We’re all being asked to consider environmental impact these days, but is ‘cultural impact’ also something that startups should be expected to care about?

Innovation is often characterised by the phrase ‘out with the old, in with the new’. The associated process was once more commonly described as ‘modernisation’, often seen as being in opposition to the preservation of tradition.

Some traditions which once enjoyed broad popular support, such as slavery, have been successfully abolished with no subsequent public backing for their ‘cultural preservation’ in any form other than as grizzly museum exhibits intended to act as salutary reminders.

Other traditional ‘marks of culture’, such as ‘the architectural character of a historic town centre’ are far less likely to generate such universal consensus regarding the desirability of potential modernisation.

In the light of widespread support for innovation as a means of addressing both the current financial crisis (by providing jobs) and also future needs (by providing more sustainable technologies) how should we pre-emptively consider the impact of innovation upon our current culture and cultural heritage?

We need to be careful not to restrict ourselves (in answering this question) to issues such as ‘the built environment’: culture also includes such things as local traditional activities, personal and group behaviour, language and attitudes.

In order to encourage startups to conduct the cultural equivalent of an ‘environmental impact assessment’ there would need to be an easily accessible set of resources which would enable someone considering proposing an innovation project to know what the local ‘cultural environment’ was.

This is not to say that the introduction of ‘cultural custodianship’ should necessarily precipitate a whole new level of bureaucracy. It could simply just comprise a socially curated document (a ‘wiki’ consisting of the detailed ‘cultural landscape’ in an agreed standard format) for every location.

For relatively small-scale startup projects, a ‘cultural impact assessment exercise’ (based upon consultation of the cultural landscape document) could be reduced to nothing more burdensome than preparing an appendix (but hopefully not without skimping on the necessary research) to the proposed venture’s business plan, which would demonstrate commendable due diligence in an often overlooked aspect of corporate social responsibility.

To help towards encouraging innovation-based cultural impact assessment, can anyone suggest helpful examples of ‘cultural impact assessment failure’, where innovations have produced adverse results which could have been prevented or mitigated if cultural impact assessment had been conducted in advance?