A recently developed toolbox for Constructive Technology Assessment (CTA) makes it possible to consider certain aspects of research and innovation at an early stage. By integrating the economic, societal, ethical and legal aspects early in the development process the technological uptake and societal embedding will be increased. By using the CTA toolbox researchers are also capable of enriching and directing their own research. Furthermore, the alignment of scientific and technological advances with values, needs and expectations of society is stimulated in various research programmes, often labelled as Responsible Research and Innovation or Safe-by-Design. Not just researchers but also technology developers and engineers working in technical research projects can benefit from the toolbox. The CTA toolbox is developed by researcher Verena Schulze Greiving (University of Twente) within the NanoNextNL programme.

Relevant for researchers

The ‘toolbox’ is relevant for researchers interested in learning about socio-technical integration approaches and who want to integrate them in their work. This can for instance be:

  • a PhD researcher or PostDoc
  • a technology developer or an engineer
  • a Bachelor or Master student focusing on a particular project or technology
  • a senior researcher exploring the potential of a new research field.

Available tools

The tools have been selected because of their suitability to be integrated in laboratory practices and range from desk-top analyses to highly interactive settings such as a workshop. To identify tools of your interest, the CTA toolbox provides an overview with a short description and key characteristics of each component . All of the six available tools are supplied with a set of examples, practical considerations and implementation and literature.

Available tools in the CTA toolbox:

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Recently the Rathenau Instituut published the report ‘Van draagvlak naar meer – Ontwerp van een maatschappelijke incubator voor beloftevolle (nano)technologieën’ which deals with the concept of a societal incubator. The idea behind a societal incubator is how to connect safe and responsible use to innovation and engineering. Within NanoNextNL the idea of a societal incubator explores the benefits and applicability of an equivalent of a business incubator, combined with the value of open dialogues and participants eager to give shape to Safe-by-Design. The Rathenau Instituut’s report describes how a societal incubator could contribute to successful introductions of innovations, including those using nanotechnology.

Click image to enlarge infographic about Safe-by-Design tools, amongst which the societal incubator (infographic by Ymke Pas)

Valorising a good idea

Within the NanoNextNL research and innovation programme extra attention is given to risk analysis and technology assessment. The idea of the societal incubator as an equivalent to a business incubator was put forward by professor Harro van Lente (Maastricht University) during a Risk Analysis and Technology Assessment theme meeting dedicated to investigate how safe and responsible use can be connected to innovation and engineering.
The history to the research of the Rathenau Instituut was an innovation path in itself, from idea towards proof-of-concept. It demonstrates that it takes many actors working together to valorise a good idea. The NanoNextNL network and support by its Executive Board member dr. Frans Kampers provided the ingredients to bring this idea a step further through the execution of two pilot societal incubator workshops.

On 9 November 2016 a Safe-by-Design workshop was organised by NanoNextNL and RIVM. The aim of the workshop was to explore what Safe-by-Design could yield. The concept of Safe-by-Design aims to integrate safe manufacturing, safe production and responsible waste management in the research and technical development during the innovation process at the earliest possible. The participants of the workshop agreed on the importance of Safe-by-Design whereby a timely dialogue between relevant stakeholders is started early on in the innovation process. Speakers included experts from the I&M ministry, RIVM, start-ups and TNO (see the programme, in Dutch only).

Safe-by-Design as a safety net

Participants also stated that Safe‐by‐Design should provide a safety net for several stakeholders, such as:
• for innovators to avoid confrontation with regulatory issues later on in the process
• for investors and insurers to minimize uncertainty about health risks
• for regulators to minimize casualties
• for society to provide access to safe products.

The participants highly valued the workshop and a follow-up is considered to be very useful.
More details of the lively and constructive discussions between policy makers, researchers and nanotech companies & start-ups can be found in the report Safe-by-Design workshop November 2016.

Infographic Safe-by-Design

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Report Safe-by-Design workshop November 2016

Programme Safe-by-Design workshop November 2016 (in Dutch only)