Ethics assessment, business as usual  

How do we embed ethics in innovation? As innovations do not follow a fixed recipe, they might turn out how one least expects and cause controversy. A successful innovation must at an early stage, address ethical impacts. Further, how do you embed ethics in your organization? An ethics committee and an ethics impact assessment will support you in both respects. Ethics is thus not an add-on, but business as usual.

An ethics committee can review projects before they start and monitor them while they are being executed. It can provide valuable insights into ethical issues and dilemmas and help minimize negative impacts. These insights are crucial to maximise societal acceptance of an innovation, and pivotal for the success of new products and services brought to the market. However, the credibility of the outcome of any ethics committee depends on its constitution and functioning. What competencies does it include? What procedures are followed? Does it regularly evaluate and improve its functioning? These factors play a key role in the success of an ethics committee.

Equally important is the ethical impact assessment. Before the start of any project, or early-on, researchers can assess its potential ethical impact. Depending on the expected impact, a plan can be developed to prevent or minimize negative impact and maximize the benefits in consultation with stakeholders.

Rowena Rodrigues, from our partner Trilateral Research, says, “Operationalising ethics is often a struggle for most businesses especially small and medium-sized organisations. These standards were prepared on the basis of stakeholder consultation and extensive research into EU practices on ethics assessment and the state of the art on ethical impact assessment. They are useful to consult in either the setting up of a new ethics committee and/or conducting an ethical impact assessment.”

Best practices

SHERPA is assessing the potential of standardising good practices or quality criteria to ensure ethics and human rights in Smart Information Systems.

Based on thorough research existing practices of ethical committees and ethics impact assessment, stakeholders drafted a European standard called the CEN Workshop Agreement – CWA 17145 Ethics assessment of research and innovation. The standard consists of two parts, one on ethics committee and another on ethical impact assessment. The standards provide users with practical guidelines to set up and improve their ethics assessment practices. This effort was part of the EU-funded SATORI project.

A CEN Workshop Agreement (CWA) is a type of standard that is developed in a workshop setting rather than a technical committee. It takes less than a year to develop and has a maximum lifespan of 6 years. CWA 17145 can be consulted at the CEN download area.

The European standard CWA 17145 Ethics assessment of research and innovation was published in 2017 and is now undergoing its first systematic review. Stakeholders are invited to share their perspective by 1 June 2020 via an online questionnaire.

More information
For more information, please contact: Marlou Bijlsma or Thamar Zijlstra, consultants standards development, telephone (015) 2 690 154 or e-mail