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Kickstart Guide - Episode 2: Concepts you need to know to understand responsible innovation

Updated: Mar 7, 2023



As announced in Episode 1, the Responsible Innovators Kickstart Guide is designed to help you access the field of responsible innovation and digital ethics. If you are new to the topics, a big hurdle is the multitude of concepts you have to sort through. To change that, I've put together an overview of the most important fundamental concepts you need to know.


Since responsible innovation and digital ethics do not yet have a defined regulatory framework in companies, many concepts are based on practice-oriented innovation methods, scientific discussions or are the results of political committee work. To be mentioned in this context are, among others: Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI), Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR), Digital Etchics, Responsible Tech, Trustworthy AI, Inclusive Tech, ESG, Nachhaltige Digitalisierung, UN Sustainable Development Goals, Compliance, AI Audit, Information Security, IT Security, Cyber Security, Data Protection, Design Thinking, Human-centered Design Responsible Design.


(1) Responsible Research & Innovation

Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI) was developed as a concept under the European Commission's Horizon 2020 project. It was then further developed in the NewHoRRIzon project until 2021. The concept of RRI is an approach which intends to bridge gaps between science, research and innovation communities and society at large by fostering more inclusive, anticipatory, open and responsive research and innovation systems. In this frame, multiple stakeholders (from research, business, policy making, education and civil society) are involved in research and innovation on the project and system level to better align its processes and outcomes with the values, needs and expectations of society. A first big step was the operationalisation of RRI into the following six key elements: ethics, gender equality, governance, public engagement, science education and open access. (NewHoRRIzon – An Experiment in Responsible Research and Innovation)


(2) Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR)

Corporate Digital Responsibility ‘(CDR) is a management concept in which companies integrate social and environmental concerns into their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders (especially in the context of the digital transformation). CDR encompasses the voluntary contribution of business to ethical and sustainable digital development. This goal goes beyond simply meeting existing legal requirements. An essential component of CDR is the values-based examination of positive and negative as well as direct and indirect effects of the use of digital technologies. In addition, data-driven products and systems as well as digital business processes and models are analyzed, weighed and aligned along corporate values with regard to the interests of different stakeholders. The transfer of social norms and values to the digital world plays an essential role in this process. This value-based debate is based on general questions of digital ethics. It asks about the good and right life and coexistence in a world shaped by digital technologies and translates existing ethical standards for a digitally shaped society.’ (CDR Building Bloxx: Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft (BVDW) e.V.)


(3) Digital Ethics

‘The term ‘digital ethics’ is as successful as it is ambiguous. Some use it to refer to a subarea of information ethics, others - with the aim of renaming it - to the totality of this field of ethics, possibly including media ethics. Still others understand this to refer to a normative system to be constructed that is to apply to the information society or specifically to the economy (not only to AI, IT and Internet companies), which is associated with statements such as "We need digital ethics! Last but not least, the morality of the information society can be meant, in which case - as is often the case in English - the concepts of ethics and morality are not sharply separated.’ (Prof. Bendel, Digitale Ethik • Definition | Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon)


(4) Responsible Tech(nology)

‘Responsible tech means applying an ethical approach when developing, using, and distributing new technology. It also means contributing to an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable society.’ (Responsible tech)


(5) Trustworthy AI

‘Artificial intelligence (AI) brings forth many opportunities to contribute to the wellbeing of individuals and the advancement of economies and societies, but also a variety of novel ethical, legal, social, and technological challenges. Trustworthy AI (TAI) bases on the idea that trust builds the foundation of societies, economies, and sustainable development, and that individuals, organizations, and societies will therefore only ever be able to realize the full potential of AI, if trust can be established in its development, deployment, and use.’ The TAI concept is based on 5 principles: With this article we aim to introduce the concept of TAI and its five foundational principles (1) beneficence, (2) non-maleficence, (3) autonomy, (4) justice, and (5) explicability.’ (Trustworthy artificial intelligence | SpringerLink)


