Our work over 20 years in CSR, Sustainability and RRI has culminated in the creation of these Principles for Responsible Innovation.   They are an underwhelming four principles on the face of it, but the many conversations we've had with stakeholders about innovative technologies as diverse as gene editing, nanotechnology, robotics, and 3d printing, AI and new business models, all confirm that these are the four most critical areas of focus to help make these innovations work for us all. 
They are not mean to be a standard, or a code of conduct, they are ‘a statement of the beliefs or aims which guide someone’s actions’ - a Credo.  They are intended as a conversation starter, to help us all think differently about our approach to innovation, at whatever stage of the process we're involved. 
They can help us examine what world we want to live in, to consider more carefully how these technologies are shaping our lives and decide, in very practical terms, what needs to change in our own work to make technology work better for the empowerment of people and preservation of the planet. 

Lead with social purpose

  • Making its social purpose the primary starting point for research, invention and innovation and not just scientific kudos, a technical improvement or economic benefit, is eye-opening for many.

  • Organisations like the consumer products company Unilever, as well as many social entrepreneurs and mission-led business and academic centres are beginning to ask this question of themselves with interesting, and profitable results. 

  • Of course pure scientific endeavour, the power of serendipity and the desire for profit and progress, all play their part, but if the common good is prioritised the focus of innovation can begin to shift.

  • No single organisation, model or theory has the answer as to what a social purpose looks like, what social needs are and what these priorities may be, it is a shared responsibility which includes policy makers, funders, academics, businesses, civil society organisations and citizens.  

  • Even taking a pragmatic approach, simply in terms of sales, stakeholders have told us of the sheer waste of time, money and effort which has gone into new products where the social benefit hasn't even been thought of and will never get to market.  

“Please don’t bring us pointless products using a technology for the sake of it, which doesn’t bring a benefit and where you clearly haven’t thought through the risks. But do use new technologies to solve some of the big problems we all face in a way which offers real benefits and is safe to use – we are desperate for those.” 


Business, Social Purpose, Others' work

Check out B Corp

B Corps are 'ordinary people using business as a force for good in the world'


Project Breakthrough & UN Global Compact

Aligns the UN Global Compact’s new 2030 Sustainable Development Goals into business action. 

Purpose, Business, Others' work

The Purposeful Company

Interesting interim report from the Big Innovation Centre (who kindly hosted the launch of our Building Confidence Report).   

Anticipate & respond to broader impacts

"Innovation is society in the making"  Pierre-Benoit Joly SenS/INRA, IFRIS, Paris
  • Innovation is disruptive. There are always winners and losers; innovations that some consider a great breakthrough, others experience as a disaster.  Some which, with hindsight, turned out great and others which didn’t.  

  • What are now considered as ‘irresponsible innovations’ - perhaps cigarettes, asbestos, petrol, diesel, biofuels - seemed like a good idea at the time, but as it became obvious there were problems, our inflexibility and inability to respond to early warnings of problems has cost us dearly.

  • Many of the more recent innovations, in IT particularly, are moving so fast, that impacts which don’t arise when an organisation is small become problematic for society as a whole when delivered at scale.  It's hard to imagine three guys hiring out blow up mattresses to pay their rent, being considered "the biggest risk facing global tourism"and valued at $10bn, as AirBNB managed in just a few years.  

  • That isn’t something easily foreseeable and the responsibilities associated with that are very difficult to assess in advance. That this transition can take place in such a short time leaves innovators, regulators and consumers playing catch up and unable to respond until after negative impacts have occurred and behaviours entrenched.

  • Responsible Innovation is about being more mindful of how innovation shapes society in a more deliberate and thoughtful way and thinking more carefully about risks, impacts and trade-offs in advance.  

  • But we will never catch 'em all.  Uncertainties will always remain and technologies move in unfroseen directions.  Responsible Innovation anticipates this and also explores ways to 'Welcome Warnings'. We all have to be more flexible, adaptive and nimble to anticipate and respond quickly enough to early warnings of problems. It's of paramount importance, but that is challenging to deliver for both practical and behavioural reasons. 

  • As we have found in recent times, the concerns now are not just about HSE risk, which are tricky enough in themselves, consideration of social, cultural, ethical, environmental and economic issues in the round are now required. It will need new attitudes, new processes, new institutions and new and innovative ideas of its own to make it happen.  

"We want to know companies have anticipated risks. Acting as if they don't exist is unhelpful.  Institutional Investor.

Blog, Public, Multi-stakeholder

The public & emerging tech

The public has a duty to understand science - really!? My take on some of the stupider attitudes to PUS and PUTSIAGT!

Risk, Pre-mortems

Advanced materials risk-we are asking wrong questions

Exploring a new approach to risk and advance materials, through a form of 'pre-mortem'.

