Technology, Innovation & Design


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Technology, Innovation, and Design

The design of products and services has profound and complex relationships with human capabilities. Indeed, many products and services – from technological innovations to social innovations - are developed with the aim of expanding valuable freedoms and powers and have indeed made important positive contributions. Examples include medical technologies that enable people to lead longer and healthier lives, ICTs empowering people to play a more active role in shaping their social and political environment, organizational forms such as cooperatives that can likewise empower people and open networks that enable people to pursue a common mission. Other products and innovations are more questionable in capability terms: do chemical weapons or, less dramatically, hydrogenated fats offer any expansion of the freedoms people have reason to value? And what about new organization and networks that primarily aim to marginalize or even exclude others? Clearly, there is a need for careful ethical analysis.

This ethical analysis needs to be informed by a better understanding of the complex interactions of products and services, organizations and networks, as well as institutions and cognitive frames so as to better understand the role of design, technology and innovation for human development. To this end, a focus on the more recent concept of social innovation complements the more established analysis of technology and design. Social innovations are new ideas and solutions that can take place at various levels, changing social relations, configurations and processes and contributing towards reaching social ends, in particular human capabilities. Social innovations thus includes organizational forms (such as energy co-operatives) as well as new forms of networking. But no matter whether the innovation is more on the level of product design or on the level of social relations, innovations raises important evaluative questions. Innovations have multiple ends and have multiple effects, positive and negative, intended and unintended, predictable and unforeseen, short and long-term. They simultaneously enable and constrain different people differently over different time-scales. Critical ongoing research and analysis in this area is therefore necessary.

Investigating the nexus of human capabilities, technology, design and social innovation require contributions from many academic disciplines, since questions in this area touch upon other themes such as governance, individual versus collective choice, participation, power, ideology, culture, values and norms, cognitive frames, economy, and ecosystems. All these also need to be set in the context of global dynamics such as between the global North and global South, as well as between humans and other living beings. As research for human development, it calls for a transdisciplinary approach that also includes non-academic partners for conducting research appropriately. This thematic group aims to stimulate interest in this domain and to this end brings together researchers and practitioners of diverse disciplinary backgrounds for discussion, exchange of information and joint project development.