Technical change is advancing at a breakneck speed while the institutions that govern innovative activity slog forward trying to keep pace. The lag has created a need for reform in the governance of innovation. Reformers who focus primarily on the social benefits of innovation propose to unmoor the innovative forces of the market. Conversely, those who deal mostly with innovation’s social costs wish to constrain it by introducing regulations in advance of technological developments. We argue here for a different approach to reform the governance of innovation that we call responsible innovation because it seeks to imbue in the actors of the innovation system a more robust sense of individual and collective responsibility.
Responsible innovation appreciates the power of free markets in organizing innovation and realizing social expectations but is self-conscious about the social costs that markets do not internalize. At the same time, the actions it recommends do not seek to slow down innovation because they do not constrain the set of options for researchers and businesses, they expand it. Responsible innovation is not a doctrine of regulation and much less an instantiation of the precautionary principle.
Innovation and society can evolve down several paths and the path forward is to some extent open to collective choice. The aim of a responsible governance of innovation is to make that choice more consonant with democratic principles.