A Transnational History of Responsible Innovation from the perspective of the Appropriate Technology movement
Department of History, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Maastricht University
Email address: Danielle.firstname.lastname@example.org
Supervisor(s): Prof. dr. Cyrus Mody; dr. Darryl Cressman
In my Master thesis, entitled ‘Beyond Bullshitting: Valorisation and the Humanities in The Netherlands’, I explored how scholars respond to the current demand to explain the potential value of their research. My findings suggested that despite the relevant organizations’ attempts to communicate this demand in an open and flexible way, scholars tend to respond strategically due to the criterion’s perceived weight in determining the success of research proposals.
International development agencies (e.g. the OECD, the World Bank, UNEP etc.) continue to stress the link between development and innovation. In the last decade or so, ‘grassroots’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘frugal’ innovation are all ideas to which these agencies have bought into, developing frameworks and models to support best practices when it comes to doing ‘responsible’ innovation. Historically, these agencies supported similar ideas which emerged between the 1970s and 1980s under the guise of the appropriate technology (AT) movement.
The AT movement stressed participation and inclusion in innovation, advocating small-scale, labour-intensive, community oriented solutions. AT can be considered a form of grassroots innovation (GI), where GI is typically used to refer to informal, bottom of the pyramid innovations which are outside more conventional innovation processes. However, as I intend to show, the history of the AT movement illustrates that this is not always the case. The AT movement also enrolled academics, activists, policy makers and engineers, all of whom wanted to experiment with alternative models of knowledge creation. As such, the AT movement challenged dominant conceptualizations of innovation as well as the conventional innovation processes with which they were (and in many cases, still are) most often associated.
GI can be oriented towards the process of innovation, the outcome of innovation and/or the system within which innovation occurs. Whilst advocating alternatives with regards to all three, many AT groups still needed to work with more traditional science and technology institutions (due to their need for technical assistance as well as symbolic legitimacy). These encounters are of particular interest, as they were often where contestations and negotiations relating to (what we now think of today as) ‘responsible research and innovation’ (RRI) emerged, including for example, different conceptualizations of innovation, inclusion and participation.