Webs of Innovation Value Chains and Openings for RRI

The challenge is to model and better understand the dynamics of the complex webs of innovation value chains and the openings they offer for RRI. The key idea is that of crisscrossing 'innovation value chains'. Innovations and prototypes, business-to-business products and final products move from one organization (entity) to another and are transformed in the process, value is added in the transactions and appropriated. Third-party actors are involved such as standardization bodies and insurance companies, but also, and increasingly, NGOs. While there is a direction to the eventual product flows, initiatives may emerge anywhere, there is no simple linearity (cf. the chain-link model of innovation) and, even more, no beginning nor end (cf. circular economy). Chains can change, split, be re-arranged, crisscross, and co-evolve with changing business models. In general, industry and service structures consist of webs of crisscrossing chains, forming broader structures, consisting of more than the traditional economic actors. There are uncertainties involved in the evolution of these webs, e.g. with the promise of large-area polymeric semi-conducting materials that can be printed. Will the key driver of the eventual chains in this domain be the materials manufacturers, the printing companies, or the various application sectors?


Given this perspective, the key point of the present topic is that there are openings for RRI in these webs of chains, building on what is there already and/or inserting it if there is an opportunity. Thus, this action shall start with the economic world rather than see RRI as only impinging on it from the outside. It draws on the theme of exploration of intermediaries and boundary spanners, but creates additional focus, as underlined here below by the questions and issues that could be addressed under this topic..

The experience with stage-gate approaches in R&D and product development, as practiced within a few firms, has been taken up by some Member States as a framework for their approach to RRI, and applied in a few cases. What could be explored is whether stage-gate processes could be applied across organisations in an innovation chain, and create openings to include RRI not just in the assessments during the 'gate', but also during the 'stage', to anticipate on the eventual assessment.

When novelties (new options) are introduced, articulated and taken up, chains can shift and split (for example in additive manufacturing, and in the uses of mobile telephony) and new chains may emerge. This can just happen, but increasingly, actors try to anticipate and influence what happens to serve their interests, or otherwise pursue desirable goals. There is joint strategy articulation, occasionally supported by Constructive Technology Assessment, road mapping, and indications and narratives to monitor performance in a forward-looking manner, as in notions like technological readiness. There are openings here, for example by adding 'societal readiness' levels to technological readiness levels, and making sure that ‘societal readiness’ has pro-active elements, and is not just another term for 'societal acceptability'.

More generally, the reference to responsibility that is part of RRI is not about retrospective responsibility, as in accountability and liability, but about prospective responsibility, with its expectation, perhaps obligation, to do well. The requirement can be seen as a call ‘to show an honest effort’. This phrase has been used to assess technology forcing measures (as in the California air pollution legislation). One opening for RRI would then be to operationalise it as 'an honest effort' to achieve desirable outcomes in innovation chains and eventual product-value chains, responding to societal values.

This illustration of possible openings for RRI becoming visible through the perspective of webs of crisscrossing and shifting/emerging chains, is not exhaustive. It shows, though, that it is a generative perspective. It can also contribute to other parts of Horizon 2020. For example, questions about the role of SMEs, or of small-holder farmers, can be explored by inquiring into their functioning in present and emerging webs of crisscrossing chains. 'Open innovation' can become more than a fashionable catchword, at the same time making operational how RRI fits in.

This action will show, and induce, relevant change, without having to go through definitional exercises about RRI first, because the thrust is to go for 'openings to do better'. Rather than ‘growth’ per se, often defined in terms of competition only, the result will be higher quality outcomes and better jobs ('better technology in a better society').

To address this specific challenge, proposals should have a wide geographical coverage. It is therefore expected that consortia would include at least entities from 10 different Member States or Associated Countries, although smaller consortia will also be eligible and may be selected.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of the order of EUR 3 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

This action allows for the provision of financial support to third parties in line with the conditions set out in Part K of the General Annexes.

Expected Impact

The development of a model and a better understanding of the webs of Innovation Value Chains will set a stronger knowledge base for policy orientations regarding innovation. This will facilitate the dissemination and integration of good RRI practices thanks to the identification of 'openings' for RRI. This action will strengthen the SWAFS knowledge base, but also promote institutional changes in Research Funding (RFO) and Research Performing Organizations (RPO), as well as in and across organisations involved in innovation and its embedding in society.

Cross-cutting Priorities

  • Open Science
Application date
Social sciences