(6) Inclusive Tech

‘Digital inclusion is defined as “equitable, meaningful, and safe access to use, lead, and design of digital technologies, services, and associated opportunities for everyone, everywhere”. Digital inclusion is enabled by human rights-based, intersectional, and whole-of-society policies and multi-stakeholder approaches and actions, that take into account the various barriers individuals face when accessing and experiencing digital technologies. Human rights are to be promoted, protected, respected, and enjoyed online as they are offline, and the specific needs of individuals need to be taken into consideration in the digital world so as not to leave anyone behind. Digital inclusion should aim to dismantle existing structural social inequalities and enhance well-being for all. We must aim for inclusion that is equitable, so that everyone online has the same opportunities and that marginalized communities are not left behind. For eyone who wants to be connected, we should guarantee the availability and accessibility of the Internet, digital devices, services, platforms, and relevant content; affordable access to them and to critical digital and other skills, education, and tools; and equitable participation in safe, discrimination-free online spaces, with the opportunity to create content and consider and involve different groups in the design, development, testing, and assessments of digital devices, services, platforms, and policies.’ (Definition_Digital-Inclusion.pdf (un.org))


(7) ESG

‘Now adopted by many companies due to increased regulation, ESG once "established itself as the standard of sustainable investment [...]. These three letters describe three sustainability-related areas of responsibility of companies:

  • ‘E’ for Environment stands here, for example, for environmental pollution or hazards, greenhouse gas emissions or energy efficiency issues (environment).

  • Social (‘S’) includes aspects such as occupational health and safety, diversity or social commitment (corporate social responsibility).

  • Governance (‘G’) refers to sustainable corporate management. This includes, for example, topics such as corporate values or management and control processes (corporate governance).’


(8) Sustainable Digitization

Many initiatives and research groups are working to combine digitization and sustainability. This is also the case with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research with its ‘Natural.Digital.Sustainable’ action plan. On the ministry's site, the mission is summarized as follows: ‘We want to bring digitization and sustainable development together in a targeted manner. After all, digital technologies can support and accelerate sustainable development in many areas - whether through data-driven efficiency gains or digital innovations, such as for sustainable urban development, circular economy and the energy transition. We believe that sustainable digitization can only succeed if people trust that digitization will significantly improve their lives. This trust requires that research and development in the field of digitization also be guided in particular by the principles of sustainable development and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations. After all, the goal of sustainable development is a good life for current and future generations. That is why our actions are based on the following convictions:

  • Digitalization must support people in their individual development

  • Digital technologies must serve society

  • Digitalization should serve the preservation of the natural foundations of life and must not stand in the way of it.’ (Digitalisierung und Nachhaltigkeit - BMBF)

In doing so, the ministry explicitly refers to the Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030 adopted by the UN.


(9) UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.’ THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development (un.org))


(10) Compliance

Compliance stands for ‘adherence to laws, rules and standards. Originally limited to the banking industry and healthcare management, it is now widely used, for example for IT compliance, global compliance, tax compliance, customs compliance, data protection compliance, which is carried out with the help of compliance management systems (CMS) and personalized by the compliance officer (as part of risk management, among other things).’ (Dr. Cordula Heldt, Compliance • Definition | Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon)


(11) AI Audit

The auditing of AI systems aims to objectively analyze the risks of algorithmic systems. ‘Despite its undisputed benefits, the use of AI also entails qualitatively and quantitatively new risks and vulnerabilities. Together with its increasing dissemination, this calls for audit methods that allow to give guarantees concerning the trustworthiness and that allow to operationalize emerging AI standards and AI regulation efforts, e.g. the European AI act. Auditing AI systems is a complex endeavour since multiple aspects have to be considered along the AI lifecycle that require multi-disciplinary approaches. AI audit methods and tools are in many cases subject of research and not practically applicable yet.’ (Whitepaper | Towards Auditable AI Systems - From Principles to Practice (bund.de) There are currently various approaches to AI auditing. Which system will be chosen by the EU will become clear next year. One approach to AI auditing has been developed by ForHumanity. It is designed to build an infrastructure of trust into all artificial intelligence and autonomous systems which impact humans in the areas of Ethics, Bias, Privacy, Trust, and Cybersecurity. The Audit rules are built to codify law and establish best practices that mitigate risks to humans.’ (Independent Audit of AI Systems - (forhumanity.center))


(12) Information Security

‘The term information security refers to the protection of information in any form - whether digital on a data carrier or analog on paper, whether with a personal reference or not. "Information" in this context is defined as "interpreted data". This means that pure data, such as digits, only become information, for example times or dates of birth, after they have been interpreted. Information security aims to protect this information and is based on three areas: Confidentiality, Availability and Integrity. This means that sensitive data is protected from unauthorized access by third parties, but is fully and correctly accessible to authorized users at all times. This protection is implemented through organizational measures and clear guidelines for action within the company.’ (IT-Sicherheit, Informationssicherheit und Cyber-Sicherheit: Wo liegen die Unterschiede? - isits (is-its.org)


