Research themes

We study responsible innovation with regard to a broad range of technologies and application areas, like digital technologies (including AI and robotics), energy, water, transport, the chemical industry, health technologies and biotechnologies.

Our approach is to examine innovation processes in these areas from the perspective of societal and ethical values and within the context of socio-technical systems. Our main research themes are:

  1. Design for Values
  2. Management of Responsible Innovation
  3. Responsible Risk Management

Our key research themes intersect the three sections of the department, but each theme has a primary focal point in one section:

1. Design for Values

Contributions by:

The potential benefits of succesful design for values:

  • more inclusive decisionmaking about the design of technological innovations
  • improvement of technologies/design by better embodying important ethical and societal values
  • avoidance of technology rejection due to a mismatch with the values of users or society
  • generation or stimulation of values in users and society through design.

Key challenges addressed in our research include:

  1. Value conflicts in design. Value conflicts may arise because different stakeholders hold different values but also because a technology can usually not meet all values that are relevant for its design, so that decisions have to be made for example through value trade-offs.
  2. The role of institutions. Institutions can often not be designed from scratch because they usually already exist and evolve over time. Doing justice to values requires insights in how institutions develop, how institutions impact technological development and how they relate to values.
  3. The value of responsibility. Determining and enhancing responsibility in sociotechnical systems is often problematic. Innovation and design are collective efforts and the causal chains between the innovators and the eventual social effects are long. In addition, a range of new technologies raise new responsibility problems; think for example of drones, robots and self-driving cars that autonomously make decisions. This may result in tensions between collective and individual responsibility and in responsibility gaps.

Approaches/methods of our department to studying this question include ethics of technology, design methodology, value-sensitive modelling, etc.

Design for Values not only requires in-depth monodisciplinary research, but also multidisciplinary research, to do justice to the complexity of the challenges of responsible innovation. Members of the Department of Values, Technology & Innovation therefore collaborate with members of all engineering disciplines at TU Delft and elsewhere to further develop the Design for Values approach.

2. Management of Responsible Innovation

Contributions by:

We make a novel contribution to innovation systems research by incorporating responsible innovation and a value dimension. We do this by building on insights that we have developed in the past with respect to innovation management. However, our more recent focus on managing responsible innovation gives rise to new challenges, including:

  1. Breaking through existing patterns of innovation. From innovation studies, it is known that new players, like start-ups, may play a crucial role in doing so. Studying the role of entrepreneurship for responsible innovation is therefore very important.
  2. Operationalizing and incentivizing responsible innovation. An intrinsic motivation to take responsibility by making innovations more sustainable might be “crowded out” by economic incentives. Moreover, in many sociotechnical systems, such as energy, transport and communication infrastructures, the incentive structure is embedded in the sector regulations and/or public oversight. This raises the question how we can stimulate responsibility in sociotechnical systems given that incentive structures are usually difficult to change and given that incentive structures that work on the short term might have detrimental effects (due to “crowding out”) in the long run. This requires empirical studies and indicator development in combination with a normative perspective.

Approaches used in the department to studying this question include economic and management approaches, multidisciplinary approaches to RI, etc.

3. Responsible Risk Management

Contributions by:

With scientific methods and techniques, we study how to identify, quantify, predict, prescribe, visualise and optimise risk and hazard levels to acceptable levels, explicitly incorporating normative aspects and values. Challenges that we address in our research include:

  1. Modelling and predicting risks, taking into account technological, organizational and human factors. In order to address this, an important approach we develop and apply is that of Bayesian Belief Networks (BBNs) for risk assessment.
  2. Integrating safety (unintentional harm) and security (intentional harm) in risk assessment and management, as safety and security increasingly interact and depend on each other. Here, among other things, we apply game theory to better understand and model such interactions.
  3. How safe is safe enough? We investigate how moral values can be integrated in risk assessment and risk management, while also paying attention to an economic point of view. This gives rise to the question as to how to take into account the role of moral values and of emotions in the already existing more formal frameworks for making decisions about acceptable risk. From a philosophical point of view, the topic of risk requires new theories because traditional ethical theories have a hard time dealing with probabilities and uncertainties. The Ethics and Philosophy of Technology Section is internationally a key player in this new domain of risk ethics.
  4. Risks cannot be completely predicted or anticipated. We investigate this for example by considering the introduction of new technology into society as a social experiment in which risks and benefits only gradually become clear.

Approaches used in the department to studying this question include Bayesian Modelling, Safety Culture, Risk Ethics, etc.