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University of Exeter Business School

Ethics and Responsible Innovation

Module titleEthics and Responsible Innovation
Module codeBEM3055
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Sarah Hartley (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description


Technology and innovation are shaping and changing society (or are promising to) in dramatic ways. In recent years, pressure has mounted for technology and innovation to be ethically responsible - shifting innovation from a focus on delivering economic value to addressing societal challenges such as those outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the UK’s Industrial Strategy. This module will explore what ‘responsible innovation’ might look like, through research-led case studies. Students will have the opportunity to investigate emerging and potentially disruptive innovations such as driverless cars, genome editing, mineral mining on Mars, genetically modified insects that eliminate malaria, robotics, and geo-engineering as a response to climate change. These and other cases of technological innovation will be explored through the literature on responsible innovation. Together, we will examine different aspects of responsible innovation critically exploring innovation, public engagement, the political economy and innovation in Low and Middle Income Countries. As a final year module, students have the chance to engage in a significant amount of critical reflection, and self-directed study, spending time researching and reading academic journal articles that support the ideas put forward in the lectures and workshops. The module will equip students with the knowledge and skills to engage with debates about future technologies that will shape their world.

Additional Information:


The module draws on cases of technological innovation with an international reach. Students are encouraged to consider the international and cultural dimensions of responsibility and social and environmental global challenges. Lectures and assignments address innovation in international development, including cases from South America, North America and Africa.

External Engagement

Guest speakers will be invited to participate in guest lectures and workshops.


Students have the opportunity to develop a number of skills valued by employers, including their creativity, critical thinking, and research and presentation skills. They also develop their ability to reflect on and address societal and technological challenges.


We directly address sustainability and sustainable development through contemporary global challenges and examine business’s role in developing technological innovations to address these challenges.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will introduce students to the significant role technological innovation plays in society. The module provides third-year students with relevant knowledge and skills to critically engage with technological innovation responsibly across a range of sectors as they prepare for the next stage of their career. Designed to engage students in debates and discussions about emerging technologies, this module challenges students to think independently and work as a team.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. understand the need for ethical questions about emerging technological innovation;
  • 2. identify and explain some of the most cutting-edge technological innovations and the ethical questions they raise;
  • 3. examine the different dimensions of responsible innovation, including the political, business, ethics and societal dimensions.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. recognise and explain the concept of responsible innovation and the challenges and opportunities it presents;
  • 5. ability to critically reflect on new technological innovation from an ethical perspective;
  • 6. select and justify a chosen course of action.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. skills to reflect, analyse, think critically, communicate and present an evidence-based and consistent argument (in both oral and written form) ;
  • 8. work independently and in teams.

Syllabus plan

This syllabus list is indicative.

  • Conceptual definitions of RI
  • The ethics of technology
  • Innovation governance
  • Development and innovation
  • Knowledge co-production
  • RI and the environment
  • RI and Justice

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities10Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities8Workshops
Guided Independent and Group Study132Reading, research, essay writing, group work

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group Project Pitch Group presentation in workshops, 5-mins1-8Verbal

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 752,250 words1-8Written feedback
Group Project 2510-minute oral presentation1-8Oral feedback from the class and oral and written feedback from the workshop lead

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (75%)Essay resubmission (2250 words, 75%)1-8August
Group Project (25%)Individual project report (1500 words, 25%)1-8August

Re-assessment notes

If you are referred/deferred in the module, you will be required to resubmit the failed or missing piece of work.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Burget, M., Bardone, E., & Pedaste, M. (2017). Definitions and conceptual dimensions of responsible research and innovation: a literature review. Science and engineering ethics, 23(1), 1-19.

Hartley, S., McLeod, C., Clifford, M., Jewitt, S., and Ray, C. (2019) A Retrospective Analysis of Responsible Innovation for Low-Technology Innovation in the Global South Journal of Responsible Innovation. Journal of Responsible Innovation.

Douglas, H., (2003). The moral responsibilities of scientists (tensions between autonomy and responsibility). American Philosophical Quarterly 40, 59–68

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

Leach, M. and Scoones, I. 2007. The Slow Race: Making technology work for the poor, London, Demos,

Ledingham, K., & Hartley, S. (2020). Transformation and slippage in co-production ambitions for global technology development: The case of gene drive. Environmental Science & Policy116, 78-85.

Lemos, M. C., Arnott, J. C., Ardoin, N. M., Baja, K., Bednarek, A. T., Dewulf, A., ... & Mach, K. J. (2018). To co-produce or not to co-produce. Nature Sustainability1(12), 722-724

Inigo, E. A., & Blok, V. (2019). Strengthening the socio-ethical foundations of the circular economy: Lessons from responsible research and innovation. Journal of Cleaner Production, 233, 280–291.

Williams, D. P. (2020). Fitting the description: historical and sociotechnical elements of facial recognition and anti-black surveillance. Journal of Responsible Innovation, 1-10

Ludwig, D., & Macnaghten, P. (2020). Traditional ecological knowledge in innovation governance: a framework for responsible and just innovation. Journal of Responsible Innovation, 7(1), 26-44

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources


Key words search

Responsible innovation, technology, ethics

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date