What Is Responsible Innovation and Why Does It Matter?

Charlotte Evans

Pitch It: The Business Case for Customer Salience

As insight experts, we understand the power of insights, their inherent value in key decision-making...


Emily James

    The principles of innovation are an incredibly interesting aspect of the business landscape. It certainly is a unique space as entrepreneurs and new product development departments continuously push the boundaries of creative innovation. Individuals such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and James Dyson are renowned for their innovations and there is continuous disruption within the marketplace.

    It’s therefore no wonder that, regardless of the product or service that you might be purchasing, there continues to be an abundance of newly developed options to choose from. However, with a variety of industries leveraging their creative freedom, there is an intriguing debate surrounding the concept of responsible innovation. To explore this contemporary topic, Let’s delve into three spheres of responsibility that innovators should consider.

    What is Responsible Innovation?

    While innovative output comes easy for a variety of brands, responsible innovation is one dimension that requires significant attention to get right. Responsible innovation considers the role that new products, processes or business models have in society. This means a responsible approach towards innovation involves creating change that has positive impacts on society and the environment.

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    Responsible innovation involves not just seeking what improvements would be best for the inventor - but also beneficial to communities, to society and to the planet.

    Innovating for Positive Causes

    Innovation interacts with social spaces and this leaves it possible for them to cause both positive and negative effects. With a snapshot of society, you can see that innovation has entered aspects of our lives including housing, shopping and work. There are countless examples of brands that have adapted their innovation strategies to combat challenges that have become associated with these social spaces. Arguably, one of the biggest social issues prevalent in developing countries is poverty, specifically poor living conditions and access to few resources. The tendency to avoid social issues such as these, has led to negative repercussions for brands including Primark and Misguided who have previously faced criticism for neglecting employees’ working conditions in less developed countries.

    Despite this, some brands have taken a different stance by positively innovating in ways that help solve social issues. Toms, a Californian based shoe brand, opted to radicalise their business model and centre this on their One for One brand purpose. To summarise the brand’s model, for every shoe that is purchased from Toms, the brand provides shoes to children with limited resources. Leveraging their responsible and innovative business model, their founder, Ben Mycoskie, has pioneered a movement that addresses consumers’ social concerns by encouraging them to combat social issues through their purchases. This illuminates the importance of responsible innovation because the Tom’s business model shows how brands in developed countries can leverage their resources and support from consumers to make a positive impact in less developed countries.

    Doing What is ‘Right’

    Continuing to look at the use of responsible innovation by businesses, another factor that influences its adoption is the ethical responsibility of brands. Since ethical issues have gained increased attention within media, consumers’ awareness of their ethical rights is at its highest. For example, there has been rising concerns from consumers towards some new technologies such as 5G and Huawei mobiles due to speculations about their privacy, safety and security, therefore, for many brands that are innovating new technologies, responsible innovation has interplayed into the mechanisms of their design.

    In light of recent circumstances, the UK government’s contact-trace app, that will be used to trace COVID-19, is being responsibly developed to reassure consumers’ that their privacy is safe. As a result, the app is being developed without the support of Google and Apple to ensure that users’ information can only be accessed by the NHS. By responsibly innovating this app and avoiding decentralised data collection, the UK government is prioritising the security of data collected. This effectively shows proactive consideration towards consumers as it reassures users that their ethical rights are at the centre of the app’s design. By balancing the needs of the NHS and consumers, a responsible approach towards innovation could support effective early adoption of the contact-trace app.

    Consumers’ Changing Behaviour

    A responsible approach towards innovation can also be influenced by consumers’ attitudes towards sustainability and environmental factors. It is notable that in recent years some brands have opened the conversation between their customers to understand their views towards sustainability. Consequently, attitudes towards sustainability has become a key insight that insight professionals have been drawing upon in research, such as new product testing and concept testing. With continued pressure from consumers, responsible innovation has become an important factor when informing business decisions.

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    What is considered responsible innovation will change as consumer attitudes and heirarchies of concern adapt in a rapidly evolving world.

    Taking an influential lead in innovating a responsible and sustainable store design, Ikea, uniquely centred their research on understanding how customers and employees travel to their stores. Guided by this research, Ikea identified new city store designs that would allow their stores to be accessed via public transport in areas such as London, Paris in Shanghai. With 80% of consumers considering sustainability to be important, this response to responsible innovation can be viewed in line with consumers’ preferences. Therefore, there is demand for responsible innovation amongst consumers today.

    Insight as Art

    The use of market research provides valuable insights into the needs and preferences of our society to support responsible innovation. Drawing upon examples including Toms, the UK Government and Ikea, these brands have emphasised the importance of considering responsible innovation processes. With a spotlight on the significance of listening to our societies’ attitudes and needs, we’re innovating how you can share insight about your customers with your stakeholders. Returning for a second time, we’ve kicked off our Insight as Art campaign and it’s even bigger than before!

    Having highlighted the significance of proactively sharing the voice of your consumers with key business decision makers, we’re inviting you to get involved too! We’re making it very easy for you to hear directly from consumers about what they think about your brand. By taking part, we will share several questions about your brand within our 3-day exploratory research. Using our own Question Board tool, we’ll manage its fieldwork and analysis, then we will creatively share an interpretation of the insight we uncover.

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