SocRobust : final report

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Laredo, Philippe and Jolivet, Eric and Shove, Elizabeth and Raman, Sujatha and Rip, Arie and Moors, Ellen and Poti, Bianca and Schaeffer, Gerrit Jan and Penan, Herv and Clara Eugenia, Garcia (2002) SocRobust : final report. [Report]

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Abstract:This project concerns the management of especially risky and uncertain forms of innovation. More precisely, it concentrates on architectural or radical innovations which by their nature challenge existing technological conventions, regulatory frameworks, and established relations between consumers and producers.
Public and private sector managers of research and development projects have ready access to a range of tools and techniques with which to inform and evaluate decisions about the relative merits of competing projects and proposals. The trouble is that conventional management methods assume the stability of technological, regulatory and market environments. As a result, they are of limited value when these dimensions are uncertain. The core problem is this: what can managers do to enhance societal robustness (and hence the chances of social and political success) when dealing with "architectural" innovation.
In response, we devised a feasibility study through which to develop and test a new kit of tools for use in such situations. The tool kit, informed by literature reviews in the sociology of innovation, evolutionary economics, and management and organisational science, helps managers better understand the history and present positioning of their project and determine appropriate next steps to promote and enhance its social viability.
Still in the early stages of development, the SOCROBUST tool kit has been prepared for use in a consultancy style interaction involving two parties: a SOCROBUST assessor and the project manager. It consists of four steps and ten tools, many of which have been designed from scratch. The basic sequence is as follows.
The initial step is to describe the project from different angles: first a narrative of events to date; second a mapping of the cast of actors currently implicated in the project; and third a detailing of key events or turning points along the way. Having established a picture of the past, the next challenge is to imagine and describe a future world in which the project has succeeded and its goals have been achieved. This future working world is represented in different ways: via a revised mapping of the actors who will be involved and a more precise specification of anticipated relations between them. The second step is to look back over this descriptive material and identify the key changes which will have to take place if the gap between the present and the future working world is to be closed. The third step homes in on these key changes but from a new perspective. The purpose here is to put the key changes in context, to check on their viability given events in the world beyond the project, and to thereby assess and evaluate the project s present positioning and the key assumptions on which it depends. Having made this assessment, the final step is one of identifying plausible and relevant next steps and of identifying those on which the project manager can act.
This method has been tested on five on-going cases. In all of these it proved to be of practical value for the project managers involved, leading some to revise their views of the project in question and inspiring others to take different actions as a result. Organised as a method for periodically checking, assessing and evaluating societal robustness, SOCROBUST offers a way of managing what have hitherto been inherently unmanageable processes of uncertain
innovation.
The feasibility study has demonstrated what promises to be of the lasting value of the SOCROBUST approach. Further work is required to explore the possibility of producing a self-administered version — that is of designing a SOCROBUST process which project managers could follow on their own — and of testing the method on a complete portfolio of current projects.
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