Why we changed to SocietyInside...

Hilary Sutcliffe

14 Jan 2017

Our Story


We first started in 2008 as The Responsible Nano Forum.  The organisation was born out of the process of development of The Responsible Nano Code , (which we initiated) a multi-stakeholder governance initiative to help facilitate the responsible development of nanotechnologies, particularly in business.   The UK government gave us funding to explore what would be the most authoritative and credible structure for an organisation to act as an independent and impartial convenor of debate and developer of good practice for the responsible use of this technology.  Our multi-stakeholder consultation, organisational mapping and literature review showed the importance of four key areas:

  1.   Multi-stakeholder governance and charitable/not for profit status
  2.   Credible leaders with a reputation for independence and impartiality
  3.   Core funding which was independent of government and business
  4.   A commitment to radical transparency about our work, our approach and our strategic thinking.

Our governance was created as below:

The Responsible Nano Forum


The Forum was founded, with a multi-stakeholder steering group and independent trustees and a not-for-profit status.  We got start-up funding from the Esme Fairbairn Foundation and funding for the pilot of an accessible multi-purpose website targeted at a multi-stakeholder audience - (which though it has never been updated still gets about 4,000 hits a month).  The Responsible Nano Code working group had previously decided to award the Responsible Nano Code future development to an academic centre of nanotechnology, where unfortunately it floundered as no further funding was available, and it finally settled with the Nanotechnologies Industries Association, a co sponsor, where it has languished ever since.

But it soon became clear that funders were either nervous of association with nanotechnology or their funding streams (eg academic research, charitable outreach or nano promotion) were unsuited to the structure of the Responsible Nano Forum.


We were increasingly asked to participate in initiatives to debate the responsibilities of other technologies based on our learning from nano - synthetic biology, robotics, industrial biotech - among others.   Our Responsible Nano Code, we found, was (as many of the business members in the Nano Code working group had told us!) were equally applicable regardless of the technology under discussion.

From Nano to MATTER


We decided to change our name to MATTER - loosely an acronym of Making Transformative Technologies Ethical and Responsible, with a nod to science and a nod to morals and what matters!

MATTER invited new members to join our steering group to broaden our remit from just nanotech and we became one of the only independent organisations focusing on responsibility and technology innovation. However, as we hadn't the funding to move from a 'not for profit' organisation to a full blown charity, we mutually agreed to part company with our trustees.  


Through stakeholder consultation, literature review and participation in a number of Horizon2020 research projects we fine tuned the Responsible Nano Code and it evolved to become Principles for Responsible Innovation.  We spent 2016 exploring a draft with stakeholders, including input from expert stakeholders in soft governance when Hilary presented to the Community of Practice for Self and Co-Regulation at the European Commission.  


They were gradually distilled from 8, to 6!  We were pleased that the green cleaning company Ecover/Method, unbeknown to us, saw these Principles for Responsible Innovation and used them as the basis for their internal approach to Responsible Innovation and their response to NGO criticism of their use of Algal Oil in their products.  They refined them further to 5 Principles and made them better, which we adopted too.

SocietyInside was simply easier to talk about!


We spent alot of time trying to explain what MATTER was about and why it was called that.  Then one day we developed a project idea called SocietyInside®, a riff on IntelInside®, which explored how to involve stakeholders in innovation.  


Suddenly people understood what we were trying to say and agreed with the importance of involving stakeholders and using innovation for social purpose, without causing more problems than we solve.  


So we decided to change the name again and clarify what we really want to have happen in the world. SocietyInside was born. 

We decided to focus more attention on the Principles for Responsible Innovation, our Credo.  Time and again in our conversations it became clear that these four issues were the key conversation starters and the most important components of innovation with SocietyInside.   


Check out the website.  It is an attempt to articulate some of the key areas for business, policy, academia, NGOs and public and highlight some of the interesting work that we and others have done.   


What makes us particularly distinctive is that we are one of, if not the only, cross technology organisation working in this area.  The learning from nanotech to synthetic biology, robotics to 3d printing and blockchain to AI is very interesting and allows us to draw lessons and parallels and take an overview that few are able to manage.


Get it touch if we can help!  Call Hilary on +44 (0)7799 625064 or email