Thursday 26

RRI in industry: finding the right tools for the job

Posted by Dr. Pim Klaassen - Prisma project on 26 Jul 2018


There can be no doubt about it: Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) has taken off as directive force in the fields of Research & Innovation (R&I) policy and governance. For a couple of years now, under the name of RRI, researchers, innovative businesses, policy makers, CSOs, educators and others have been making investments towards a R&I system that puts societal needs and desires at its center, that is outward- and forward-looking, and that aims to contribute ethically sound solutions for a sustainable future. Funding is available for those promoting and further developing RRI, prizes have been awarded for those successfully putting it into practice, and tools have been collected together to facilitate embracing any of its many aspects.

Despite all the good work, however, RRI’s width and conceptual complexity might still pose a threat to its success. Taking a structured approach to making one’s research and innovation efforts conform to societal needs, ethically sound and sustainable for one’s institution as well as the wider society and planet, can be quite a task. Furthermore, people might be skeptical of RRI’s potential for improving their research and innovation, doubting that they could really benefit from putting it to use. Especially in the sphere of industrial innovation, where time is money and resources are scarce, there is reason to believe that the hurdles between hearing about RRI and doing RRI are too many and too high. In the PRISMA project, we want to change that. 

To assist herein, in the PRISMA RRI Toolkit we have collected a small number of relatively easy-to-use tools that can help innovative companies, specifically those working in SMEs and on emerging technologies, to flesh-out some of RRI’s essentials. In eight different companies and research projects in the fields of biotechnology, autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things and nanotechnology, pilots implementing RRI have been undertaken, amongst other things experimenting with the tools we collected. The pilots help us collect more information on how they contribute to making industrial research and innovation more responsible. This is expected to be available before the end of 2018. In the meanwhile, the tools are also made available to Dutch enterprises through the portal of CSR Netherlands. And of course, you are invited to take a look at and to use them yourself. 

To provide some guidance in advance, the tools are classified as contributing to one or more of the following purposes: “opening up to the world”, “thinking of the future” and “taking care of people and planet”.

To end, let us succinctly explain each of these and give an example of a pertinent tool for each.

  1. Tools serving the aim of "opening up to the world" can help you in connecting to (networks of) stakeholders, identifying societal needs, making information accessible, or contributing to corporate accountability. For instance, you can use BSR’s guide on how you can make stakeholder engagement meaningful for you company. Following BSR’s five-step approach will help you identify your stakeholders, setting your ambitions as regards engaging them, and acting in accordance with those ambitions. 
  2. Tools serving the purpose of "thinking of the future" stimulate reflection and anticipation, can help you in meeting societal needs and values and sensitize you to possible unintended effects. The Stage-gate model® provides an example of a tool for these purposes. It helps you manage your innovation process from the phase of developing first ideas to product launch, and to do so in an anticipatory fashion, incorporating everything from economic to safety or moral issues in your decision-making.
  3. Tools aimed at "taking care of people and planet" for instance help you contribute to the health, safety and well-being of your employees, consumers and wider groups of stakeholders. Also tools dedicated to the promotion of environmental sustainability are included in this class. Just one example of a tool in this category, focusing in this case on questions concerning gender in research and innovation, is the Gendered innovations website by the EC. This will help you discover the creative power of sex and gender analysis for innovation, and provides you with the means of acting on it.

Of course, these are only some examples of tools that might help you and your business innovate with societal needs and values at the heart of your process and product. For more information and experiences with RRI that PRISMA’s pilot companies have gained, please visit us at

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