Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation – Interview with David Guston

Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation - Interview with David GustonFebruary 2014 saw the release of the first issue of the Journal of Responsible Innovation, published by Taylor and Francis. This is the first journal dedicated to this growing area of study, and as I summarized in my review of the first issue the new journal covers areas off interest for many different sectors of the innovation community.

David Guston is Chief Editor of the journal, as well as professor of political science and co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University. He is Principal Investigator and Director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University, and Director of the Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation.

I spoke with Dr Guston about the new  Journal of Responsible Innovation, his aims and objectives, and the Journal’s relevance to the IX community.

How and why did you come to create the journal?

The journal came to me, in a sense. Colleagues had been knocking it around for some months, including my Arizona State University colleague Erik Fisher, who let me know that they had been working on it, but that they needed some extra attention and effort and, perhaps, connections to bring it to fruition. So I joined the effort and found Taylor & Francis.

I did it simply to advance the idea of responsible innovation (RI) and build a community around it. I had started talking the language of RI in 2000 or 2001 when I first started working with Dan Sarewitz at what was then called the Center for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Columbia University (it is still CSPO, but now it is the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at ASU). During the academic year of 2000-2001, we organized a small meeting to generate ideas for a “responsible innovation prize” that might be akin to the Malcolm Baldrige Prize for quality that the US National Institute of Standards and Technology had created. At Rutgers University, where I was a faculty member at the time, I even created a short-lived Center for Responsible Innovation (CRI). When I came to ASU, Dan and I began to build CSPO along some of the lines that the CRI had imagined, and when we won the award from the US National Science Foundation to create the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU, more of those RI ideas became important in its activities.

So the creation of a journal for RI was an outgrowth of research and community building that I have been doing for more than a decade.

What do you hope to achieve with it?

Beyond the community-building that I have mentioned, I would like the journal to transform RI into a serious object of study and thus a rigorous concept that can help innovators, researchers, public and private managers and citizens get the kinds of things out of our innovation systems that are good and desirable. Doing this means collecting and publishing strong scholarship from diverse and usually interdisciplinary traditions, finding contributors and reviewers in some unlikely places, and attempting to be open to lots of different perspectives.

How does it differ from a purely academic journal?

Most academic journals have a community-building function, but the community they imagine is an academic one. The community I imagine includes not just active researchers but active teachers. Not just academicians but public and private R&D managers. And not just people who draw from esoteric theory or deep empirical inquiry, but also people who draw from public culture and experience. So the journal has a section for publishing original theoretical and empirical work, as a traditional academic journal would. But it also has a section for publishing papers for discussion with open comment, in order to open conversations rather than close them. It has a section for perspectives, which – while still peer reviewed like the research articles – is a venue for shorter, more polemically oriented but still grounded pieces that could be written by people other than credentialed academic researchers. The section for reviews will look for critical engagement with not only academic books but also public cultural activities. The inaugural issue of the journal, for example, had a review of a documentary film about human enhancement. And the journal will publish pedagogy, because the idea of RI isn’t going anywhere unless we begin teaching it as well.

What will our readers gain in insight from reading it?

Well, I hope your readers will gain understanding of cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary group of folks who are really grappling with one of the greatest challenges we have: How do we innovate to help, rather than to hurt? We’ve generally answered that question with reference to a near-magical market in which our preferences, aggregated as consumers, are presumed to be the right thing, or with reference to the intentions of the innovators, who only want to do good in the world. Without condemning the market or the good intentions of innovators, I think it’s still plain to see that these answers are insufficient, and that we need to develop intellectual perspectives, clear concepts, and concrete tools and processes to move us along. Innovation is something that more people need to participate in – not just as consumers but as engaged citizens – in order to make it more responsible.

How can readers of Innovation excellence help in the development of the field?

Many of your readers might be in the position to contribute to the journal. Again, the perspectives and reviews can be written from just about any, well, perspective. They can use the journal, or any discussions about RI, as an opportunity to reflect on what it is that they do that makes their current work part of a framework of responsibility, and what it is that might occur that falls outside of that framework. They can be open to new ideas about how innovation might happen, even if those ideas come from folks outside their domain of expertise. They could develop their own sense, or even their own models, of RI, and be sensitive to the forces that help sustain or help erode those models. Best, they can be curious but self-critical, and ask themselves a set of questions that my colleague, Erik Fisher, who drew me into the journal project, has social science and humanist students ask scientists and engineers in laboratories inn which the former are “embedded”: What are you doing? Why are you doing it that? Who might benefit (or suffer) from the work you are doing? How might you do it differently?

On behalf of Innovation Excellence I would like to thank David Guston for his insight and wish him well with his project, and remind readers that the first issue is a free download available here. I too have an article in the first issue in which I “raise the issue of the under-representation of participatory approaches to the study of RI and suggest that these approaches may well go some way towards allowing policy-makers and governing bodies access to the informal mechanisms of research design, practice, and public perception”.

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Jonny HankinsJonny Hankins is the Foreign Correspondent for Bassetti Foundation for Responsible Innovation. He serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Responsible Innovation, participates in the Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation, and is the Responsible Innovation Editor for Innovation Excellence. Trained as a sociologist at the Victoria University of Manchester UK, his interests range from innovation in the renewable energy sector, bio and medical ethics and the role of politics in innovation, to questions of ethical and moral responsibility. He lives in Boston, MA where he is also a musician, actor and street performer.

Jonny Hankins




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