Responsible Innovation at CSIRO: new report shows how we do it 

April 17th, 2024

At Australia’s national science agency, we’ve pioneered a unique approach to delivering future science and technology that benefits everyone.
A silhouette of a woman looking across the water to a city at sunset.

Our future science and technology must meet the values, needs and aspirations of all Australians. Adobe Stock.

Transformational research is urgently needed to address Australia’s greatest challenges. This includes issues from food security to clean energy, climate adaptation, and healthcare and wellbeing.  

But we’ve also seen that future science and technology can give rise to disruption, inequity, and uncertainty. That’s why it’s crucial for us to look ahead and meaningfully examine the social and ethical risks and opportunities of new technologies.  

Now, a new report – Responsible Innovation at CSIRO – details our unique approach to designing and delivering leading-edge research for the benefit of all Australians. 

Download the report

What does responsible innovation look like? 

Responsible innovation is the idea that through research, we can shape scientific innovation and new technologies to deliver widespread benefits for society. It has been explored by scholars and researchers around the world for many years. 

As we worked alongside colleagues in Australia and across the world, we realised that responsible innovation is much more than a set of guiding principles for science.  

Its applications range from emerging digital technologies like AI and quantum, to novel genetic technologies in fields like healthcare and manufacturing, and environmental-scbale solutions for our changing climate.  

That’s why we have developed responsible innovation as a rigorous, robust, and repeatable scientific process. This can be applied across diverse fields, with the specificity needed to yield useful insights.  

This approach can help us prioritise how technologies will or won’t be developed. It helps identify what controls are needed to mitigate and manage potential risks. And it can help evaluate which outcomes from future science and technology are desirable – and which are unacceptable.  

Working at our science frontiers 

Over the past five years, our Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform has focussed on building foundational capabilities and methodologies to advance two science frontiers: responsible prediction, and social and ethical risk management.  

Responsible prediction explores new ways to model and measure social systems and conditions. The aim is to build a more accurate understanding of the social dynamics which impact how new science and technology land in the world.  

Social and ethical risk management seeks to demonstrate more systematic and applied scientific approaches. This will ultimately aid in establishing criteria that can reliably identify socially responsible science and technology.  

Through our robust program of multidisciplinary research, we have built our capacity to understand and anticipate the full spectrum of consequences from our cutting-edge innovations. 

Ultimately, our responsible innovation research is a way for industries, communities, and end users of future science and technology to understand its impacts on their lives. It gives people a voice to shape scientific innovation for the better – right from the start of the research and development process. 

A better future for Australia 

If future science and technology is developed outside the guardrails of responsible innovation, the risks are threefold:  

  1. A ‘tick box’ approach to important social and ethical issues, which fails to proactively capture the diverse needs and values of the Australian people.  
  1. Missed opportunities to realise positive, meaningful outcomes – or worse, the potential to create or exacerbate social inequities.  
  1. A breakdown in public trust, where investment in science does not yield acceptable solutions.  

As Responsible Innovation Research Director Justine Lacey says, “when it comes to doing responsible innovation, we can’t afford not to.” 

Responsible innovation is already delivering invaluable insights across areas as diverse as emerging digital technologies like AI and quantum, novel genetic technologies in fields like healthcare and manufacturing, and environmental-scale solutions for our changing climate. 

For example, our researchers are helping Australian industries get ready for quantum, by working across key industries to identify weak spots before the technology matures.  

We are also testing new methodologies for predicting social conflict around potentially contentious technologies like offshore wind. This could have major bene fits for finding low-conflict pathways to introduce innovation. 

What’s more, we are collaborating with colleagues across CSIRO to research how Australians respond to disruptive food technologies, like 3D printed food and precision fermentation. Understanding what causes the ‘yuck’ factor will help bring new products to market to meet Australia’s growing nutritional needs. 

All of this, so that our investments in future science and technology have real and lasting impact, delivering outcomes that are meaningful, fit-for-purpose, and needed by Australian society.