Three Sectors

Different industries work along different research and innovation pathways and experience unique challenges. COMPASS developed tools and services for responsible innovation with a focus on three highly technological and innovation driven sectors of key economic importance in three regions: nanotechnology in Belgium, ICT in the UK and healthcare in Spain (Barcelona area).

Technological development in the areas of nanotechnology, ICT and healthcare are the basis for innovations in various industrial sectors. They may yield further solutions to solving societal challenges such as hunger, insecurity or environmental degradation. COMPASS focuses on the concrete application fields of nanotechnologies, biomedicine and cyber security.


Nanotechnology, the development of components at the scale of about 1-100 nanometres for the last decade has been one of the fastest growing industries worldwide. Nanotechnology has brought about a wave of innovations with an impact on the development of information and communication technologies, medical technologies, transportation, energy generation and handling, and lighting technologies. The European Commission has stated that it has the potential to deliver “game changing” technological breakthroughs in the future. Nanotechnology is not only vital for Europe’s competitiveness but also for addressing societal challenges.

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Responsible Innovation and Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is expected to deliver technological solutions to a number of pressing societal challenges. One of the areas of impact of electronic devices at nanoscale will be in the health sector. Innovations in the area of nanoelectronics aim to bring about better tools to meet medical needs, from diagnosis to treatment to aftercare, such as tele monitoring networks that use body sensors to control vital body signs. Opportunities also exist in the food industry, where nanoelectronics can improve the safety, quality and availability of food. Nanosensors have the potential to detect pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and prevent agrochemicals from entering the food chain or affecting the environment. Nanoelectronics also helps foster the spread of renewable energy, especially photovoltaics, by making them more affordable, and may lead to improved energy management by reducing energy consumption in communication technologies or electric vehicles.

Ground breaking innovations in nanotechnology also raise new questions about environmental impacts, health concerns and safety. While the risks of handling nanomaterial during manufacturing processing are well known and the corresponding containment measures are already common practice, investigation of the health hazards of most nanomaterials and finished products is still ongoing.

Incorporating responsible innovation in nanotechnology can support research, development and innovation through improved communication with society and building the confidence of potential users, while addressing the unintended side-effects of innovative products early in innovation processes.

Cyber Security

Cyber Security, the protection of computer and computer systems, programs and data from unauthorized access, damage, theft or attacks, is of crosscutting importance for all types of industries in Europe. Information security has been identified as one of the key aspects for future security and prosperity in the EU by the European Union’s Digital Agenda. The information security market is a fast-growing segment within the ICT sector and is expected to be worth more than USD 100 billion in 2018.

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Responsible Innovation in Cyber Security

Computer systems and the internet have become an integral part of the daily lives of citizens and businesses in Europe.  Information security has become increasingly important with the growing volume of cyber-attacks which not only affect national security but also the daily lives of companies and citizens. Cyber-attacks also target public infrastructure and incidents can have consequences on the supply of essential services such as water, energy or healthcare. The fact that each data breach costs organizations an average of EUR 3.6 million shows the importance of cyber security to Europe’s industrial competitiveness.

However, web-based attacks are on the rise – they increased by 38% in 2015 alone. This makes innovation in information security more important than ever for a society that is increasingly reliant on internet-connected systems and devices for conducting daily life and business transactions. The information security industry is key to protecting society from all forms of cyber-attacks; e.g. governments from cyber-terrorism, companies from data breaches and individuals from unauthorized use of their personal data.

Despite the necessity of innovation in cyber security systems there are ethical issues that need to be addressed. For example, cyber security measures bring about tensions in the relationships between security, control, and privacy. Measures like surveillance, tracking or data retention can result in the disturbance of a person’s privacy. Any research and innovation in the information security industry by default has to deal with people and their behaviour, as people are often the “weakest link”. Therefore it is imperative that information security engages with multiple stakeholders to understand more than just the technical capacities of security infrastructure but the human capacities. Inevitably in these cases, ethical issues arise, especially when compromises need to be made. The involvement of multiple diverse stakeholders and an understanding of ethical issues in research and innovation has become key in ensuring responsive, competent information security services.
Responsible Innovation practices can help companies to find the right balance between being innovative and addressing these and other ethical issues.


Biomedicine incorporates research into Cell and Molecular Biology, Molecular Medicine, Evolutionary Biology, Biomedical Informatics, Genetics and Neurosciences, and Public Health and Education in Health, among other areas, with a strong focus on diagnosis and therapy of diseases. Biotechnology, technical applications which use living organisms or systems to develop a product, is especially relevant for the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

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Responsible Innovation in Biomedicine

Biomedicine and medical biology are cornerstones of today’s healthcare systems, including modern healthcare and laboratory diagnostics. Their main target is promoting healthy living and active ageing, and improving healthcare systems across Europe. Hopes are high that biomedical research and innovations will lead to the discovery of tools for diagnosis and treatment of life-shortening diseases such as cancer, diabetes or cardiac disease. Besides better medical outcomes and improvement of life quality, there are also economic benefits for society (for example, reduced hospital stays and lower costs of treatment).
However, biomedical research also raises ethical and moral concerns. For example, there are major concerns regarding embryonic stem cell research and genetic engineering: besides the unknown side effects and risks, moral questions around genetic testing and the risk of selective eugenics, and genetic discrimination, dominate the public perception of genetic research. In addition, the cost-intensive processes of research and innovation in biomedicine lead to most new drugs being patented, and the cost of these patents can make them inaccessible to large parts of society. Biomedical research has thus long been criticized for not taking as much account of the needs of citizens and societal values as of the profit potential.
Responsible Innovation can help to:

  • promote closer contact with communities, for example patient associations, bringing in their knowledge and opinions from the start.
  • support the embedding of integrity at all stages, trying to eradicate misconduct cases, reducing social alarm, and fostering market uptake of innovative products and services.
  • focus the attention on a gender perspective, not only regarding staff, but also introducing it into the innovation questions that lead to the design of solutions.
  • foster open access to research results, which boosts innovation and contributes to a true knowledge society where creativity is enhanced by means of opening innovation.
  • strengthen bonds with the education system, leading to a better flow of skilled professionals and to more literate citizens able to participate in crucial decisions about their health.
  • enable a holistic approach to innovation governance, helping policy makers to make decisions on innovation based on social and scientific evidence.

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