Imagining RRI after Brexit
Posted by UCL on 17 Nov 2016
Following the momentous decision by the UK to leave the EU on 23 June 2016, there has been much turmoil and confusion about the future of UK access to and engagement with EU funding and projects. According to one report: “UK universities have in the region of 100,000 collaborative links involving UK-based researchers working with their European counterparts.” It goes on to say that sixty percent of all internationally co-authored research papers produced by the country's scientists include at least one European co-author, and EU money enables UK universities to work together across a continent, to lead multinational collaborations, and to share in European resources, data and expertise.
Already several leading scientists have given their perspectives on UK science after Brexit. There have also been a number of reports on this situation, both from before the referendum and afterwards, such as ‘Examining Implications of Brexit for the UK Research Base’.
So what does Brexit mean for the future of the “RRI movement" in the UK, and for those that are researching, advocating and training on responsibility in research and innovation?
On 23 September 2016 45 people attended the “Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in the UK: the post BREXIT future?” workshop at UCL in London. The workshop was jointly organised by the RRI Tools and Responsible-Industry projects.
Professor Richard Owen, Executive Dean of the Business School at the University of Exeter, warned the workshop that the Brexit vote showed how little many UK citizens felt that they were receiving the benefits that were supposed to be coming from the research and innovation systems. RRI was even more important post-Brexit, particularly its value of inclusiveness to bring in the views of other groups.
Dr Melanie Smallman Deputy Director of the UCL Responsible Research and Innovation Hub, described her research which found that citizens and scientists understand how science works and its place in our world differently. Subtle differences between the public and expert understandings are often misunderstood as public opposition and therefore ignored in policy, disenfranchising people further. More importantly, the benefits of technologies are not shared equally and she argued that we need to find ways to take more account of the shape of economy that we are building with science and innovation.
Following these two keynote presentations the participants undertook group work concerning the origin and implications of Brexit for RRI and vice versa. The event ended with an open space technology session and plenary discussion.
During the breakout sessions and open space discussions, a number of key themes emerged:
- Brexit has highlighted social divides in the UK; academia has to ask what its influence and role should be.
- Brexit demonstrates the importance of social and ethical issues in today’s neoliberal societies. This highlights that there is now a higher demand for RRI than ever.
- RRI has an important political component and RRI researchers need to consider their political role.
- Brexit will raise issues around funding of RRI research, as the EU is the biggest funder in the area. The interdisciplinary nature of much RRI research also makes it more difficult to gain funding from RCUK and other sources.
- The EU’s specific policy agendas linked to RRI (open access, gender equality, science education, ...) form an important part of RRI. However, Brexit will allow for a broader and more academic discourse of the term in the UK.
- The impact of RRI beyond the research community is currently limited. The concept is still open and discussed and can take different meanings for different groups.
- There is a significant community of people interested in RRI. At present this community is not well defined and very much project based.
A full report can be found on the Responsible-Industry website.