What is Debating Innovation? It is several things. First, it is the name of the journal of the Observatory for Responsible Innovation, soon available here, the name of this blog too, and also the name of the website of the Observatory as a whole, www.csi.mines-paristech.fr/debatinginnovation. But the idea of “debating innovation” is also, most importantly, a crucial vehicle for the development of a culture of responsibility in innovation. The Observatory for Responsible Innovation, an independent think tank established at Mines ParisTech (the Ecole des Mines de Paris), aims at organizing debate on hot concerns raised by innovation in a variety of areas. To innovate is, in a sense, to come up with solutions to previous problems. But to innovate is also to generate new realities that can be themselves problematic. In order to better cope with this twofold aspect, innovation needs to be open to public debate.
The Observatory for Responsible Innovation starts in 2011 with a focus on finance. To quote Gillian Tett, a very fine analyst of the implications of financial innovation in the context of the recent crisis, “the story of the 2008 financial crisis is a story not only of hubris, greed, and regulatory failure, but one of these deeply troubling problems of social silence and technical silos. If we do not use the crisis as an occasion to seriously tackle these problems, then it is a crisis we may well be doomed to revisit, albeit in an innovative new form” (in Fool’s Gold, 2009). The lack of discussion, debate and publicly expressed concern (“social silence”), combined to the machinery of complex methods which rationale was understandable by a handful of experts confined in their separate organizational logics (“technical silos”), was certainly at the center of the financial debacle. One of the ambitions of the Observatory is to contribute to a response to this — in the area of finance first, but also in other equally urgent fields.