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Responsible Innovation in Chains and Networks 

Track Coordinators: Vincent Blok (Wageningen Universiteit) and Victor Scholten (Delft University of Technology)

Responsible Innovation is an emerging concept to balance economic, socio-cultural and environmental aspects in innovation processes (European Commission 2011). Because technological innovations can contribute significantly to the solution of societal challenges like climate change or the aging of people, but can also have negative societal consequences, it is assumed that social and ethical aspects should be considered during the innovation process. By involving multiple stakeholders in innovation processes at an early stage, “societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view to the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products” (von Schomberg 2013: 63). The consideration of ethical and social aspects during innovation processes will lead not only to technological innovations which are socially acceptable but also socially desirable (cf. Matter 2011). The concept of responsible innovation expresses the ambition to address societal needs, next to the more traditional objectives of innovation like economic growth, profit maximization, competitive advantage, etc.

         Because the concept of responsible innovation is relatively new and still evolving in different directions (cf. Owen et al. 2013; van den Hoven et al. 2013), there are several under-researched area’s in general, and with regard to chains and networks in particular. In the context of the WICaNeM conference on chain and network management, the following research areas are of special interest:

          1. Until now, most research is done from a policy or socio-ethical perspective and focusing on academic R&D environments, while most innovations take place in commercial or industrial settings (cf. Flipse 2012). It is precisely corporate innovation, which is underrepresented in current research on responsible innovation (cf. Blok 2013).

          2. Nowadays, it is widely acknowledged that only a few firms have all resources and networks available to innovate in isolation. Most firms innovate in networks and/or together with their supply chain partners. This raises the question how collaborating firms share the responsibility for the innovation they work on. It is precisely innovation in chains and networks, which is underrepresented in current research on responsible innovation.

           3. Although all industries and sectors can be involved in responsible innovation, sector specific differences are not taken into account in current research and some sectors are underrepresented. It is precisely the agri-food sector, which is underrepresented in current research on responsible innovation. Nanotechnology and ICT for instance are fields of research which are often mentioned in the responsible innovation literature, but in biotechnology, medical technology and food technology we observe similar issues concerning health and/or privacy. Insights from several industries and sectors can help to develop a better conceptualization of responsible innovation and to distinguish sector-specific characteristics of its application.

           4. Through the concept of responsible innovation, the focus of innovation processes shifts towards societal challenges. These are converted into business opportunities to create new concepts, business models and ways of operating, as well as more efficient approaches to resource exploitation and energy consumption. These opportunities require a different approach to problem solving which diverts significantly from the way we think about solutions, technologies and applications today. The question is to what extent SMEs and start-ups can benefit from these opportunities for responsible innovation, assuming that they are not constrained by a dominant logic, existing heuristics and current practices to problem solving.

            5. Responsible innovation presupposes that business decisions with regard innovation activities are at least partly ethically motivated (Waldman and Galvin, 2008) with strong concerns for others over the own interests of the company (Jones, et al. 2007). However, the responsibility of a business decision exists only if there is “a clear and directly foreseeable return on investment” (Waldman and Siegel, 2008: 119). Consequently, the question is raised how companies, especially SMEs, make decisions and organize their innovation process to the extent it is considered more responsible?

         Given the importance of the emerging field of responsible innovation, this call for papers aims to deepen management scholars’ and practitioners’ understanding of how firms can effectively be involved in responsible innovation processes in order to add social and economic value. Therefore, we encourage submission of papers that tackle a broad range of questions, including (but not limited to) the aforementioned areas of special interest. Both empirical and conceptual papers are welcome and we strongly encourage multi-disciplinary submissions in areas such as management, finance, accounting, supply chain, public administration and policy, marketing, organizational behaviour, communication, education, development, sociology and psychology among others. In addition to the track session, submissions will be subject to a double-blind review process and will be considered for publication in a special issue of the Journal of Chain and Network Sciences on Responsible Innovation in Chains and Networks.

         To ensure consideration for this WICaNeM track session, please submit your abstract through the WICaNeM submission system by November 1, 2013: WICaNeM2014@wur.nl. For further questions and remarks, please feel free to contact the track coordinators Vincent Blok (vincent.blok@wur.nl) or Victor Scholten (V.E.Scholten@tudelft.nl).



Blok, V., Lemmens, P. (2013 forthcoming) The Emerging concept of responsible innovation: Three reasons why it is questionable and calls for a radical transformation of the concept of innovation. In: Van den Hoven et al. (ed) Responsible Innovation, Volume 2. Dordrecht: Springer.

         European Commission (2011) Horizon 2020 – the framework programme for research and innovation. Brussels.

         Flipse, S.M. (2012) Enhancing Socially Responsible Innovation in Industry. Dissertation Delft University.

         Jones T, Felps W, Bigley G. (2007) Ethical theory and stakeholder-related decisions: The role of stakeholder culture. Academy of Management Review, Vol 32, 137-155.

         Matter (2011) A Report on responsible Research & Innovation Brussels.

         Owen, W., Bessant, J., Heintz, M. (ed.)(2013), Responsible Innovation. Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society Chichester: Wiley.

         Pless N, Maak T, Waldman D. (2012) Different Approaches Toward Doing the Right Thing: Mapping the Responsibility Orientations of Leaders. Academy of Management Perspectives. Vol 26, No 4, p. 51-65.

         Van den Hoven, J., Koops, B.J., Romijn, H., Swierstra, T., Doorn, N. (ed.)(2013 forthcoming) responsible innovation, volume 1: innovative solutions for global issues. Dordrecht: Springer.

         Von Schomberg, R. (2013)A vision of responsible research and innovation. In: W. Owen, J. Bessant, M. Heintz (ed.), Responsible Innovation. Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society Chichester: Wiley, pp. 51-74.

         Waldman D, Galvin B. (2008) Alternative Perspectives of Responsible Leadership. Organizational Dynamics, Vol 37, p. 327-341.

         Waldman D, Siegel D. (2008) Theoretical and Practitioner Letters: Defining the Socially Responsible Leader. Leadership Quarterly, Vol 19, p. 117-131.

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