Sub-theme 46: Responsible Innovation for Sustainable Development

Andreas Georg Scherer
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Günter K. Stahl
WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria
Christian Voegtlin
Audencia Business School, France

Call for Papers

Responsible innovation is the framework that evaluates innovations with regard to their potential harmful consequences for people and planet on the one hand, and their potential positive contribution to societal wellbeing on the other. Moreover, it indicates that this evaluation process should be facilitated by appropriate governance structures at various levels. Sustainable development (SD) requires concerted efforts by various actors and institutions to be achieved. Businesses are relevant actors in this regard, as they represent a source of innovation that can help to foster SD. With this sub-theme, we want to encourage research on responsible innovation and its links to SD. The aim is to develop the necessary theoretical and empirical groundwork around responsible innovation and SD.
One of the most promising avenues for addressing SD challenges is through responsible innovation (Khavul & Bruton, 2013; Owen et al., 2012; Stilgoe et al., 2013). The private sector assumes a pivotal role in developing innovations in products, processes, or services that address SD issues. Business firms engage in these activities either unilaterally or in concerted efforts with public, civil society or other private actors. This is evidenced by the growing number of partnerships between business community, civil society organizations, and governmental as well as intergovernmental agencies; the emergence of dedicated CSR departments in many companies; and corporate engagement in the initiatives like the UN Global Compact or the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. As pointed out by Aguilera and colleagues, corporations are “important and necessary socialchange agents” (2007: 857).
We aim to encourage research on responsible innovation that includes business as part of the solution and focuses on the global agenda for SD. Initially, “responsible innovation” was used in quite a narrow way to explore the responsibility of science with respect to issues such as research on human subjects, socio-technical integration, research integrity, intellectual property or the ethical and social implications of scientific innovation (Owen et al., 2013: 39). More recent analyses apply a broader perspective on innovations and take account of the variety of actors inside and outside the scientific system that might be involved in innovation processes (Khavul & Bruton, 2013; Owen et al., 2012; Stilgoe et al., 2013). Thus, responsible innovation can been defined as “a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view on the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products” (von Schomberg, 2011: 50).

Seen from this perspective, responsible innovation consists of three types of responsibility which are relevant for exploring the role of private businesses (Voegtlin & Scherer, 2017):

  1. the responsibility to do no harm (Lee & Petts, 2013),
  2. the responsibility to do good (Stahl & Sully de Luque, 2014),
  3. responsible governance (Scherer & Palazzo, 2011), which involves establishing institutions, structures, and procedures on multiple levels in order to facilitate innovations that suffice (1) and (2).

Research in business and management has so far been mostly looking at either the dimension of “do no harm” or “do good”, but has rarely considered them as interdependent, nor has there been much research on responsible governance that facilitates responsible innovation. With regard to the dimension of “do no harm”, the extant literature has for the most part focused on risk management frameworks that seek to regulate innovation processes in order to mitigate potential harm; in addition, there have been calls for open innovation and democratizing innovation as a way to integrate a variety of stakeholders (Lee & Petts, 2013; Owen et al., 2013; von Hippel, 2005; von Hippel & von Krogh, 2003). With regard to the dimension of “do good”, we see scholars researching social and ecological innovation, or investigating the challenges faced by hybrid organizations that strive to pursue both social and economic missions (Dahan et al., 2010; Ebrahim et al., 2014; Karakaya et al., 2014; Markman et al., 2016). As mentioned above, research on innovative governance is scarce; in particular the role of business in defining and enforcing new governance mechanisms that facilitate responsible innovations has yet to be explored (Scherer & Palazzo, 2011; Scherer et al., 2016). Last but not least, further theory building and empirical research are warranted around the concept of responsible innovation as such.
To date the role of responsible innovation and its links to challenges of SD is not well understood, both in theoretical and empirical terms, nor are there any ready-made solutions for facilitating responsible innovations that foster SD. It appears that facilitating responsible innovation has to take place at multiple levels: the level of global governance, the level of national policy, and the level of corporate governance. The aim is clear: the process of innovation should not be optimized primarily for the sake of business interests and corporate financial growth, but also toward addressing the grand challenges, promoting sustainability, and serving the public interest (Nilsson, 2017). However, there is no clear consensus on what causes responsible innovations, how the various types of responsibility interrelate, what the effects of responsible innovations are, and how impediments for responsible innovation can be overcome.
We invite conceptual and empirical submissions drawing on a range of theoretical perspectives and diverse methodologies. The following topic areas highlight exemplary questions and research themes:

  • Theory development: What theories can help us better understand and explain responsible innovation and its relation to the sustainable development challenges? What are the drivers, outcomes and boundary conditions of responsible innovation?

  • Empirical research: How can we measure responsible innovation in businesses and its impact on sustainable development? What are the conditions that contribute to incremental and to radical innovation for sustainable development?

  • Research across levels-of-analyses: What facilitates responsible innovation across levels-of-analysis? How does individual behavior, organizational structures or business-society relations contribute to responsible innovation? What role does responsible leadership play?

  • International and cross-cultural dimensions of responsible innovation: What are cross-cultural implications for responsible innovation that targets planetary challenges? How do large MNEs organize and coordinate their activities in the area of responsible innovation? What role do global governance mechanisms like the UN Global Compact play?

  • Incorporating recent societal developments: What are the implications of recent societal developments (e.g., emerging nationalism, fundamentalism and populism or the post-fact/truth era) for responsible innovation? How does resistance to change and fear for the future hinder responsible innovation?

  • Digitalization: Under what conditions can responsible innovation contribute to the challenges of a digital society? What are the potential negative implications of digital innovations? How can digital innovations contribute to SD?

