Author: Cees Leeuwis – Knowledge, Technology and Innovation group, Wageningen University. Netherlands


  • Noelle Aarts – Institute for Science in Society, Radboud University Netherlands

Science communication has broadened to include communication with citizens in the process of research and technology development. Widely promoted approaches such as Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) serve to make techno science more inclusive, reflexive, responsive and anticipatory with the aim to prevent the emergence of undesirable consequences. RRI is mostly applied in relation to ‘upstream research’, which reflects an assumption that the effects of science and technology are largely defined in the research phases. This is questionable since we know that users tend to adapt technologies, and that consequences of technology-use are contextually defined and mediated by institutional arrangements. Positive or negative effects do not only depend on the technology, but also on the societal rules and arrangements in which it is embedded.

The above implies that if we want to support responsible innovation, we need to also pay attention to the ‘downstream’ processes through which scientific results and technologies are translated and scaled through the communicative practices of e.g. development NGOs and other innovation intermediaries. Typically, such organisations works towards the ‘scaling of innovation’ as part of endeavours to achieve positive societal impact.

We argue that scaling efforts are often still informed by outdated individualist models regarding adoption of innovation and technology uptake. These models overlook the social interdependencies and institutional processes that shape the emergence of positive or negative outcomes, and hence do not adequately include considerations regarding responsibility. This frequently results in unsuccesful and/or undesirable scaling outcomes. We present an alternative theoretical conception of scaling processes that considers interactions between different societal spheres, and that builds on the observation that technology-use requires collective action and institutional change. Subsequently, we discuss how RRI may be complemented with Responsible Scaling. We discuss the contours of such an approach, and the implications for science and technology communication and innovation intermediation.

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Presentation type: Insight talk
Theme: Transformation