We recently had a discussion with a group of people about the future of our region, and what the long-term goals and challenges could be. What are our strengths, where is development heading, and how can we best respond to all this? We must combine major societal challenges with our high tech strength and spirit of cooperation that characterises us. We often think, and I certainly do, from a purely technological point of view. Today, we express the extent to which innovation comes to the market in so-called Technology Readiness Levels: TRL 1 (basic research) up to TRL 9 (sales and use by the customer).

In our discussion, the idea was raised to pay more attention to SRL: Societal Readiness Levels. Including the awareness that if the SRL lags behind the TRL, the innovation will not get off the ground. If a home care robot is not accepted by the healthcare professional, there really will be no robot in our households, to name but one example.

A quick search on the internet shows even more options, such as IRL (Impact RL but also Investment RL), and CRL (Community RL). All these examples have their own definitions of the various levels but all correspond to the degree of effectiveness. It gives a kind of yardstick to express the stage of an invention, a solution or a social use as a novelty.

The benefit of thinking about several variants of Readiness Levels is that it forces us, in solving the great challenges of our time, not only to focus on technology. This seems to contradict the fact that with Moore’s law in hand, the rapid and accelerating technological developments are often applauded by us, precisely here. But ultimately it is about the combination of the social and the manufacturable, of creative and analytical, the combination of design and technology, of marketing and industrialisation, of ethics and technology. This requires a more in-depth collaboration at all levels, all disciplines within a multi-domain environment.

A comparison with the Key Enabling Technologies comes in sight. This system is well established and everyone knows what you mean by it. However, it is equally important to pay attention to the processes around it: the term Key Enabling Methodologies defines exactly that. This is about working together and making it possible, and how do you do that? It fits the ambitions of Brainport Eindhoven and the Eindhoven Engine. We can be an example!

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. The six columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So that tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous episodes.

Foto (c) Bart van Overbeeke