A retrospective analysis of responsible innovation for low-technology innovation in the Global South
This article (PDF) published in the Journal of Responsible Innovation states that the role of low-technology innovation in addressing global challenges is undervalued. Responsible innovation (RI) has the potential to direct low-technology innovation towards global challenges in the Global South, yet this possibility remains largely unexplored. Through a retrospective analysis, this article explores how researchers grapple with dimensions of an RI framework in a research project and highlights key areas for researchers to consider when involved with low-technology innovation in a development context. The analysis demonstrates that RI can structure discussion and create space for anticipation, reflection and engagement with stakeholders. However, even when researchers are committed to the idea of RI, it is difficult to enact in practice. Although RI places significant emphasis on inclusive and meaningful engagement as imagined by co-development and inclusive models of innovation, the deficit model of public engagement presents a formidable barrier. Surprisingly, low-technology innovators are likely to face the same struggles as high technology innovators. There exists a pervasive ‘technology developers know best’ approach which relies on a knowledge-deficit understanding of the public or end-users. In other words, the public or end-users simply need to be told about the benefits of the technology because it is better. This top-down approach fails to understand the complex range of social, political and economic factors that shape cookstove choices. Although RI is unlikely to be a panacea for the challenges of conducting innovation research in development settings, it offers a practical framework that could help project teams identify important socio-technical elements of innovation early on in the project planning stage and as such, help project teams to work with end-users and other publics to steer research toward social needs and global challenges.