Tools? Did you say tools? (ES,FLC)
Posted by Jean-Pierre Alix, Alexia de Harambure on 01 Dec 2014
Being part of the RRI Tools project has led us to clarify what RRI consists of. As said in a previous post, RRI (Responsible Research and Innovation) is about gathering around the table all the stakeholders concerned by research and innovation in order to foster a better science for society. Stepping into the RRI Tools subject, we would also like to get a closer look at the "tools". What is a tool? What does it comprise?
[Photo: "Hammer Group" by Noel Hankamer on Flickr]
Tools can be observed from many different perspectives: technical, anthropological, sociological, historical, etc. A "tool" is often based on a technique that follows its own rational rules (mechanics, joinery, electronics...), defining and limiting its uses. A "tool" can be defined by its purpose (a saw is used to cut a tree). It can also be defined by its users (a saw is used by loggers). A "tool" has indeed many positive characteristics. It carries an idea of intelligence, efficiency, performance, usefulness, sturdiness. Let's just imagine ourselves sawing a tree without a saw, or beating egg whites without a fork. Tools make us stronger and faster, they multiply our natural capabilities.
But we must also keep in mind the pitfalls our search for tools may contain. Wonderful as they can be, tools usually require a training to be properly used, or "handymen" to operate them for us. A tool is just a means to an end, not guaranteed to yield any results if not handled properly. A "tool" is also a product of history – some become outdated, such as the floppy-disk – and a product of a culture too. A "tool" exists during a limited time span in history, before becoming obsolete. Some tools may also answer expectations in some countries and be irrelevant in others. It would be illusory to think that we can find a one-size-fits-all tool that answers the needs and expectations of every culture, but a properly ordered "toolkit" might ensure we can all get tools suited to our needs – if the toolkit is properly equipped, of course.
The RRI Tools project offers us to meet this exciting challenge: provide stakeholders with efficient, useful, sturdy and up-to-date tools, categorized in a clean and orderly toolbox, and addressing different user groups, and different cultures. The RRI Tools project also foresees to provide training in 2015 and 2016 in order to foster the use of these tools.
On the occasion of our last meeting in Rome, we have started collecting the first tools, evaluating them and organizing them from the perspective of each research and innovation stakeholder. Among the many RRI tools we discussed about, we have identified for instance databases such as the Science Shop toolbox, methodological tools such as the techno-moral vignettes, how-to guides such as the AAAS practical guide on facilitating interdisciplinary research and Education, codes of conduct like the Oxford University code of practice and procedure for academic integrity in research, evaluation tools such as the risk assessment tool by Ethical Trade Initiative, dissemination tools such as this stimulating video on RRI in ICT (Information and Communication Technology) or training material such as the Gender in Research Toolkit and Training.
This is only the beginning, we will dedicate the coming months to further analyse and complement these first data. We need you, stakeholders in research and innovation, to build this RRI toolkit! How do you envision tools for RRI? What do you expect from them? Which ones do you feel the need for? Do you already have suggestions of RRI Tools that we should add to the Toolkit? Please tell us in the comments.
[Jean-Pierre Alix et Alexia de Harambure work on the RRI Tools project at EuroScience in Strasbourg. EuroScience is responsible for the dissemination of the project.]