Thursday 17

Challenges for the further development & implementation of responsible innovation - some highlights:

Posted by Dr. Rene von Schomberg on 17 Oct 2019

On the occasion of the launch of the International Handbook on Responsible Innovation, a series of international events are taking place to discuss the challenges ahead of us for the further development and implementation of responsible innovation.

Three debates have taken place until now in Leiden, London and Brussels. The next one will be the 27th November in Manchester.

In this post you will find the agenda’s for the events in Leiden and London and the highlights of these discussions


12 September 2019 - Leiden University, Faculty of Social and Bahavioural Sciences


  • Introduction: Dr. Rene von Schomberg
  • Panel discussion on Challenges for Responsible Innovation
    • Prof. dr. Jeroen van der Hoven,Technical University of Delft
    • Prof. dr. Harro van Lente, Maastricht University
    • Dr. Melanie Peters, Director Rathenau Institute, The Hague, The Netherlands
    • Prof. dr. Jacqueline Broerse, Free University of Amsterdam
    • Prof. dr. Paul Wouters, University of Leiden
    • Prof. dr. Sarah de Rijcke, University of Leiden
    • Dr. Vincent Blok, Wageningen University



19 September 2019, 18:00-20:00- University College London


  • Introduction: Dr. René von Schomberg
  • Discussion with audience and panel: 
    • Dr.Stevienna de Saille, Sheffield University
    • Prof. Andrew Stirling, Sussex University
    • Prof. Bernd Carsten Stahl, De Montfort University
    • Dr. Jack Stilgoe, UCL London
    • Dr. Melanie Smallman, UCL London
    • Prof Marina Jirotka, Oxford


Highlights of the discussion:

The following summary presents a series of bullet points based upon notes taken at the first two meetings held in Leiden (NL) and London UCL (UK). Both events opened with an introduction from Rene von Schomberg followed by panel member presentations and an open session of questions and points from the floor.

The points have been gathered under broad headings, but many are overlapping and broader in content than the titles here used, which are merely intended as a guide and were determined by the authors of this report and not the participants in the event.

The points were collectively gathered by Lucien von Schomberg, Rene von Schomberg and Jonathan Hankins.

The Direction of Movement

  • RI represents a  new  paradigm  for  innovation,  that  is  both  radically  critical  of  and  goes beyond  previous  (mainstream)  paradigmsof  market-innovation.  It facilitates  publicly funded research and innovation to primarily serve public goods, and requires institutional change including a transformation of the current research system that is shown to be too competitive, costly, and simply unproductivein terms of delivering on socially desirable objectives.
  • RI  should  avoid  being  too  challenge  orientated.  This may  leadto  empty  promises  and expectations, shallow understandings of science and society, and a possible ignoranceof the uncertainty underlying the innovation process.
  • Instead of introducing new concepts and implementationstrategies, RI should question how we are going to change the very agents of changeitself.
  • Current political leaders are using the tools of democracy to destroy democracy. One of the biggest challenges for RI is how to advance through means of deliberative democracy in such a context,that is accompanied by adecline in international cooperation and the governance of emerging technology.
  • RI  still needs to  employ  a  more  holistic  view  on  innovation  that  includes  alternative approachto our economy (e.g.circular economy), and other forms of innovation such as social innovation.
  • RI  should  build  on the normative  conditions that  might  help  to  bringabout  the kind  of political mobilization it requires.

Research and Methodology Related Issues

  • RI  should  not  merely  create  its  own  research  line, but  become a core element in  other researchprograms. 
  • RI  should  focus on  all  research  activities,  from  frontier  research  to  applied  or  societal challenge and mission-oriented research.
  • RI faces the difficulty of addressing the problem of scale, in that some innovation presents problems  because  of  its  scale.  We  can  find  many  examples  of  technologies  that  have become  problematic  due  to  their  mass  uptake  that  might  have  been  very  difficult  to foresee(Facebook for example).
  • How  can  an  RI  approach function  within  a  system whose  measurements of success  are based on GDP?

Interdisciplinarity and Broadening Involvement

  • RI  should  be  careful  not  to  impose  an  open  science  system  that  ends  up  being  just  as instrumentalas previous systems. Instead, it needs to brings us to a fundamentallyopen (i.e.   pluriform   and   diverse)  science  system   through   creating open infrastructures, enabling communities, inspiring researchers, and transforming academia.
  • RI should enable different actors to engage with RRI practices by having it reflected in the educational system.
  • There are many different levels of doing RI (i.e. at the individual level, company/university level,  and  at  the  national/international  level).  A  challenge  for  RI  is  to  connect  these different levels.
  • A big  challenge  for  RI  is  to  make  stakeholders  understand  that  they  all  have  different trainings  and  backgrounds,  which  in  turn  results  in  different  ways  of  thinking  about innovation.

Topics related to Power and Politics

  • RI should contribute to rethinking the power relations that shape our policies, keeping in mind  that  science,  research,  and  innovation should  primarily  resonate  in  the  societal context.
  • RI  should  articulate  a  political  dimension  of  innovation  that  successfully  provides industries with an incentive to engage in RI practices.
  • RI  should  introduce  a  new  politics  of  deliberation  by  creating  spaces  where  innovators and societalactorscan interact and converse in light of what could be seen as a new social contract between science and society.
  • There is the need for more democracy in innovation.
  • While RI has an enormous revolutionary potential, it may also end up in a conventional context of managing innovation. The uncertainty surrounding RI on this point raises the question of to what extend it will be able to go beyond the conventional context.

Businesses and their Engagement

  • RI  should  not  be seen  as too  imposed,  especially  not bycompanies  that  are  actually already engaging in RI practices without per se calling it as such. On the contrary, the RI community should engage with these companies and play a major role in collaborating with them.
  • One  of  the  biggest  challenges fo rRI  remains  the  tension  between  RI approaches and maximizing economic profit. There is  demand for a concrete examplethat demonstrateshow investing in RI would be economically successful.
  • RI  should  articulate  practical  guidance  for  companies  on  how  to  practice  RI  (such  as current successful examples in  practice,  codes  for  conduct,  certification  schemes and standard settingapproaches).
  • Whereas universities and Scientists have ethics committees and other forums where they can raise issues related to RI,businesses do notbut may require them.


  • The term RI is often perceived by scientists as a criticism to what they are doing. One of the  challenges  of  RI  lies  in  how  to  successfully  engage  themwhich  requires  positive uptake of the concept and terminology.
  • RI  should  use  a  language  that  is  less  complex,  thereby  enabling  the  inclusion  of  actors outside of RI circles. 
  • How can RI speak to the younger generation that is looking for solutions to climate change from a personal perspectiveand who are currently mobilizing on a huge scale?
  • RI requires scientists and technologists to engage in a language that is not their own and that they have not been  trained in, presenting a hurdle to uptake and shared understanding

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