten to exacerbate growing inequalities across societies.

"Building “upstream” and process-based approaches to technology governance that view emerging technologies within broader political and institutional contexts."

Good governance and ethics will be necessary to harness technology for the common good. This has brought technology governance to the global agenda in multiple settings, including the G7. In order to address the deeper challenges of emerging technology in society, new forms of governance must operate “upstream” and throughout the process of scientific discovery and innovation. Upstream approaches aim to engage possible stakeholder concerns and values, address them through open and inclusive processes, and embed values of open societies -- such as the protection of human rights, open and trusted markets, and diversity -- in the development of new technologies.

In this era of Industry 4.0, technology governance must not only seek to manage risks in the short term, but also anticipate change and enhance societal capacities to assess, promote, steer and cope with longer-term sociotechnical change. As the high-level conference will explore, these capacities include engagement of values in setting technological agendas and missions, strategic intelligence like foresight and technology assessment, interdisciplinary research and engineering, expanding the governance toolkit and enriching societal deliberation. A particular challenge facing good technology governance is the complexity of sociotechnical systems. Too often the role of technology in transitions is overemphasised, where engineering technical futures is divorced from social concerns such as ecology, inclusivity, welfare, health, economy. The circular and bioeconomies, smart cities, high-tech agriculture etc. illustrate how transitions must be simultaneously technological and institutional in nature. It will not be enough to re-order technology or innovation, but also to re-order sociotechnical systems, juxtaposing the need not only for technical change but for new modes of governance.

Towards a framework for the responsible development of emerging technologies

Accordingly, the conference will explore values, design principles, and mechanisms that operate upstream and at different stages of the innovation value chain. Certain policy design principles are increasingly gaining traction in responsible innovation policies, and provide an organising structure for the panels in the conference:  
Inclusivity, diversity and stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder and broader public engagement can be means to align science and technology with societal values, goals and needs. This includes the involvement of stakeholders, citizens, and actors typically excluded from the innovation process (e.g. small firms, remote regions, certain social groups, e.g. minorities etc.). The private sector too has a critical role to play in governance. 
Goal orientation

Policy can play a role in better aligning research, commercialisation and societal needs. This implies investing in public and private sector research and development (R&D) and promoting “mission-oriented” technological transformations that better connect innovation impacts to public policy needs. At the same time, such innovation and industrial policies need to be transparent, open and well-designed so they foster deliberation, produce value for money, and do not distort competition.
Anticipatory governance

From an innovation perspective, governance approaches that engage at a late stage of the innovation process can be inflexible, inadequate and even stifling. More anticipatory kinds of governance -- like new technology assessment methods, foresight strategies and ethics-by-design – can enhance the capacity to govern well.

Conference in contextLink with OECD work

Prior normative work at the OECD and elsewhere have begun to pair these policy design principles with innovation stages and policy mechanisms.  Prominent examples include the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Artificial Intelligence and the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Responsible Innovation in Neurotechnology. These instruments constitute a growing line of work on technology governance at the OECD.

Truly inclusive sociotechnical transitions will require deeper multi-stakeholder discussion of a framework for the responsible development of emerging technology: values, policy design principles and their linkage to actual policies and practices. This conference will deepen our understanding of these elements within the context of transitions challenges and suggest pathways for further development. 

This high-level conference marks an important milestone of Committee on Scientific and Technological Policy (CSTP) work on STI-led transitions and technology governance as well as work of the OECD Working Party on Bio-, Nano- and Converging Technologies (BNCT) on responsible innovation. Reforming STI policy so that it better contributes to sustainability transitions, resilience and inclusion may require different policy frameworks and practices from those commonly used today. Value-based technology, responsible innovation and new models of technology governance will have to be a core part of such frameworks.