Despite the risk of receiving absolutely no comments (please don’t let me down!), I thought I’d try something new and ask for some feedback on the background blurb for a meeting I’ve been working on.

The meeting is a symposium on Risk, Uncertainty and Sustainable Innovation being organized by the Risk Science center next September.  I’ve been struggling with the blurb for this meeting before it goes out – especially striking the balance between something that captures the imagination (and hopefully the attention) of potential speakers, sponsors and attendees, and something that has clarity and substance.

The text below is my latest draft.  What I would love to know – today ideally (knowing that you all are desperate for something to break the boredom of a Sunday afternoon) – is whether in your opinion this works, whether it is fluff without substance, whether it is the perfect insomnia cure, or whatever.

Please, please add your comments below – no matter how brief, or how qualified/unqualified you feel you are to say something.

Thank you!

Risk, Uncertainty and Sustainable Innovation

New perspectives on emerging challenges

As we strive to build a sustainable future, do we need to rethink the relationship between risk, uncertainty and innovation?  Today’s accelerating rate of technology innovation promises profound personal, social and economic advances. But in an ever-more complex, interconnected and resource-constrained world, sustainable innovation is jeopardized by emergent risks, together with increasing uncertainty over potential benefits and impacts.  And no-where is this more apparent than at the intersection between technology innovation and human health.  Drawing on thought-leaders from a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, this symposium provides a unique forum for exploring new ideas on integrative approaches to health risks, uncertainty and innovation, as we look to develop sustainable solutions to global challenges.

Background: As technologies become more sophisticated, pressures on global resources grow and society becomes ever-more interconnected, governments, businesses and citizens are facing increasingly complex challenges as they strive to build an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future. Over the past century, technology innovation has accelerated to the point where scientists and engineers have greater control over materials, organisms and systems – from the atomic scale to the planetary scale – that ever before.  This has facilitated a radical shift in global communication, leading to an interconnected society where the flow of information, ideas and influence transcends geographical, economic and social boundaries.  At the same time, a growing and increasingly plugged-in world population is placing unprecedented demands on ever-scarcer global resources.

The result is a world where innovation is both a driver of and a potential source of solutions to an increasing number of emerging global challenges.

If we are to adapt and thrive in this changing world, we urgently need to better-enable sustainable innovation – the sustainable development of relevant and responsive new understanding, processes and products that support long-term advances in the quality of human life and the environment.  Yet sustainable innovation is inextricably intertwined with risk – particularly the danger of causing harm to human health – and uncertainty over the consequences of our actions.

Technology innovation leads to emergent risks – the likelihood of causing harm in a manner that is not apparent, assessable or manageable based on current approaches to risk assessment and management.  The more complex and rapid the innovation, the greater the chances of perceived or actual risks emerging that require new and responsive approaches to minimizing their impact.  But as a clear understanding of risks and how to manage them will always lag behind innovation, technology innovation is also dogged by uncertainty – particularly over how a specific course of action may lead to harm, and how this can be avoided.

If innovation is to support sustainable solutions to 21st century challenges, new and integrative approaches to risk and uncertainty are required.  New insight is needed on the interplay between risk, uncertainty and sustainable innovation.  Methods of moving risk-based decision-making upstream in the innovation cycle need to be explored.  And greater understanding of is needed on enabling collaborative decisions within an increasingly interconnected society in the face of uncertainty.

These are the challenges explored in the 2011 Symposium on Risk, Uncertainty and Sustainable Innovation. Drawing on thought-leaders in industry, government, academia, the media and other sectors, the symposium will provide a unique opportunity to explore new ideas on sustainable innovation in the face of growing global challenges, emergent risks to human health, and increasing uncertainty over the potential benefits and consequences of technology innovation.