A well-known science communicator, researcher on risk innovation and the responsible development and use of emerging technologies, Professor Andrew Maynard, presented on the need for a model for responsible innovation at the 7th International Symposium for Nanotechnology, Environmental and Occupational Health.
In his talk entitled, Responsible Innovation and Nanotechnology: What does this mean for researchers and businesses?, he argued that the reality of risks in technology innovation is real, considering that the rate of technology innovation surpasses the ability for governance to regulate technologies within existing frameworks.
He said various organisations have been working on safety and responsibility in innovation and there is a lot more that needs to be done.
He explained that guidelines have been developed, but the main concern is that these guidelines are understood theoretically, in practice they are not.
“There is a need to educate and get people talking on the safety and precautionary measures implemented to ensure a practical model for responsible innovation,” he added.
He said regulatory frameworks and practices have been developed for technology innovation to protect human health and the environment, especially in the nanotechnology field. However, there are growing concerns that the regulations are not keeping up to the rate of the progression of technology and, over time, this becomes increasingly dangerous. Social implications, how the technology serves rather than harms society, inclusivity and sustainability of the technology all need to be considered.
“There is now a codified understanding of what responsible innovation means but not what it means in practice especially for small start-up companies. The concern is that although the principle of safety in this field is understood, there are still many challenges to be taken note of.
“Where the government structures especially fall short is their practice of pushing regulations (which are not understood) onto entrepreneurs. Whereas entrepreneurs actually have a better practical understanding which, in most cases, contrast the authority figures understanding of the regulations.”
Professor Maynard highlights the clear disconnect between the approach of people at ground level and governance to regulations. The current approach looks like an attempt to regulate entrepreneurs which stifles and lessens new ideas. He pointed out that as a result of this disconnect entrepreneurs are not encouraged to think in a bigger picture of how their innovation will affect their community.
Prof Maynard adds that in existing responsible nanotechnology research, there is a need to challenge the already made assumptions and beliefs, whilst being careful not to tell people how they should do things.
“Regulations should in other words be translated into real action by mapping out where they would like to go in terms of research, figure out the challenges and how to move around them.”
He added that, although “you can anticipate first where you are going, you need to have flexibility, because there is a rapidly shifting landscape.”
Professor Maynard’s current research at the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona University is focused on encouraging people to change their current understanding of risk analysis and challenging people’s assumptions and ideas. Awareness of researching and innovating responsibly to respond to the current challenges in nanotechnology which affects researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses is essential to improved responsible innovation.