In a context marked by unprecedented challenges (the struggle against inequalities, climate change, etc.), innovation appears to be the readymade universal scapegoat. Innovation for Society, however, suggests that we look at innovation differently, by inviting us to innovate with consciousness. To do this, the authors introduce an approach they call Penser le Sens de l'Innovation (P.S.I., or "thinking about the meaning of innovation"), comprising a set of tools largely from the humanities and social sciences (observation, cartography, creativity, storytelling, etc.) to lead us to this "meaning". By considering the question of "meaning" from the point of view of both direction and signification, the authors rehabilitate the eminently political question of knowing which innovations we choose for which societies.
Marianne Chouteau is a lecturer at INSA Lyon, France, a member of the S2HEP laboratory at the University of Lyon, and is part of the Chaire Saint-Gobain - INSA Lyon Ingénieurs Ingénieux team. Specializing in imagination and representations of technology, her research interests include innovation and ethics.
Joëlle Forest is a lecturer at INSA Lyon, a member of the S2HEP laboratory at the University of Lyon, and is responsible for research conducted within the framework of the Chaire Saint-Gobain - INSA Lyon Ingénieurs Ingénieux team. Her research interests focus on the mode of existence of innovations.
Céline Nguyen is a lecturer at INSA Lyon, a member of the S2HEP laboratory at the University of Lyon, and is part of the Chaire SaintGobain - INSA Lyon Ingénieurs Ingénieux team. Her research interests include the analysis of narratives and representations surrounding technology and innovation.
Introduction: The P.S.I. Approach to Thinking About the Meaning of Innovation1
In 2017, according to the OECD, one adult in five was obese in the European Union and almost 4 out of 10 in the United States (OECD, 2017). The World Health Organization (WHO) now describes obesity as the first non-infectious epidemic in history, and projections for 2030 are pessimistic. Obesity is predicted to rise even as it increases the risk of chronic disease and death, making it a health disaster as well as an unprecedented financial catastrophe:
In 2001, in the United States (according to the Atlanta Center for Disease Control and Prevention - CDC), costs were estimated at $117 billion (about 10% of health care spending). [.] In France, the last cost study, dated 1992, put the cost at 2% of health expenditure - at a time when obesity was still underdeveloped there. It can probably be estimated, taking into account its evolution (it has doubled since 1990) to more than 4% of health expenditure - which, based on the last known figure for health insurance expenditure, would lead to a cost of 5.6 billion euros.2
At the same time, 52 million children under the age of 5 years are extremely underweight worldwide, according to UN (United Nations) data. These figures are chilling, and they call for an urgent worldwide response because malnutrition is no longer sparing any country in the world.
According to the WHO, the number of people aged over 60 years is expected to double between 2000 and 2050 from 605 million (11%) to 2 billion (22%). Given the overall improvement in the quality of life and health of people in general, the aging of the population is affecting the entire planet, with the number of people aged 60 years and over increasing rapidly in contrast to the number of younger people. The aging of society raises the question of the care of dependent persons, their isolation and their greater vulnerability, which must be answered urgently.
The situation is just as worrying on the climate side. While there has been an increase in drought over the past 50 years in Africa, northern Latin America and southern Eurasia, rainfall and flooding phenomena have intensified. May 2018 was the rainiest month ever recorded in France. Scientists believe that intense rainfall events are very likely to become more frequent in the future and that, at the same time, drought-affected areas are expected to expand. These situations are very costly and traumatic for the population. The floods that occurred in France between May 25 and June 14, 2018, affected more than 200,000 people at an estimated cost of 430 million euros, according to the French Insurance Federation. To these "material" costs are added environmental costs due to the number of products washed into the waterways. The consequences are also dire for wildlife: many river fish are found dead on the roads and trapped when floodwaters recede. The findings of the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are instructive [IPC 18]. It estimates that, if global warming is limited to 1.5ºC, the global sea level will be 10 cm lower by 2100 than it would be if global warming is limited to 2ºC. The probability of the Arctic Ocean being ice-free in summer will be once per century if warming is limited to 1.5°C, but at least once every 10 years if it is limited to 2°C. With a warming of 1.5°C, 70-90% of coral reefs would disappear, while with a warming of 2°C, almost all (>99%) would be wiped out.
