Responsible Management of Social Experiments: Challenges for Policymaking

  • Zoë RobaeyEmail author
  • Arno Simons


This paper assumes that the introduction of new technologies takes the form of social experiments and asks how such experiments can be managed responsibly. While social experimentation in itself is not an entirely new phenomenon, modern societies are increasingly describing themselves as experimental societies. Uncertainty and ignorance are seen as problems of modernity to which a continuous learning approach provides the solution. From an ethical perspective, social experimentation poses entirely new challenges, inter alia because outcomes often cannot be anticipated beforehand but have an immediate impact on society. We identify six values behind morally responsible social experimentation and set them against existing policy approaches dealing with the uncertainties involved in introducing new technologies into societies. We draw conclusions on how current policy approaches could better manage the introduction of new technologies in a responsible manner, emphasizing a lack in the value of justice.


Responsible innovation Innovation policy Social experimentation Justice 



This paper was written as part of the research program ‘New Technologies as Social Experiments’, which is supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) under grant number 016.114.625. We would also like to thank Ibo Van de Poel, Neelke Doorn, Shannon Spruit, and Jan Bergen for their valuable input in the making of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Values, Technology and Innovation, Faculty of Technology, Policy and ManagementDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Institute for Ecological Economy ResearchBerlinGermany

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