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How can social values support technology?

Innovation can inform technology and vice versa, and values can drive business opportunities and ethical strategies through technology.
Decorative image, a child wears technical clothing designed to accommodate growth.
© Petit Pli; The Royal College of Art

Can innovation be a process in which social values support, and are supported by, technology? Here, we discuss (and hypothesise) an innovation process that (1) integrates social values for the mitigation of any issues related to tech-led innovation, and (2) generates awareness of ethical and social challenges linked to innovation.

Innovation where values inform technology

In recent years, many new businesses have emerged from the opportunities offered by AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms. One of these is Deliveroo, a service based on an app which provides takeaways prepared in actual physical restaurants. By making takeaways more efficient through algorithms, Deliveroo has extended the opportunities of smaller businesses and provided them with publicity beyond their local neighbourhoods. This has led to the growth of the online platform, particularly during the 2020-2021 lockdowns when people in many countries were forced to stay at home.

To respond to an increase in demand, Deliveroo created districts of ‘dark kitchens’ that improved the efficiency of delivery times yet maintained the variety of food on the menu. With production concentrated in one place, bikers were no longer needing to collect meals from different restaurants in different neighbourhoods across the city, which meant waiting times were reduced yet food choice maintained.

Deliveroo’s success has, however, had a negative impact on local restaurants, in particular those that joined the online platform to limit the loss of income caused by the lockdowns. The platform has negatively impacted footfall and regular incomes coming from local takeaways. With people forced to stay home, takeaway popularity increased – though not for local businesses. Because of the alternative options Deliveroo has offered and the high cost a restaurant needs to pay per delivery, many local businesses have been forced to close, and this has impacted the atmosphere and safety of local streets.

A sustainable start up

This phenomenon has however motivated the start-up FoodBikes to imagine a solution able to foster positive innovation and invert the trend that Deliveroo has begun. The two founders have developed a service that, like Deliveroo, delivers takeaways, but through a different agenda. FoodBikes has leveraged the values of sustainability and local life as design guidance for an app that, through the same technology, engages local residents to deliver takeaways on bikes from local restaurants. Through its service, FoodBikes aims to tackle urban pollution and social desertification by encouraging the use of bikes and the development of local business.

FoodBikes therefore reframes Deliveroo’s technology, and business model, to generate a positive impact on people and the environment developed from the alignment of their mission statement to specific social values.

This case study offers an example of innovation that uses technology to leverage positive social change and transformation through social values. It shows how values can be drivers for creating business opportunities and ethical strategies through technology.

© The Royal College of Art
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Ethical Practices to Guide Innovation

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