(13) IT Security

‘IT security is a subarea of information security that relates to electronically stored information and IT systems. In particular, the information that is increasingly stored and transmitted digitally these days is exposed to many possible threats: from unauthorized third-party access to the data, to espionage and sabotage, to hacker attacks. The goal of IT security is to protect companies and organizations against these threats and the consequential damage. The three protection goals of confidentiality, availability and integrity also apply here. IT security is also implemented in companies through organizational measures and corresponding specifications and is based, for example, on antivirus solutions, firewalls and backups.’ (IT-Sicherheit, Informationssicherheit und Cyber-Sicherheit: Wo liegen die Unterschiede? - isits (is-its.org)


(14) Cyber Security

‘In principle, cyber security refers to the same area as IT security, but it is extended to the entire area of the Internet and any networks. Since a lot of data and also things are connected to each other and to the Internet via networks nowadays, security can no longer be considered in isolation. This means that cyber security includes all network-based communications, applications, processes and processed information - and thus also infrastructures such as power supply or telecommunications. This makes cyber security a topic of the entirety, not just limited to one's own company or environment. Numerous threats and constantly evolving cybercrime in the form of viruses, worms, spyware or Trojans require comprehensive protective measures that are always kept up to date.’ (IT-Sicherheit, Informationssicherheit und Cyber-Sicherheit: Wo liegen die Unterschiede? - isits (is-its.org)


(15) Data Protection

Data protection is a ‘collective term for the legal standards laid down in various laws for the protection of individuals, which are intended to ensure that their private sphere is protected against unauthorized access from outside (state, other private parties) in an increasingly automated and computerized world ("the transparent man"). The areas of attack to which modern man finds himself increasingly exposed (often, however, also through his own carelessness in dealing with his data) are manifold: in addition to dealing with computers and the Internet (keywords here, e.g.: viruses, Trojans, hacking, phishing), everyday situations are also affected, as can be seen, for example, in the discussions on so-called nude scanning at airports or the use of recordings of highway toll control bridges for dragnet searches.’ (Jan-Hendrik Krumme, Datenschutz • Definition | Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon)


(16) Design Thinking

‘Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. Involving five phases—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test—it is most useful to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown.’ Design thinking is thus a method for implementing human-centered design. (What is Design Thinking? | IxDF (interaction-design.org)


(17) Human-centered Design

‘Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving. It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting innovative new solutions out in the world.’ (Design Kit)


(18) Responsible Design

Responsible Design aims at achieving balanced social, environmental and economic development by embedding ethical decision-making in inclusive and sustainable design practice. It is an emerging field without a fully defined theory or definition.’ The research group of the School of Design and Creative Arts at Loughborough University, for example, has established the following Responsible Design principles:

  • Responsible Designers are ethical, both in the way they conduct and report research, and in the design interventions they propose;

  • Responsible Designers are pluriversal, rejecting the ‘defuturing’ nature of the technological status quo and accepting multiple plausible futures;

  • Responsible Designers are planet-centric, accepting and embracing the challenges of climate change, and factoring the needs of all stakeholders, both human and other;

  • Responsible Designers are decolonial, realising that a primarily western conception and canon of ‘good design’ is limiting and harmful;

  • Responsible Designers are transdisciplinary, comfortable working with and being challenged by creatives outside of their own specialism;

  • Responsible Designers are optimistic, believing that designers can make the world a better place.’ (Responsible Design | School of Design and Creative Arts | Loughborough University (lboro.ac.uk))


The definitions shared here are intended as an introduction and are not an exhaustive list. There is still no consensus on what the concepts entail in detail and how they relate to each other. Therefore, in the following episodes, I will share the different perspectives on the topics and and show how to put them into practice.


I personally chose the title Responsible Innovators for our platform because it signals adequate openness to all dimensions of responsibility. So it's not only about the environmental and social dimension, but also about the digital dimension. In the same way, innovation is more than technology. It encompasses all new ideas and approaches, whether from academia or corporate practice. My goal with Responsible Innovators, in addition to bringing together stakeholders in the emerging industry, is to work with this community to consolidate these concepts. In the end, we don't need 2000 theories, but a common methodology that promotes responsible innovation in practice.


With my Responsible Innovators Kickstart Guide, I want to give you access to knowledge in the field of digital ethics and responsible innovation. I will also show you how you can put this knowledge into practice. Get insights into an inspiring ecosystem and let's create change for a better future together!

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