Network initiates forum for creating successful SME business models through participative technology development
In a democracy, technical know-how, action, and decision-making should not be reserved for a handful of experts. They should be accessible to a broad section of the population. It is only logical that doing this will require a new education concept, one that sees technology training as a central educational asset of explanation, discussion, and involvement. The German term for this concept is SocioMINT – an approach that two Steinbeis Enterprises and three establishments of higher education feel Germany society is clearly still far from achieving. As a result, they have joined forces and initiated a business forum called Sociotechnology and SocioMINT. The forum is dedicated to examining the conditions for developing future-oriented, innovative technologies, and whether such solutions can be developed in such a way that they satisfy societal requirements and take the interests and needs of users into account. The new forum is mainly targeted at medium-sized businesses.
Expectations regarding how to plan for the future shape social models and have an impact on the support that society gives to research and business. Which of the often extremely different models is adopted largely depends on the social groups involved in their development and how much influence they have in asserting their interests. “Social groups thus exert a massive influence on the significance and urgency of technical innovations. This has knock-on implications for the nature and scope of research and development in industry and science. Decision- making often ignores social aspects relating to innovative and socially sustainable technology development,” explains Dr. Maja Jeretin- Kopf, director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center BAT-Solutions. The commercial consequences of this are products that are not used as intended, or used differently, and the political consequences are inefficient research programs, whereas the implications for individuals can be a lack of acceptance and ignorance.
Although the state provides funding for research and development initiatives, the number of innovators in Germany and other countries is in decline. But why are German companies so lacking in terms of the innovative ideas they can be expected to come up with – despite state funding? The winners when it comes to state funding tend to be bigger companies, who usually have high numbers of patent registrations to point to. As market shakeout results in fewer and fewer players, innovation drives are increasingly limited to fewer companies, even if they are big and economically powerful (EFI – Expert Commission for Research and Innovation : expert report on research, innovation, and the technological performance of Germany in 2018).
A variety of European funding programs provide member states with financing options. These are supposed to be applied to tackling major social challenges that cannot be solved on a national level. Fund allocation is based on criteria such as the field of technology that research will be conducted in. “Politics gives pointers for the direction that technology should go in, based on the assumption that the target technology holds promise when it comes to future needs. According to the numbers, this isn’t necessarily logical. Despite the high volume of investments in research and development, so many technologies fail when it comes to market introduction or acceptance,” concludes Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rüdiger Haas, director of SITIS (the Steinbeis Transfer Center called Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems). But maybe medical technology can show how to move things in a different direction. This field ranges from biomedicine to genetic engineering and classic medical technology, and it often comes in new digital guises, making it a key area of technological innovation. In social terms, few would dispute the need to regain physical autonomy and individual mobility through solutions such as exoskeletons, smart health systems, or autonomous driving in wheelchairs and cars. Such systems are well accepted, they are of “human import,” and they appear to be highly probable options for conveying the meaning or significance of such technological innovations among the general public. What is important, however, is that user groups are involved in their development. This will allow them to act as pioneers of technologies of social importance, in the same way users strongly influenced the development of smartphones and IT applications. Digital solutions make it possible to engage in participative product development in this area, even as early as the primary development stage.
The Sociotechnology and SocioMINT business forum provides a platform for key players in all social groups, and its aim is to facilitate dialog between decision-makers at small and medium-sized enterprises. The opening event of the forum will revolve around the topic of “biomedicine in an era of digital solutions,” offering a unique chance to discuss different ways to organize participative technology development. All Steinbeis Centers and Steinbeis Enterprises are expressly invited to the event if they would like to take part in the conference.