These examples are just a few illustrations of the current major challenges (such as access to water, education and health, reduction of energy consumption, waste and pollution management), in the face of which it seems difficult to remain indifferent or adopt a fatalistic stance. The question then arises: what can be done to address these challenges?
In this book, we argue that innovation is one way to meet these challenges. Does adopting such a view mean that we are prisoners of the injunction to innovate?
Certainly not. We are firmly convinced that a society that does not evolve can no longer meet the challenges it faces. This applies both to a company - which, in the absence of innovation, will see its products overtaken by those of its competitors and will be condemned - and to society at large.
Nevertheless, stating that innovation is a response to current major challenges does not mean that there are no limits to innovation. Indeed, this book invites us to think about a society in which innovation cannot be thought of as producing gadgets, which are essentially useless and linked to an unbridled and unreasonable consumer society. This book proposes to consider the meaning of innovation and thus determine its limits and outlines. It also proposes tools to achieve this.
Adopting such a point of view allows us to emancipate ourselves from the false debates surrounding innovation. Indeed, some people reject innovation on the grounds that it would necessarily be the avatar of capitalism3, which is shameless by nature. For example, it says that
innovation pays off, the word "new" sells, even laundry detergents or new-recipe cookies! Car manufacturers know that a new model has to come out every year. Clothing retailers too; fashion is merely the fruit of this capitalist innovation.4
However, when we follow the history of technology, we quickly realize that innovation did not wait for the advent of capitalism to show up. It even appears to be constitutive of our humanity.
Others indicate that there are alternative pathways such as what is commonly referred to as social innovation5. Indeed, following his participation in an Up Conferences dialogue that was organized for the Grand Final of the Tour of the Mouves Regions, Frédéric Mazzella, who is one of the founders of Blablacar, explained how his innovation belonged to the sphere of social innovation. According to him, Blablacar is an innovation that is centered on friendship and mutual aid. It enables people to save money (and by the same token to democratize the trip) and contributes to the preservation of the environment6. While these arguments seem indisputable, we cannot forget that Blablacar is nevertheless a perfect example of a social innovation that pushes capitalism further by placing it in the private sphere, and in the end, this social innovation does not question the place of the car but optimizes its use.
Similarly, there is also a very strong trend towards responsible innovation, apart from the fact that the concept of responsible innovation tends to create a divide between innovations that would be responsible and others that, by definition, would not be. We agree with Xavier Pavie [PAV 12] who deplored the fact that the question of responsibility is posed as an end in itself. Too often responsibility is seen as a starting point. However, this neglects the fact that innovation deemed responsible in its purpose can either have a catastrophic ecological footprint (a bio-sourced bag is biodegradable but the production is more polluting) or be carried out in deplorable working conditions. The industrialization of organic food is accompanied, for example, by questions about the fair remuneration of employees and the illegal status of some of them7. Finally, he stressed that responsible innovation by its very nature does not exist. Responsible innovations are so because they have become so after a process in which the ability to anticipate all risks has been at the forefront8.
In our opinion, the question is not to develop social, responsible or any other specific type of innovation, as this leads to restricting the spectrum of possible innovations from the outset. Rather, we dare to go a step further by thinking about the meaning of the innovations we are intending, which amounts to restoring the political issue of innovation and innovating with consciousness. In doing so, we must therefore go beyond the question of impacts, which is often asked but is, in our opinion, insufficient or even pointless if we do not invest in the primary question of meaning.
Let us make no mistake about what we are talking about. This book is not a plea against responsible or social innovations in favor of a triumphant system of capitalism but an invitation to question oneself and thus to conceive innovations differently. Thus, this book presents first an approach9 that allows us to innovate with consciousness and then a set of tools and methodologies from the social sciences and humanities that we have redesigned to achieve this objective10.
Specifically, the first chapter aims to introduce the positioning of our approach and its contributions. The following chapters will be dedicated to the presentation of different tools. The chapters are not organized chronologically, so that the reader can draw on them as he or she sees fit. It is therefore not a method to be followed step by step in a fixed order. Each of these chapters will be structured as follows. First, we will position the tool within the disciplines to understand its origins and functions. Then, we will present the challenges of the tool for innovation using examples and cases drawn from the history of innovations and technologies or from situations we have observed. Finally, we will describe the implementation of these tools.