  • New forms of innovating: Under what conditions can new forms of doing business and new forms of innovation (e.g., open innovation, collective innovation, sharing economy, etc.) contribute to solving sustainable development challenges? What is the impact of different (and novel) organizational forms on responsible innovation (e.g., MNCs and SMEs, new corporate ventures, hybrid organizations, state-led firms, purpose driven corporate forms and benefit corporations, etc.)?



  • Aguilera, R.V., Rupp, D.E., Williams, C.A., & Ganapathi, J. (2007): “Putting the S Back in Corporate Social Responsibility: A Multilevel Theory of Social Change in Organizations.” Academy of Management Review, 32 (3), 836–863.
  • Dahan, N.M., Doh, J.P., Oetzel, J., & Yaziji, M. (2010): “Corporate-NGO Collaboration: Co-creating New Business Models for Developing Markets.” Long Range Planning, 43 (2–3), 326–342.
  • Ebrahim, A., Battilana, J., & Mair, J. (2014): “The governance of social enterprises: Mission drift and accountability challenges in hybrid organizations.” Research in Organizational Behavior, 34, 81–100.
  • Karakaya, E., Hidalgo, A., & Nuur, C. (2014): “Diffusion of eco-innovations: A review.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 33, 392–399.
  • Khavul, S., & Bruton, G.D. (2013): “Harnessing Innovation for Change: Sustainability and Poverty in Developing Countries.” Journal of Management Studies, 50 (2), 285–306.
  • Lee, R.G., & Petts, J. (2013): “Adaptive Governance for Responsible Innovation.” In: R. Owen, J. Bessant & M. Heintz (eds.): Responsible Innovation: Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 143–164.
  • Markman, G.D., Russo, M., Lumpkin, G.T., Jennings, P.D., & Mair, J. (2016): “Entrepreneurship as a Platform for Pursuing Multiple Goals: A Special Issue on Sustainability, Ethics, and Entrepreneurship.” Journal of Management Studies, 53 (5), 673–694.
  • Nilsson, A. (2017): “Making norms to tackle global challenges: The role of Intergovernmental Organisations.” Research Policy, 46 (1), 171–181.
  • Owen, R., Macnaghten, P. and Stilgoe, J. (2012): ‘Responsible research and innovation: From science in society to science for society, with society’. Science and Public Policy, 39, 751–60.
  • Owen, R., Stilgoe, J., Macnaghten, P., Gorman, M., Fisher, E., & Guston, D. (2013): “A Framework for Responsible Innovation.” In: R. Owen, J. Bessant & M. Heintz (eds.): Responsible Innovation: Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 27–50.
  • Scherer, A.G., & Palazzo, G. (2011): “The New Political Role of Business in a Globalized World: A Review of a New Perspective on CSR and its Implications for the Firm, Governance, and Democracy.” Journal of Management Studies, 48 (4), 899–931.
  • Scherer, A.G., Rasche, A., Palazzo, G., & Spicer, A. (2016): “Managing for Political Corporate Social Responsibility: New Challenges and Directions for PCSR 2.0.” Journal of Management Studies, 53 (3), 273–298.
  • Stahl, G.K., & Sully de Luque, M. (2014): “Antecedents of Responsible Leader Behavior: A Research Synthesis, Conceptual Framework, and Agenda for Future Research.” Academy of Management Perspectives, 28 (3), 235–254.
  • Stilgoe, J., Owen, R., & Macnaghten, P. (2013): “Developing a Framework for Responsible Innovation.” Research Policy, 42 (9), 1568–1580.
  • Voegtlin, C., & Scherer, A.G. (2017): “Responsible Innovation and the Innovation of Responsibility: Governing Sustainable Development in a Globalized World.” Journal of Business Ethics, 143 (2), 227–243.
  • von Hippel, E., & von Krogh, G. (2003): “Open Source Software and the ‘Private-Collective’ Innovation Model: Issues for Organization Science.” Organization Science, 14 (2), 209–223.
  • von Schomberg, R. (2011): “Prospects for technology assessment in a framework of responsible research and innovation.” In: M. Dusseldorp & R. Beecroft (eds.): Technikfolgen abschätzen lehren: Bildungspotenziale transdisziplinärer Methoden. Wiesbaden: Springer, 39–61.
Andreas Georg Scherer holds the Chair of Foundations of Business Administration and Theories of the Firm at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. His research interests are in the social welfare implications of strategic management and the political role of multinational corporations. In particular, he is interested in how the process of globalization leads to changes in the economic, social, ecological, and political responsibilities of MNCs. His work has appeared in ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Administration Science Quarterly’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Organization’, ‘Business Ethics Quarterly’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, and other journals. Andreas is an Associate Editor of ‘Business Ethics Quarterly’ and member of the editorial boards of ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Organization’.
Günter K. Stahl is Professor of International Management and Director of the Center for Sustainability Transformation and Responsibility (STaR) at the WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria. His current research interests include the drivers of corporate responsibility, grand societal challenges and their implications for management and leadership, and the changing nature of global work. Günter’s research has been recognized by numerous awards and published in leading academic journals, such as ‘Organization Science’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Journal of Applied Psychology’, ‘Academy of Management Perspectives’, and ‘Journal of International Business Studies’, and has been profiled in a wide range of media outlets including the ‘Wall Street Journal’ and ‘Financial Times’.
Christian Voegtlin is Professor of Managerial Responsibility at Audencia Business School, France. His main research interests are in responsible leadership and innovation, business ethics and corporate social responsibility. His research has appeared in outlets such as the ‘Academy of Management Perspectives’, ‘Business Ethics Quarterly’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, and ‘Journal of Business Ethics’. Christian’s research has been repeatedly funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and he is currently involved in a SNSF funded project on social innovative behavior.