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Why does our society need ethical innovation?

Learn how to foster and promote a culture of an ethical innovation through social values in this course from the Royal College of Art.
Decorative image, text written on a glass window in various colours with some words highlighted, for the 2015 RCA research biennial.
© The Royal College of Art

Let’s begin by exploring the course motivation and mission for generating innovation that is ethical by design.

What is ethical innovation?

Why does society need innovation that is ethical and aligned with social values? Over the past few years, society has experienced ground-breaking innovation that has changed the way we live and engage with each other. Innovation has changed our lives by:

  1. rethinking the way we develop and maintain social relationships
  2. increasing the accessibility of information
  3. providing economic opportunities to larger and more diverse populations
  4. widening access to knowledge and any related resources, previously limited to fewer communities
  5. improving people’s health and lifestyle
  6. developing new strategies for tackling local and global challenges affecting people and the environment.

None of these opportunities has come free of issues and challenges, however. The same innovation that has brought us prosperity, healthier forms of living and more diverse life opportunities have also generated many ethical conundrums affecting people’s lives and natural resources.

Drawing a new culture of innovation

Some recent innovation has generated unintended consequences that have had a negative impact on people and the environment. Our planet and our communities are facing challenges that need more holistic strategies that move beyond the principle of solving problems; we need to understand, interrogate, tackle and be able to communicate the complexity of an event and the nature of a problem in order to develop more sustainable and inclusive opportunities.

In this course we’ll be exploring how this can be achieved by combining technological innovation with human values (eg, ‘care’) and, above all, by leveraging the capacity that people naturally have in investigating and interrogating complexity through creativity and imagination.

A new process

Social themes such as caring for people and the environment, tackling climate change and human migration, access to education, the decline in natural diversity, the use of personal information, and fostering social equalities in the distribution of economic opportunities, demonstrate the need to think of innovation through a process that:

  1. understands awareness of the impacts, besides the opportunities, innovation can have on people and the planet
  2. is responsible for any choices made in creating new innovation, with decision-making led by social values
  3. engages and collaborates with a wider range of stakeholders to stimulate interdisciplinary dialogues and conversations towards ethical issues
  4. stimulates human creativity and criticality for transforming ethical challenges into opportunities
  5. fosters a model of leadership that more diverse communities feel part of – and can contribute to – in order to generate more ethical and sustainable human practices.

As you’ll discover in the course, such a process could be stimulated through an approach led by questions, in order to stimulate awareness, reflection and more diverse dialogues. This is something that the creative industries pursue through their practice, which is based on interpreting, caring about and interrogating different aspects of the social realm through tangible experiences, stories, products and services. By analysing, reframing and questioning reality, creative practices can influence the way people think about the future. Their practice stimulates a process of thinking that:

  1. considers and offers a wider range of alternative solutions
  2. generates tools that increase the awareness of the consequences generated by human actions
  3. helps us to see and tackle the complexity of social phenomena
  4. links social values to technology for generating socio-technological opportunities of innovation.

What is value-led innovation?

In the creative industry, innovation is stimulated by an ambition to respond to social issues and challenges. Through the interrogation and analysis of the problems society faces, creative industries leverage creativity to identify what innovative processes and/or decision-making can bring value for people and the environment. This type of strategy engages and deploys the vision and the values of different kinds of people in order to find an innovation that cares about the consequences that a “solution to a problem” might develop.

An approach to adopt in your practice

In this course, we propose the creative industry approach towards innovation as a model that your sector, discipline or industry can implement and reinterpret based on specific needs. Working through questions that influence behaviour and interrogate social issues – such as discrimination against race, religion and gender, limited access to health and education, or indiscriminate use of natural resources – we aim to leverage interdisciplinary collaboration, experience, dialogue, criticality and negotiation for stimulating solutions that are expressed by practice.

Through this model we intend to stimulate learning and knowledge exchange across the different sectors, disciplines and industries that constitute the Ethical Innovator community in the course; whatever your background is, we would like you to experience first and then implement a value-led innovation and leadership approach to innovation.

We will be providing you with examples and methodological frameworks that can holistically inform your decision-making process leading to innovation, which can support the way your profession introduces ethical practices of innovation.

Learning aims

Our ambition for this course is to have people at the forefront in tackling ethical issues and lead the way society designs innovation. Throughout the next four weeks, we aim to provide you with a model of heuristic thinking which recognises your capacity for generating your own strategy for tackling ethical issues. You will be guided by the creative industry approach to innovation, which will guide your motivation for developing an innovation that is ethical by design.

An outline of the learning aims of the course:

  • To experience the strategic value that creative industries, and art and design in general, play in generating value-led innovation.
  • To understand and apply ways in which values and technology can be combined to influence business strategies, innovation and transformations led by social values.
  • To understand how ethical issues can be opportunities for innovation through the critical and story-based approach of the creative industries.
  • To use the creative industry approach to identify and tackle a range of ethical issues related to innovation.
  • To apply design-led methods aimed at generating a culture of values-led innovation and leadership.
  • To develop design-led strategies that deploy and foster collaboration, creative thinking and conversation to transform existing unethical practices into ethical-aware cultures.
© The Royal College of Art
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