How to meet sustainability challenges head on in technology assessment?
Clare Farrukh and Dr Maria Holgado are the co-authors of “Integrating sustainable value thinking into technology forecasting: A configurable toolset for early stage technology assessment”
This recently published paper focuses on how companies can integrate sustainable value thinking into technology development.
Using a configurable toolset for early stage technology assessment, the paper highlights the importance of broadly based forward-looking activities in companies to tackle the significant sustainability challenges of the future.
This practical output summarises over two years of collaborative research undertaken with a number of STIM companies as part of the Cambridge CTM’s STIM program.
Highlights of the paper include:
- Configurable toolset to evaluate technology opportunities for corporate foresight
- Collaborative development of qualitative tools to guide prospective sense-making
- Environmental and social aspects integrated into early stage technology assessment
- Context-driven toolset configuration to match future technology opportunity type
- Inclusion of end-user and wider societal insights into forward-thinking activities
This paper is free to download from the Technological Forecasting and Social Change Journal until 20th August using this Share Link: https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1bKSo98SGmQ3N
We asked Clare more about the background and findings of the research.
Q. What is sustainable value and how it is assessed?
CF. Sustainable value gives longer term business return because it delivers the triple bottom line of economic, environmental and social value, focusing on whole-system sustainability by explicitly considering multi-stakeholder benefits and collaborations.
Current sustainable value assessment methods for technologies are essentially audit methods, for example Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), which can only be used when every detail of an innovation are known. This paper presents a forward-looking approach to be used at an early stage of the idea/design to question and improve technological developments in order to create both firm-level and system-level sustainability.
Q. What the toolset is and how it can be used in an organisation?
CF. The toolset is based on four templates applied in a configurable process depending on the specific application. The templates are used and combined in different ways to explore either a generic technology opportunity or particular applications of the technology. The toolset can be used in a workshop setting by a group of commercial and technical staff.
Results indicate that the toolset has successfully probed technological, environmental and social capabilities of a new technology development.
Q. Are you able to briefly explain what each of these mapping tools can tell you and at what point you recommend they are used?
CF. We propose a configurable workshop format, drawing upon four mapping tools:
- 1. Benefits Mapping (used as technology or market driven)
- 2. Industry Structure Analysis
- 3. Cambridge Value Mapping
- 4. Performance Dimensions Comparison.
The suggested tool usage for different technology assessment stages are shown below.
- Generic technology prospect – templates (1), (2), (4)
- Particular technology application/s – templates (1), (3) for each application, (4)
- Technology-enhanced product or service – template (3)
Also there are four templates:
- 1. The Benefits Mapping template helps to translate the technology’s features into benefits that meet customer or user’s current or potential needs. Alternatively, it can be used to flesh out a commercial opportunity and the resultant technological challenge.
- 2. The Industry Structure Analysis template is used for exploring new markets which are unfamiliar to the organisation but have the potential to be well served by a new technology prospect.
- 3. The Cambridge Value Mapping template is used to analyse routes to enhance sustainable value creation for a wider range of stakeholders.
- 4. The Performance Dimensions template is used to focus action plans and captures key performance requirements necessary for the adoption of any technology by a particular application and market sector.
Q. Can you give some examples of the information gained by the companies that made them review their technology development?
CF. Selecting and implementing appropriate approaches and quantifying their value contribution is difficult. Using this proposed toolset helped companies to take decisions and subsequent actions on the development path for new technologies under consideration, and secure organisational back-up for either advancing the project or taking a different direction for further development.
The process prompted one company to identify extra solutions to a performance problem in an existing product, leading to design workshops to develop the most promising solution. Another workshop identified several plausible new applications of an emergent technology that are now focusing the direction of ongoing company research.
A. In the conclusions you mention that the toolkit made R&D professionals think differently – can you give an example of that?
CF. The toolset aims to support decision-making by assessing potential value in relation to technology benefits, market insights and sustainability thinking, giving depth and breadth, and building on the strengths of the powerful individual tools that have been proven in past applications.
The integration of sustainable thinking in this process occurs by making the understanding of multiple forms of value for several distinct stakeholders the core of the process and the key driver for development of action plans for the technology under consideration.
This is a tangible example of prospective sensemaking – making sense of current information to shape future options – by providing visual and textual documents that help the collective definition of new courses of action.
The toolset helped the technologists in one company realise that their intended technology application as a replacement manufacturing process was unlikely at present taking into account the stakeholder perspectives. However two new potentially high value opportunities using the technology were identified: upgrading the input to a specific process operation in the current process and improving a service for customers in a specific setting.
Post written by Clare Farrukh