Responsible Innovation in Chains and Networks

Track Coordinators

Vincent Blok (Wageningen University, The Netherlands)

Edurne A. Inigo (Wageningen University, The Netherlands)

Responsible Innovation is an emerging concept to balance economic, socio-cultural and environmental aspects in innovation processes (European Commission 2011). Because technological innovations can contribute significantly to the solution of societal challenges like climate change or the aging of people, but can also have negative societal consequences, it is assumed that social and ethical aspects should be considered during the innovation process. By involving multiple stakeholders in innovation processes at an early stage, “societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view to the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products” (von Schomberg 2013: 63). The consideration of ethical and social aspects during innovation processes will lead not only to technological innovations which are socially acceptable but also socially desirable (cf. Matter 2011). The concept of responsible innovation expresses the ambition to address societal needs, next to the more traditional objectives of innovation like economic growth, profit maximization, competitive advantage etc.

Because the concept of responsible innovation is relatively new and still evolving in different directions (cf. Owen et al. 2013; van den Hoven et al. 2013), there are several under-researched areas in general, and with regard to chains and networks in particular. Till now, responsible innovation in the private sector is still under-researched (Blok & Lemmens, 2015; Lubberink et al. 2017; Timmermans, 2017). To what extend it the concept of RI applicable in the business context? What are the drivers and barriers of industrial responsible innovation practices? (Blok, Hoffmans and Wubben 2015; Garst et al. 2017)? In the context of the WICaNeM conference on chain and network management, the following research areas are of special interest:

1. Till now, most research is done from a policy or socio-ethical perspective and focusing on academic R&D environments, while most innovations take place in commercial or industrial settings (cf. Flipse 2012). It is precisely corporate innovation, which is underrepresented in current research on responsible innovation (cf. Blok and Lemmens, 2015; Blok, Hoffmans and Wubben, 2015; Lubberink et al. 2017).
2. Nowadays, it is widely acknowledged that only a few firms have all resources and networks available to innovate in isolation. Most firms innovate in networks and/or together with their supply chain partners. This raises the question how collaborating firms share the responsibility for the innovation they work on. It is precisely innovation in chains and networks, which is underrepresented in current research on responsible innovation.
3. The system in which innovation processes are embedded affects their development. There are structural, market, regulatory or financial factors that are external to the responsible innovation process and yet hinder or enhance it (Long et al., 2016). This raises the question on how these system factors influence responsible innovation practices, and more particularly, how these can be shaped to overcome existing barriers in chains and networks.
4. Although all industries and sectors can be involved in responsible innovation, sector specific differences are not taken into account in current research and some sectors are underrepresented. It is precisely the agri-food sector, which is underrepresented in current research on responsible innovation. Nanotechnology and ICT for instance are fields of research which are often mentioned in the responsible innovation literature, but in biotechnology, medical technology and food technology we observe similar issues concerning health and/or privacy. Insights from several industries and sectors can help to develop a better conceptualization of responsible innovation and to distinguish sector-specific characteristics of its application.
5. Through the concept of responsible innovation, the focus of innovation processes shifts towards societal challenges. These are converted into business opportunities to create new concepts, business models and ways of operating, as well as more efficient approaches to resource exploitation and energy consumption. These opportunities require a different approach to problem solving which diverts significantly from the way we think about solutions, technologies and applications today. The question is to what extent SMEs and start-ups can benefit from these opportunities for responsible innovation, assuming that they are not constrained by a dominant logic, existing heuristics and current practices to problem solving (Scholten and vd Duin, 2015).

Given the importance of the emerging field of responsible innovation in the chains and networks, this call for papers aims to deepen management scholars’ and practitioners’ understanding of how networks and chains can effectively be involved in responsible innovation processes. Therefore, we encourage submission of papers that tackle a broad range of questions, including (but not limited to) the aforementioned areas of special interest. Both empirical and conceptual papers are welcome and we strongly encourage multi-disciplinary submissions in areas such as management, finance, accounting, supply chain, public administration and policy, marketing, organizational behaviour, communication, education, development, sociology and psychology among others.

To ensure consideration for this WICaNeM track session, please submit your abstract through the submission system by January 25th 2018. Go to the WiCaNeM Abstract Submission form to submit your abstract. Authors must submit a 1,000 words (one Word page) extended abstract in English. Each abstract must contain the following: Cover Page; Problem Statement; Objectives; Procedures/methodologies/approaches; Results; Conclusions; References and Authors’ preferences for presentation as a paper or poster. Submissions will undergo a double blind peer review. Conditional to acceptance, authors will be invited to submit a full paper by March 1st, 2018. The best scientific papers, associated with paper presentations, will be invited to participate to the Best Paper Award competition and may be selected for publication in the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review (IFAMR). For further questions and remarks, please feel free to contact the track coordinators Vincent Blok ( and Edurne Inigo (

Blok, V., Lemmens, P. (2015) “The Emerging Concept of Responsible Innovation. Three Reasons why it is Questionable and Calls for a Radical Transformation of the Concept of Innovation“. In: Koops, van den Hoven, Romijn, Swierstra, Oosterlaken (ed.), Responsible Innovation 2: Concepts, Approaches, and Applications (Dordrecht: Springer): 19-35 (DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-17308-5_2).

Blok, V., Hoffmans, L., Wubben, E. (2015), „Stakeholder Engagement for Responsible Innovation in the Private Sector: Critical Issues and Management Practices in the Dutch Food Industry“, Journal of Chain and Network Science (forthcoming).

European Commission (2011) Horizon 2020 – the framework programme for research and innovation. Brussels

Flipse, S.M. (2012) Enhancing Socially Responsible Innovation in Industry. Dissertation Delft University

Long, T. B., Blok, V., & Coninx, I. (2016). Barriers to the adoption and diffusion of technological innovations for climate-smart agriculture in Europe: evidence from the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Italy. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112, Part 1, 9–21.

Garst, J., Blok, V., Jansen, L., Omta, O. (2017). Responsibility versus Profit: the Motives of Food for Healthy Product Innovation. Sustainability 2017.

Lubberink, R., Blok, V., Ophem, J. van, Omta, O. (2017). Lessons for Responsible Innoation in the Business Context: A systematic Literature Review of Responsible, Social and Sustainable Innovation Practices. Sustainability 2017.

Matter (2011) A Report on responsible Research & Innovation Brussels

Owen, W., Bessant, J., Heintz, M. (ed.)(2013), Responsible Innovation. Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society Chichester: Wiley

Pless N, Maak T, Waldman D. (2012) Different Approaches Toward Doing the Right Thing: Mapping the Responsibility Orientations of Leaders. Academy of Management Perspectives. Vol 26, No 4, p. 51-65.

Scholten, V.E., Duin, P. v.d., 2015 Responsible Innovation among Academic Spin-offs: How Responsible Practices help developing Absorptive Capacity. Journal of chain and network sciences (forthcoming).

Timmermans, J. (2017). Mapping the RRI Landscape: An Overview of Organisations, Projects, Persons, Areas and Topics. In Responsible Innovation 3 (pp. 21–47). Springer, Cham.