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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

From responsible to responsive innovation: a systemic and historically sensitive approach to innovation processes

Rödl, Malte; Boons, Frank; Spekkink, Wouter


Responsible innovation has emerged as a field of research dedicated to introduce sensitivity to societal values in innovation processes. However, much of the academic literature on RI deals with single technologies instead of technological systems and is future-orientated without explicitly using specialised knowledge of past developments. In this paper, we present a problem-focused approach to RI that aims to support researchers and stakeholders in developing potential solutions from a perspective of systemic awareness and historical sensitivity. We then describe the application of this approach in an 18 months long interdisciplinary research project on plastics. We show that the approach has generated new and unexpected research projects, formed new inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations, and has impacted some participants’ understanding of the systems in which their work is embedded. We conclude that with appropriate willingness to engage by individual researchers, our approach is able to, firstly, influence highly experienced researchers to engage more responsibly with their work, and secondly, to make research projects responsive by including societal concerns and their historical emergence from the start.


Responsible innovation; Systems thinking; Historical sensitivity; Event graphs; Learning Histories; Plastics; Co-production

Published in

Technological Forecasting and Social Change
2022, volume: 174, article number: 121231

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development
University of Manchester
Boons, Frank
University of Manchester
Spekkink, Wouter
University of Manchester

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG9 Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
SDG12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

UKÄ Subject classification

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Publication Identifiers


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