Enhancing Responsible Innovation in Food Industry

S. Flipse, M. van der Sanden, F.T.J.M. Fortuin, S.W.F. Omta

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Policy makers and researchers from the social sciences and humanities encourage innovators to adopt socially responsible innovation (SRI) practices. Also within industrial innovation networks, both consumers and companies increasingly ask for more sustainable, responsibly produced products. By and large, innovators are starting to implement SRI practices in their daily work by more explicitly taking into account social and ethical aspects, relating e.g. to ecological sustainability, health, safety and equity. However, the extent to which a more ‘inclusive’ innovation process, taking such aspects into account, actually contributes to the quality of on-going innovation practices, remains largely uninvestigated. We therefore set up a study to investigate this in a commercial contract research organization in the field of food products and processes. In this case study, we combined the use of Midstream Modulation (MM) as a method to stimulate SRI in Research and Development (R&D) practices with the Wageningen Innovation Assessment Toolkit (WIAT) as a tool to monitor the quality of such practices. In MM, the term ‘midstream’ pertains to the on-going R&D work that takes place between upstream R&D authorization decisions and downstream practical implementation of R&D results. The term ‘modulation’ relates to the practice of modulating decisions of innovators into subsequent opportunities, considerations, alternatives and projected outcomes of such decisions. During the MM study, a scholar from the social sciences or humanities interacts with innovating practitioners at the R&D floor for a period of 12 weeks. Together they investigate when and where in innovation-related decisions there is room to integrate social and ethical considerations, and as such, answer calls for SRI. Over this period of 12 weeks, the quality of on-going R&D work was monitored using an adapted version of the WIAT. WIAT was used first to make a benchmark, investigating which Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) distinguishes successful from less successful R&D projects. Secondly, it was used to monitor on-going R&D projects during the 12 weeks of interaction between the embedded humanist and the innovators by scoring projects on the identified KPIs. Our results show that over the course of 12 weeks, innovators more actively include social and ethical considerations into their work, while the quality and innovative potential of their R&D projects improved measurably. In contrast, a group of researchers that did not participate in MM, generally did not display a clear increase in quality and potential. After the study, the innovators acknowledged that they were better able to connect their on-going work to the wishes of their clients and acknowledged the value of SRI for their innovation practices. As such, our results spark optimism regarding the value of SRI in innovation networks and within society as a whole. Still, a further investigation is necessary to investigate to what extent SRI can be systematically integrated within innovation chains and networks, in order to harness the full innovative potential of SRI.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventWICaNeM 2014,Capri, Italy -
Duration: 4 Jun 20146 Jun 2014


ConferenceWICaNeM 2014,Capri, Italy


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