Tuesday 27

Closing up the gap

Posted by Center for the Promotion of Science on 27 Oct 2015

It is hard to anticipate future needs of society on a long-term scale of 20 or 30 years. Achieving principles of Responsible research and innovations in that sense appears to be a complex task, which requires a lot of skills, knowledge and efforts after all.

The year of 2015 will probably stay remembered for successful implementation of the revolutionary technique called CRISPR that allows scientist to manipulate with DNA of human embryos. This novel technique opens up many opportunities for preventing various diseases, but it raises even more questions and ethical concerns. Is the society ready for this sort of scientific progress, which allows manipulations of foundations of our very existence?

About these and many other aspects of Responsible research and innovation we talked with scientists who are very successful in what they do in terms of RRI. The discussion took place in Novi Sad, Serbia, on 22nd of September. It gathered researchers, wide audience and representatives of civil society organizations. Researches from Novi Sad and Belgrade along with director of Center for the Promotion of Science, Nemanja Djordjevic, discussed about what it takes to be responsible in research in terms of practices, policies and RRI Tools selected projects.

Biosense Institute is representing a good practice listed by RRI Tools in Serbia. One of the founders of the institute, Dr Vesna Crnojevic Bengin, presented not only the root of responsible research practice incorporated by her Institute, but she also spoke about the overcoming of the gap between scientists and society. Even though their main area of research is ICT and its implementation, she underlines that, at the European level, high ethical standards are expected when it comes to their topics of interest. How they managed to be so successful?

According to Crnojevic Bengin, one of the keys is to close up the gap between the researches they are conducting and the society. Their focus is aligned with needs of society through an active, yet demanding and ongoing process, that includes concepts such as living labs, stakeholder interaction and public consultation events. They also tend to set up a model for the society and to serve as an example of institution where the criteria of merit are knowledge and invested effort.

The other good practice selected by RRI Tools in Serbia is SOCIOTAL project by DunavNET Company, also from Novi Sad. DunavNET's director, Dr Srdjan Krco, talked about their innovative ways of keeping up with societal needs. The SOCIOTAL project develops novel technologies related to Internet of Things. In terms of RRI, IoT seems very demanding. In order to find out what people really expect from their advancing technologies, they organized many public consultation sessions. Particularly interesting sessions were organized with elderly population over 60 years old. The oldest participant they talked to was about 80.

According to Mr. Krco, it was very challenging to explain to older participants the concept of Future Internet and how they could possibly utilize that. However, after many sessions, they started to understand each others. Many great ideas were jointly conceived and it proved to be a jackpot.

Similarly, the Biosense Institute found the common grounds with their main stakeholder: the farmers. The Institute develops nanotechnologies, which they later implement in agriculture. It was also rather challenging to make engineers and farmers speak the same language. But after many sessions and lots of efforts, they started to work on the same goals. Finally, the whole achievement brought 13 great projects.

Dr Dalibor Petrovic, a sociologist with a main focus on a relationship between society and internet, talked about the speed of scientific progress and what challenges it carries. According to Dalibor, who also works as expert at another important European project SATORI, with focus on ethics assessment in research, ethical principals are not satisfactory when it comes to social sciences and technology in Serbia. It is therefore of particular interest for Serbia to take part in both RRI Tools and SATORI projects, which will bring about a common ethical and RRI framework.

The ethical assessment carries a sort of moral judgment of when the merit of scientific finding crosses the delicate line it should not be crossing. What is striking in national law is that it imposes certain ethical and moral behavior to scientists, but in a vague and undetermined way; there are no concrete measures against those who do not act upon the law.

Recently appointed director of the Center for the Promotion of Science, Nemanja Djorđevic, talked about the changes in present regulations in the field of scientific research. New set of laws will bring necessary directives, incorporating ethical principles and proposing new national bodies that will be in charge of integrity of scientific research.

National Council for Science will make a new ethical codex, which would regulate the research in a more sophisticated way. It will bring to scientist clearer guidelines easier to follow. New regulations strike as revolutionary, given that Serbia for the first time will have a Committee for Ethical Concerns which sole task is to propose and control ethics in researches.

As Vesna Crnojevic Bengin concluded, it takes a number of measures to align one's research with principles of responsibility. In terms of that, RRI Tools project is immensely important for Serbian scientific community, particularly since it will establish and promote a set of measures as a desirable and necessary way of conducting research.

Ivana Horvat

Ivana Horvat works on RRI Tools at the Center for the Promotion of Science in Belgrade (Serbia), the RRI Tools Hub coordinator for South-East Europe

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