Bridging Technological and Social Innovation for a Biobased Economy

18 - 22 January 2016

Venue: Lorentz Center@Snellius

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The transition from a fossil to a biobased economy is increasingly debated as a possible solution to mitigate climate change, but also to increase energy security, sustainable innovation and social development including (rural) employment. However, while the scientific breakthroughs stemming from fundamental research mainly focus on drop-in products and viable business opportunities through novel technology (biorefineries), the social sciences have highlighted societal issues, such as scientific uncertainty on the environmental gains of the new technology; the availability of biomass and its competition with increasing food needs; and the societal acceptance of the new products such as biofuels. Different experts have different viewpoints on how society needs to tackle the dilemma of sustainable development and these seem to relate to different values on society and how we (as humans) should interact with our natural resources. These different value systems can be categorised in different worldviews which reflect the role of technology in society. For example on whether technology can be used to fix the ecological imbalance or to what extent we need to first understand eco-complexity. But also on the required social development and how this should be stimulated and governed. The different opinions presently lead to political inaction, while we all agree that action is urgently needed to come to a more sustainable planet. The challenge is not trivial, as population growth is happening in rural poor areas and our financial system is tightly linked to fossil based business.

This workshop aims to explore the expert viewpoints and their underlying values. The objective is to develop mutual understanding of the problems biobased economy can help solve, how they relate to value systems and worldviews and develop new approaches for research questions and solutions for societal needs and better articulated criteria for sustainable development.

International scholars from biobased technology development (genomics; bioprocess design; synthetic biology; fermentation technology); social philosophy; philosophy of worldviews; transition management and sustainable business development will be invited to clarify their knowledge and views, explore their values and relate this to problem definitions and possible biobased contributions. In the discussions and work sessions they will be encouraged to jointly explore the gaps in the biobased transition and define synergies for meaningful communication, and cutting edge research proposals. As such the workshop will build on various recent reports which indicate the need for synergy in implementing biobased technology for overall sustainable development.

The structure of the workshop is specifically chosen to create maximum understanding and develop mutual inspiration using a proven system of value articulation. The methodology emphasizes self-awareness, explication and explanation of participants’ self-held value-positions on nature and its value as resource for our energy and materials needs. It guides participants to identify common ground and develop common visions about relevant short- to long-term technological societal developments. The identification of self-held positions will start before the workshop event, with the use of structured interviews, based on worldview research. During the workshop, participants are asked to draw Value Tree-like[1] structures that graphically explicate an analysis of their concerns/problem definitions, weighted for relative importance and urgency. These are openly communicated to all participants. This exercise will be repeated at the end of the workshop, with the purpose to assess mutual understanding. The instrument serves the purpose of (a) driving participants to reflect on own-held positions, (b) to communicate these positions, and (c) to monitor the dynamics of the evolution of participant stated positions, for further analysis (this is also part of the action research approach of the DLF research proposal). For the identification of common ground, participants are asked to attempt and discuss the construction of a common value-tree for biobased solutions, and are also asked to develop, present and defend desirable technological societal visions and research questions for short-, mid- and long-term developments (2060). The consequent exploration of combining methodologies from both domains for research approaches is expected to inspire both domains on both a theoretical and a (practical) applied ground. The exercises are scheduled in between lectures from the different disciplines on identified problems and possible solutions, followed by discussion.

The workshop will be considered a success when it delivers important insight in:

1.       The origin of different problem definitions and how they impact on innovation for a biobased economy

2.       How the different implicit world views involved in both domains can be mutually informative on policy direction for a biobased society

3.       How to incorporate social impact analysis to guide more accepted biobased innovation design

4.       How technological design for biobased production can address (and solve) specific social challenges

5.       How to improve communication on biobased innovation

The Netherlands is a frontrunner on research and development for biorenewable products and processes. The BE-Basic Foundation is a Netherlands based international public-private partnership that develops industrial biobased (scientific and technological) solutions to build a sustainable society. With an annual budget of 45 MEuro it is one of the biggest public private partnerships worldwide. Similarly the Centre for Society and Life Sciences (CSG) which was supported by the NWO-Netherlands Genomics Initiative from 2002-2012 has delivered a considerable insight in societal challenges and built a network of scholars from different disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, both within The Netherlands and abroad (LISTEN network). The lead organiser is Principal Investigator of the CSG and Flagship manager of BE-Basic, ensuring appropriate input from both domains. The workshop in The Netherlands will underline this frontrunner position and further develop and promote a cutting edge research agenda for the Dutch research community.

[1] Value tree analysis is an integral part of decision analysis (DA). E.g. see


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