Multi-stakeholder, Post-mortems

Food Irradiation and Responsible Innovation

Pilot  of a 'Post-mortem' style mutli-stakeholder project assessing social and safety risks in a controversial technology

Involve stakeholders

  • The 'lone genius' model of innovation has been debunked & it is increasingly recognised that innovation works best when we develop it together. 

  • But working with like-minded academics & companies is one thing - but involving NGOs & the general public often seen as a step too far.  Henry Ford's alleged view "if I'd listen to what people wanted I'd give them faster horses", is used to ridicule any such suggestion.

  • Though it is true, very often we don't know we want something until we see it, it fails to understand both the commercial and the moral case for listening & responding to the needs and concerns of society & involving us in the process.

  • Time & again evidence shows that the public is sceptical but generally excited about innovation, though they, rightly, have concerns about the downsides & expect action to be taken to mitigate the negative effects on people and the environment.

  • The current so-called populist movement in politics is, in many ways, a response to business, government & academia ignoring the potential negative societal impacts of innovation and the concerns of the public.  

  • We all need to listen, communicate and collaborate better with stakeholders, particularly those with whom we disagree.  But most importantly, we nee to think more carefully about how to use technologies for empowerment, to respond to concerns, to minimise negative impacts and demonstrate the trustworthiness of innovation for the common good. 

"Patients often have the guts, insight, imagination and freedom from institutionally limited thinking to ask 'what if...?' They also widen the array of options for improvement and change".  David Gilbert - 7 things involving patients brings

Multi-stakeholder, Public, Others' work

Choosing methodologies - use Engage2020

Check out the Engage2020 Action Catalogue 

Blog, Public, Multi-stakeholder

The public & emerging tech

The public has a duty to understand science - really!? My take on some of the stupider attitudes to PUS and PUTSIAGT!

Investor, Research

Building confidence in innovative technology...

Stakeholder concerns aired - how to respond?

Radical openness and transparency

“..the slightly plaintive question ‘How can we restore trust?‘ is on everyone’s lips. The answer is pretty obvious. First: be trustworthy. Second: provide others with good evidence that you are trustworthy.” Baroness Onora O’Neill
  • The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer shows a 'yawning trust gap', across the world.  The most credible source of information on social media is 'my friends and family' and for the first time 'a person like yourself' is now tied as most credible spokesperson with a technical or academic expert.  The credibility of business leaders and governments has dropped dramatically and they are far behind.  Even NGOs are losing trust.

  • As innovation and new technologies become more complex, more intrusive and more disruptive, clear evidence of their social contribution and the trustworthiness of the organisations involved will become even more important.

  • Openness and transparency are key to building trustworthiness.  As Baroness O'Neill says, the only way to demonstrate your trustworthiness is by evidence and openness about the steps you are taking to do that.

  • Innovation also reflects our values, as individuals and as societies.  But as people have different values, different views of the way the world should be and different ideas of how that can be achieved, innovation which aligns with the values of the many will be difficult to achieve.

  • Add to the plethora of human views a global world empowered by new communications tools, inequality of access to innovation and technologies which are beyond the capacity of most of us to understand a much more complicated landscape for innovators and society emerges. 

  • Changing expectations about increased transparency leave many unused to and unprepared for this level of scrutiny.  It is tough for individuals and organisations to respond effectively to the increasing cacophony of different, sometimes conflicting, voices focused on them and their policies, organisations or products. It’s genuinely difficult to make decisions in this context, with few clear paths to consensus and seemingly always disappointing at least one vocal group of important stakeholders who make their concerns abundantly clear to the world.

  • However, the current ‘default to silence’ approach may have worked in the past, but increasingly seems to be the very least helpful strategy. Not simply because it fails to answer the questions of those with concerns, but because it makes the public sceptical, customers nervous, governments and NGOs suspicious, and reduces confidence in both individual companies and a technology as a whole.

  • Pressure is building on all actors - policy makers, academics and civil society organisations - to do more than simply say 'trust us'. They need to 'show their workings' and demonstrate their trustworthiness. 

  • Responsible Innovation advocates a bold and radical approach to openness, transparency and accessibility of information. It asks everyone to be innovative and generous in their approach and through openness build confidence in innovation which is not just for profit or kudos, but to make society better for us all.

Trust is not a message, it's an outcome.
Robert Philips, Jericho Chambers

Others' work, Risk

'An implosion of trust'

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer shows a dramatic fall in trust in all institutions, with 'a person like me' trusted as much as a technical or academic expert.

Investor, Research

Building confidence in innovative technology...

Stakeholder concerns aired - how to respond?

Others' work

Transparency gone too far!


A really enjoyable novel exploring the implications of openness taken to the extreme.

Join the conversation

Click on the sectors below for some ideas on why, how and where these Principles can be applied across the innovation process.

Join the conversation

Click on the sectors below for some ideas on why, how and where these Principles can be applied across the innovation process.