What is Responsible Research and Innovation?

Responsible Research and Innovation is:
  • A concept which has been adopted as a cross-cutting issue at Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2014-2020;
  • Doing science and innovation with society and for society, including the involvement of society ‘very upstream' in the processes of research and innovation to align its outcomes with the values of society;
  • A wide umbrella that brings together different aspects of the relationship between science and innovation and society: public engagement, open access, gender equality, science education, ethics and governance.

A working definition of RRI

Our working definition, by the character of RRI, remains open to further inquiry and deliberation. Starting from here, we can certainly say that RRI is much rather an umbrella term, including a wide range of notions in the academic literature and policy reports. What these notions have in common is that they all strive to create responsible practices in research and innovation. Thus, RRI can be understood as a shift in responsibility: the shift from thinking in terms of individualist and consequentialist notions of responsibility to thinking in terms of collective and distributed responsibility and processes.

We have studied the literature on RRI to get a first impression on what can be distilled from current definitions, and based on this we suggest developing a working definition of RRI that specifies both outcomes and process requirements of the responsible research and innovation process.

In our view, these RRI outcomes can be separated into learning outcomes (engaged publics, responsible actors and responsible institutions), research & innovation outcomes (ethically acceptable research and innovation, sustainable research and innovation and societally desirable research and innovation) and societal outcomes (solutions to grand challenges).

As far as process requirements for RRI are concerned, we agree that RRI should have four integrated dimensions: anticipation (envisioning the future and understanding how present dynamics of promising shape the future), reflexivity (which occurs as first-, second- and third-order learning), inclusion (the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders, such as users, NGOs, etc. in the early development of science and technology) and mutual responsiveness (responding to emerging knowledge, perspectives, views and norms). In addition, we suggest adding another three process requirements in our conceptualization of RRI: diversity (key criterion for the evaluation of interactive policy-making processes), meaningful openness (rephrasing transparency) and adaptive change (describing how an RRI process must leave room to adaptation).

Finally, we then rename the six key dimensions which have been defined by the European Commission (ethics, governance, public engagement, science education, gender and open access) as policy agendas. In our view, it is necessary to identify the RRI potential per policy agenda in order to be able to search for RRI best practices.

Learn more in our Background Summary for the RRI Working Definition or in our RRI Information Sheet

A brief history of RRI

Here we compile some of the definitions for RRI that can be found in current literature, and in which RRI Tools is basing its working definition. Although it is very far from being a comprehensive bibliography, participants can find here some food for thought and some common ground on which to start. Take into account that the emerging nature of RRI and its broadness possibly means that no ‘one-size-fits-all' definition will be possible, and that processes of negotiation are still taking place, both in the realm of policy and in the domain of science.

  • 2011
    • A reflection workshop on RRI was held in May 2011 at DG Research in Brussels, attended by a number of experts drawn from academia and policy. Its report , by Hilary Sutcliffe, explains that the concept of RRI includes the following:
      • the focus of research and innovation to achieve a social benefit and the involvement of all stakeholders in society;
      • prioritising social, ethical and environmental impacts and opportunities;
      • anticipating and managing risks to adapt quickly to changing circumstances
      • openness and transparency becoming an integral component of the research and innovation process.
  • 2012
    • Richard Owen and Jack Stilgoe, in the 2012 paper "Responsible research and innovation: From science in society to science for society, with society", describe RRI as
      • challenge to ask ourselves "what kind of future we want innovation to bring into the world";
      • an emphasis on science for society, focusing on research and innovation targeted at the major challenges and the ‘right impacts', underpinned by a deliberative democracy;
      • an emphasis on science with society, in which deliberation and reflection are coupled with action, which focuses on institutionalised responsiveness;
      • the framing of responsibility in the context of research and innovation as collective activities with uncertain and unpredictable consequences, "challenging scientists, innovators, business partners, research funders and policy-makers to reflect on their own roles and responsibilities".
    • Based on previous studies, the European Commission disseminates another definition, where Responsible Research and Innovation
      • means that societal actors work together during the whole research and innovation process in order to better align both the process and its outcomes, with the values, needs and expectations of European society;
      • is an ambitious challenge for the creation of a Research and Innovation policy driven by the needs of society and engaging all societal actors via inclusive, participatory approaches;
      • is framed by six key issues: engagement, gender equality, science education, open access, ethics, and governance.
  • 2013
    • René von Schomberg, in "A vision of responsible innovation", puts forward the following working definition:

      "Responsible Research and Innovation is
      • a transparent, interactive process
      • by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other
      • with a view to the ethical acceptability, sustainability, and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products
      • in order to allow a proper embedding of scientific and technological advances in our society."
    • In addition, Stilgoe, Owen and Macnaghten, in "Developing a framework for responsible innovation", describe four dimensions of RRI:
      • anticipation in governance
      • inclusion of new voices
      • responsiveness in the innovation systems
  • 2014
    • In 2014, RRI Tools was set up. The first objectives of the project are to:
      • gather all relevant knowledge about RRI,
      • establish a common, working definition for it
      • test it in an iterative process with the wide range of stakeholders that will be involved in the project
      • share it with the growing RRI Community of Practice

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