Innogen · News · December 5, 2014

Tait contributes to government report on managing risk in innovation

Joyce Tait contributes chapter entitled “Bringing it all together” in the first Annual Report of the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir Mark Walport.

As the report states, “Innovation is essential for economic growth, health, wellbeing security and resilience” yet the development of new innovative technologies may involve a range of risks. Entitled Innovation: Managing Risk, Not Avoiding It, the report seeks to address some of the challenges faced by decisions-makers when determining policy for new innovative technologies and looks at risk in the context of innovation. It draws on a number of experts and case studies from around the UK to consider the different perspectives on risk, including social, psychological, industrial and economic.

In her chapter, “Bringing it all together”, Tait warns that while our current innovation governance systems may help avoid potentially hazardous development, they also have the potential to stifle useful innovation.

Tait offers a critique of the prevailing social science approach to risk management in the life sciences area and argues that there is a need for a more adaptive approach to the governance of risk and innovation, alongside a more constructive and inclusive approach to stakeholder engagement. She explains that: “Changing the behaviour of innovation or regulatory systems will require finding the right policy levers that will adapt or re-align the relevant systems components, and new smart approaches to regulation and governance are the most likely pressure points to deliver better innovation-related value for money from public investment in basic science.”

Tait’s chapter draws on two cases studies – GM crops and nanotechnology – that she believes point to useful future directions, which could be taken to meet these needs.

In regards to nanotechnology, Tait explains that approaches based on development of standards, e.g. through the British Standards Institute, involving dialogue between stakeholders and companies to ensure the quality of products and processes and to govern health, safety and environmental impacts, have a much better record of being adaptive in the face of new technological developments than our current regulatory systems.

Additionally, from the GM crop debate, the alternative management strategy proposed by David Baulcombe – which takes into account the evidence that there is no inherent environmental or nutritional hazard in the process of genetic modification and considers the risk associated with the failure to innovate – as Tait explains, “could be a starting point for re-thinking the European regulatory systems in a way that would be sufficiently radical to enable re-shaping and re-invigorating of innovation for European crop production.”

A comparison of Tait’s chapter in the Walport Report with that of Andy Stirling (Chapter 4) provides evidence of the very active debate going on in the social sciences around issues of risk management related to innovation in life sciences. And this debate can be seen in action in the proceedings of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry on GM Crops and the Precautionary Principle. The Innogen Institute approach in such cases is to look to scientific research to reduce the uncertainty about benefits and risks that often exists in the early stages of development of a new technology, whereas the alternative approach continues to amplify uncertainty, even as scientific evidence of safety accumulates. Innogen’s adaptive governance approach described in this chapter, could enable us to deploy risk-related information and insights more intelligently than we have done to date and to adapt our regulatory systems more readily to suit rapidly changing innovation opportunities.

Innovation: Managing Risk, Not Avoiding It - Executive Summary

Innovation: Managing Risk, Not Avoiding It - Full Report

House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry on GM Crops and the Precautionary Principle - Recording