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How can social values leverage opportunities for innovation?

Using social values as a mindset for innovation helps to flag and identify any design flaw that might favour ethical challenges.
Decorative image, image of people and driverless vehicles, such as small delivery robots and airborne vehicles, set near the London eye. Driverless Futures exhibition, 2017 held at the London Transport Museum
© The Royal College of Art

In recent years social values have been assigned a negative connotation for limiting, or stopping, innovation processes. This is due to the many ethical concerns that have developed in particular from recent technological advancements which have affected people and the environment.

Nonetheless, social values can have a positive influence – and not only by improving unethical practices. Here, we look at ways in which social values can have a positive influence on innovation.

Social values that make innovation thrive

The positive influence social values play in innovation extends beyond alignment, ie, agreeing on an equal set of values to pursue innovation strategies. As related to the way we think and understand our relations with society, social values can leverage companies’ mindsets and cultures, and therefore challenge the way a business thinks and understands the very process of innovating.

In this activity we will be describing this approach, looking at how industries and businesses think about innovation. As concepts that influence the ways solutions take shape, social values, as a mindset, challenge the way a company engages with innovation. They stimulate motivation to generate solutions that are aware of any responsibilities and impact. Under a social value mindset each agent is aware of its liability, and therefore is accountable of any decision taken in the innovation process. This type of approach leverages the “virtuosity” of the agents working on innovation and their capacity to think through solutions that are ethical by design. In this process, limitations become opportunities to innovate and develop new forms of business.

Innovating with complexity

A value-led mindset of innovation is particularly important in any innovation engaging with complexity. For instance, in guiding the development of new interfaces, this mindset could make a design team aware of the influence of any contextual factor in developing ethical issues – eg, user privacy, data breaches, child protection, bullying, etc – which should be addressed in the development process.

Using social values as a mindset for innovation helps to flag and identify any design flaw that might favour ethical challenges; interrogating the development process through the guidance of values fosters an awareness of the complexity of innovation through questions. By outlining the consequences and impacts of any design choice, questions can be considered design actions. This approach should be experienced as a positive process, whereby choices and their consequences are discussed as opportunities for new solutions.

A value-led innovation is a holistic approach to ethical issues and challenges that constructs a more rounded understanding of the complexity of an innovation space, or ecosystem, with its positive and negative impacts. Such an approach helps to open up alternative spaces and opportunities, and helps us to see new connections able to tackle problems, which can be developed within and outside the innovation ecosystem.

© The Royal College of Art
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Ethical Practices to Guide Innovation

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