What's fair to ask?
What's fair to share?
....what stakeholders expect and how companies can respond
This multi-stakeholder research inproject focuses on a key area of the debate about innovative technologies – the importance of transparency and stakeholder participation as an integral component of product development. It was done in our previous incarnation as MATTER, but it illustrates our focus and multi-stakeholder approach and has made an important contribution to the development of the thinking behind SocietyInside and our Principles for Responsible Innovation.
It came about because the companies we spoke to were interested to know more about what different stakeholders really wanted to hear about company use of innovative technologies - such as nanotech, biotech, synthetic biology, AI, robotics. What would build their confidence that companies were using these technologies safely and effectively? Obviously, there are important competitiveness issues which come with greater transparency for companies which we also wanted to consider – will their competitors simply use this information to their own advantage? Are there liabilities associated with more openness, particular where stakeholders are asking for more information about uncertainties and company systems? Though they were part of our discussions, we weren't able to address all of these, though would be interested to take this work further now.
This consultation was created to explore what’s fair to ask of companies, given these constraints, and what’s fair to expect them to share, to build confidence in the innovative technologies which may be the key to their and our future prosperity.
To access the report CLICK HERE
Stakeholders all felt it was important to know when a new technology was being used and for what purpose.
They also wanted reassurance that potential risks, including broader societal risks had been considered and addressed.
But people know that things will go wrong sometimes and appeared surprisingly pragmatic about it. What they all wanted to be assured of is that companies have effective systems and processes in place to ensure the products are safe enough; that they have thought carefully about risks; and where there are issues for safe use that these are made clear to those who need to know. When it does go wrong, they expect it to be clear who is liable and how it gets put right. They also expect that the potential for harm be thought about in advance and contingency plans made to respond effectively to problems which arise.
This lack of openness about innovation among companies all stakeholders felt was damaging and limiting the potential for technology acceptance by society restricting the opportunities for companies to innovate successfully.
Sacha Sadan, Director of Corporate Governance at Legal and General Investment Management summarised this, saying:
“We perceive a critical lack of ambition in long term R&D and also a fear of talking about their ground-breaking research from major companies – in terms of opportunity or risk. Investors need to ask more of companies about the long term technological changes that could effect them and what they are doing to combat/embrace these changes. We hope companies respond with a more open and strategic approach."
What we did
Through a series of one-to-one discussions and workshops we talked to a group of investors, ngos and retailers and evaluated reports of 23 public dialogues and related projects which explored public views. We then took these findings and developed a framework for companies to engage with their stakeholders, department by department, to help build their confidence in the use of technology innovation.
The funding for this project was contributed by the seven companies who wished to know more about the expectations of their key stakeholders and understand how they could achieve this balance of openness and competitiveness. The companies were AstraZeneca, College Hill (communications), GlaxoSmithKline, Leatherhead Food Research, Marks & Spencer, Nestlé and Unilever. A participant from the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer network, focusing on the interests of small businesses also attended without making a financial contribution.
Each company contributed £5k, of which £10k of the total was allocated to core costs and £25k to this particular project.
Launch at The Big Innovation Centre
This is an area of priority for SocietyInside and we are exploring with businesses and their stakeholders how to take forward our recommendations and bring stakeholders and companies together to think through the implications of this for the future.
If you would like to participate contact Hilary at email@example.com