Sunday 19

Making responsibility a reality

Posted by Ignasi López-Verdeguer and Melanie Smallman on 19 Jul 2015

RRI Tools' Ignasi Lopez-Verdeguer and Melanie Smallman wrote an article about the project in Research Europe on 19th June, in advance of their presentation at the EARMA conference in Leiden , Netherlands(28 June-1st July 2015). An abridged version of the article is below.

Venue of the EARMA conference in Leiden from the EARMA 20115 website​

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is a cross-cutting theme of Horizon 2020. The basic idea behind this is simple and powerful: given science and innovation's power to transform our world, we need to make sure that they work with and for society.

But what does this mean in practice? This is what we are trying to answer in our RRI Tools project, which aims to develop an RRI toolkit. Running from 2014 to 2016, it involves 26 institutions from across Europe, led by ‘La Caixa' Foundation in Barcelona. We are developing digital tools and training programmes to bring the RRI idea to life in five important areas: research, industry, policy-making, civil society and education.

Our first steps have been to explore perceptions of RRI and identify emerging needs and actions. Last autumn, we ran 30 workshops in 22 countries across Europe, bringing together more than 400 people to discuss how to make RRI happen. 

These workshops yielded rich feedback. Interestingly, participants believed that RRI had as much to offer the culture of research as it did wider society.

Researchers in particular viewed RRI as an opportunity to increase understanding of their role in society. As well as potential benefits, our workshops identified significant obstacles to achieving RRI. Besides the challenges of understanding precisely what RRI means and of changing people's behaviour, participants described how the pressure to publish encouraged a view of science that cut it into disconnected projects rather than revealing the big picture.

No-one sees RRI as a panacea, or is under the illusion that its implementation will be frictionless. The unpredictability of science and the right to academic freedom are just two stumbling blocks that will prevent that from being the case.  

Participants' suggestions for encouraging take-up of RRI included finding ways to make the concept relevant for different groups and highlighting outstanding examples. They discussed the possibility of setting RRI as a requirement for research funding. Developing practical training and guidance on how to ‘do' RRI was also seen as a priority for the immediate future.  

Over the next few months, we will be working with all of the advice we have gathered to compile and develop tools that encourage and support take-up of the concepts and practices associated with RRI. We can't do it alone, so please get in touch if you wish to find out more.  

Ignasi López-Verdeguer is the RRI Tools coordinator at ‘La Caixa Foundation'. Melanie Smallman works on RRI Tools at UCL in London, the RRI Tools Hub for United Kingdom. 

What are in your view the main obstacle and opportunity for the uptake of responsible research and innovation? Which ideas do you have to make responsible research and innovation happen in your organization? Tell us in the comments! And remember that a first version of the RRI Toolkit will be made available for you on from November 2015 on.

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