Sunday 06

When a funder goes for “Responsible Innovation” – a showcase for training in RRI

Posted by University College London on 06 Dec 2015

To help bring RRI to life, the RRI Tools project has identified eight showcases, which are good examples of RRI in practice. We will introduce you to each of these, explaining what it is and why they are good representatives of RRI. At the end of the article, find a testimonial on how you could use the  to have a better understanding of RRI, get trained and train others.

The UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council – EPSRC – is one of the largest of research funders in the country. With a budget of over €1.25 billion (£898 million) for 2015-16, it clearly has quite an impact in terms of supporting Britain's research scientists and engineers as they strive for new science and new ways to use that science. So when EPSRC announced its "Framework for Responsible Innovation" in 2013 it was clearly a big deal for the UK's research community.

Figure 1: EPSRC logo

At the heart of EPSRC's Framework is its AREA "code of conduct" – Anticipate, Reflect, Engage and Act – a simple message that conveys a huge amount of what we in the RRI Tools project now understand as the processes needed for responsible research and innovation. How then did this major research council, stuffed full of hard-nosed physicists, chemists and engineers come to adopt such a forward-thinking set of principles to guide their work?

This is the story that is being told in the RRI Tools "Showcase" EPSRC – Framework for Responsible Innovation, a showcase that will be at the heart of next year's training programme for the RRI Tools project, along with several other showcases that are being developed by the Project's partners.

A taste of the story …

RRI Tools training showcases are stories – stories with lessons, stories from which you can draw out important elements of responsible research and innovation, stories that address key agendas, stories that make sense to our stakeholders, stories that show the processes of RRI in action, and stories that clearly address some of the major outcomes that we are hoping to achieve, outcomes that inspire us and that make RRI worth undertaking.

The showcases are stories on which training exercises can be based, be they scenario workshop sessions such as we will use in the Train the Trainers workshop – T3 – at University College London on February 17-19 next year (2016), or for online self-learning. No showcase will cover all of the bases – all of the agendas, all of the stakeholder groups, all of the processes, all of the outcomes. But they will enable us to bring RRI to life. So here is just a quick "taste" of the EPSRC – Framework for Responsible Innovation showcase:

Professor Dave Delpy, who was the Chief Executive Officer of the Research Council at the time EPSRC's Framework for Responsible Innovation (FRI) was adopted in 2013, says:"To me RRI conveys something that any good researcher thinks of as part of the research that they are undertaking. Being a researcher means having good ideas but also thinking of the potential impact of research and the potential consequences of research. I don't see it as a separate item that is divorced from research, it is part of being a good researcher, especially if we are spending public money."

Figure 2: Professor Dave Delpy, former Chief Executive Officer of EPSRC

Professor Delpy's attitude was to prove crucial to the development of his research council's FRI. EPSRC's framework – rather than regulatory – approach has helped to get this adopted by the scientists and engineers they fund.

One thing that is immediately obvious from this first taste is that you can only create a really convincing and authentic showcase by talking to people involved in the story. Well, every journalist and broadcaster knows that, so nothing new or particularly difficult there, although patience and tact is often needed to set up the interview and make it work. There is a video interview with Delpy that accompanies this showcase.

But just talking to one person may not be enough. Back to the showcase for another taste:

According to Dr Alison Wall, the Associate Director for Building Leadership, one of the key factors in getting the ideas coming from the Societal Issues Panel through the Council of EPSRC was that several of its own members were already interested in the issues raised.

Figure 3: Dr Alison Wall, EPSRC Associate Director for Building Leadership, explaining the "framework approach"

EPSRC Council had already been faced with some real societal issues around geo-engineering and information and communication technology (ICT), as well as the work of the Societal Issues Panel, prior to the paper on the Framework for Responsible Innovation arriving. "This meant that Council had a good idea of the approach we would take," explains Dr Wall, who had the lead responsibility for taking the framework through Council. ‘They could be comfortable with it, as we were not going for rules and regulations, and specific grant conditions, but producing a framework for researchers to use."

More to come

More audio clips and original documents are going to be part of the package, along with training exercises and notes for trainers about the learning outcomes that may be achieved. Other partners are working on other showcases, so that the Project builds up a suite of really useful training resources. 2016 is going to be a busy year with RRI Tools and its training programme. But I assure you, it will be fun too.

Steve Miller

Steve Miller works on RRI Tools at University College Londonthe RRI Tools Hub coordinator for the United Kingdom.

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