In September 2014, the first Leiden-Delft-Erasmus minor was launched, aiming at third-year bachelor students of all three universities. Eighteen students from TU Delft, Leiden University and Erasmus University Rotterdam enrolled in this minor, in which they worked together with problem owners from real life companies and organisations on such cases as ’Maasvlakte II’, Google Glass and whole genome sequencing.
‘Responsible innovation is a way of innovating in response to certain problems, while taking important values into account’, says Phil Robichaud, who was involved in the minor both as a student project group leader and as a coordinator and who is now busy planning next year’s course. He is an assistant professor in TU Delft’s Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, working on philosophical theories of responsibility.
The minor was taught by teachers from all three universities, who each developed two introductory theoretical modules. ‘One of the goals of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus collaboration was to have a genuinely shared minor and the minor Responsible Innovation was organised in such a way that we were drawing on real strengths’, says Dr Robichaud. ‘But the real core of the minor were the student project groups. The modules are designed to support this.’
The guiding method in the student projects was the so-called Intervention Cycle. This cycle starts with identifying and dissecting a specific problem. “Pollution”, for instance, is too vague and too general. Then the students do a stakeholder analysis, mapping all the relevant stakeholders and their interests, degrees of power and influence, but also their values. And then they make an inventory of values that may not be the stakeholders’ but that should be voiced. Because a solution may be accepted by the stakeholders but is not necessarily acceptable in light ofall thesevalues involved. Then they start the innovation: which is the best solution, given the problem and given all those stakeholders and values. And how do you substantiate that claim. The cycle ends – and starts anew – with the implementation and evaluation of the innovation.
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The students came from very different backgrounds, which made it necessary to teach them a common vocabulary. But the benefits of this diversity turned out to be much more important than the problems. Phil Robichaud: ‘Students from Delft are already quite familiar with this way of thinking. Philosophy students from Leiden are trained to go beyond the given problem and make it more abstract. And the Erasmus students have a strong business perspective, they know that problem owners have budgets to balance, and that solutions have to be economically feasible. The more perspectives you have, the more likely you are to identify all the issues involved in responsible innovation’.
‘I think this is a very unique thing. I have never been involved in an educational programme like this. It is really a mix of education and actual innovation. It was great to take all this thinking, put it in the hand of students and say: work with it.’
Applications for the next course have more than doubled. ‘This summer we will be recruiting more problem owners. There are people who are eager to join. What an opportunity, they say, to get really motivated and hard-working students to engage with your problems.’