How to embed the RRI principles in a business plan
Why should companies care about innovating responsibly?
When setting up new projects (for products or services) European companies need to consider many aspects that will affect/enable the success of their entrepreneurial idea: internal structures, partnerships, unique value propositions, revenue models, financial viability and sustainability, and so on. Why should they also consider additional aspects, such as environmental and social impacts, gender balance inside their organisation, and inclusive approaches towards final users and consumers of their product/service? In other words, why should they behave as responsible innovative businesses? Why and how should they integrate responsible approaches in their businesses?
This section focuses mainly on the perspectives of start-ups and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs are usually in a favourable position to engage with and adopt responsible innovation because they are less hierarchical, more flexible and adaptable and more willing to experiment with the potential benefits of emerging technologies for meeting societal challenges.
From a business perspective, the idea of ‘contributing to a better world’ is probably not enough motivation to implement Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). However, RRI is beneficial for businesses themselves. The KARIM project highlighted significant competitive advantages and benefits for SMEs that came from including responsible innovation in their processes and products. Some examples are cost reductions, sales and profit margins, risk reductions, improved relationships with investors looking for reduced-risk investments, increased attractiveness as an employer, better supply chain engagement, improved reputation and brand value, increased innovative capabilities, and better relationships with government, regulators and local communities. More on this can be found in the KARIM repository.
You can find an introduction to RRI for business and industry in Responsible Innovation in the Context of the KARIM Project. A Guiding Document for SMEs and Policy-Makers. This document presents definitions, practicalities, opportunities and recommendations for increasing SMEs’ competitive advantage through responsible innovation, while recognising that a business’ ultimate objective is to reconcile the firm’s need for performance with the need to be accountable for its actions and innovations. More materials, with interviews, documents and webinars, are presented by the Responsible-Industry project, which demonstrates (with a specific focus on information and communication technologies (ICT)) how industry can work productively with societal actors and integrate RRI principles and methodologies into research and innovation processes. Other useful resources include the following: the Responsibility Observatory (in the Business and Industry category); the Responsible Innovation course, a massive open online course (MOOC) for all those interested in relationships between technological innovations, ethics and society; and the first chapter of Responsible Innovation: From Concept to Practice, which explains the challenges and issues of responsible innovation for leaders and managers, and introduces a process for implementing responsible innovation into an organisation while improving performance sustainably.
For RRI to be successful it must be designed into and adequately resourced within projects and programmes from the outset, taking into account environmental, social and economic concerns throughout the innovation process and foreseeing appropriate responses to those concerns, or having the flexibility to address them as they arise. Business planning and modelling should therefore reflect the RRI approach.
For many businesses, the first incentive to become more responsible comes from new standards and regulations (e.g., EU Standardisation Policy; catalogue of data protection rules in the EU). In addition to European standards, dedicated standards have been developed to certify, assess, and monitor the responsible behaviour of innovative companies (e.g., UGO Standard; AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard (AA1000SES)).
When developing a business plan with embedded RRI principles, companies should focus on the three following aspects:
First, companies should clearly identify and explain the challenges the project addresses and the added value their solution presents, such as addressing an unmet social/societal need or improving the environmental and social impact of an existing solution through a new process or an improved product. Check out the Social Innovation Scanner and the Social Copy Strategy included in the TRANSITION project’s SIJ Toolbox for Social Innovation.
Second, to develop responsible products and services, companies have to understand consumers’ concerns and carefully examine product life cycles. The environmental and social impacts a service or product can have are crucial, and there are different criteria and methods for measuring and analysing those impacts, depending on the sector and the nature of the innovation. For example, check out the Karim Responsible Innovation Criteria and Grid for a general tool and the Responsible Innovation Diagnosis in ICT for a tool specific to information and communication technologies.
RRI implies thinking in terms of collective and distributed responsibility and processes that can result in ethically acceptable, sustainable and societally desirable outcomes. To be engaged in RRI means to have relatively intense participation in the complex networks concerned. Therefore, the third area of focus is that responsible businesses have to consider open innovation approaches and stakeholders’ analysis and involvement in order to understand which roles stakeholders should take, as well as stakeholders’ level of active participation and their strategic importance within the process. To help you choose the appropriate participatory method and plan the co-creation process, check out tools such as the Participation Compass, the Toolbox for User Driven Innovation and Living Labbing, the Participatory Methods Toolkit: A Practitioners Manual, or the Stakeholders Map, the Co-design Plan, and the Thinking Out of the Comfort Zone included in the SIJ toolbox. For a concrete example of open innovation and citizen participation in the food packaging sector, take a look at InnovAcciones 360°.
Moreover, when positioning a company as an RRI firm, internal/organisational dimensions should be considered, such as gender equality (see the PRAGES Guidelines for promoting gender equality in science and technology related enterprises), open access, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and so on. All these elements contribute to a renewed governance and inspire companies to think in more transformative ways about how they innovate, while also being more mindful of the positive and negative impacts of their products or services (see Principles for Responsible Innovation: Building trust and trustworthiness in business innovation).
There are tools and templates businesses can use to develop business models that include the responsible approach described above. Check out the Social Business Model Canvas and the One Pager Business Plan included in the SIJ toolbox for examples. For a broader overview, read the article Opportunities for Responsible Research and Innovation to be Implemented in Sustainable Business Models.
In addition, there are inspiring practices showing the added value RRI brings to a company. For examples, take a look at The Blueprint for Change Programme by Novo Nordisk, an initiative to change diabetes in Indonesia, and The Social Innovation Factory, an accelerator for social innovation and entrepreneurship in Flanders and Brussels.