Including the excluded: how RRI needs to become a force for changing our political economy
Posted by UCL on 04 Aug 2016
If anyone thought that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union on June 23 would make Responsible Research and Innovation and the ideas, visions and agendas it embraces, less important, they are 100% wrong. Yes, RRI is a European concept that has been developed – amongst others – by British scholars and the UK research community. Yes, the European Union has been weakened by the UK voting “leave”. Yes, by that token, the movement and community for RRI has, in its turn, been weakened. But the Brexit vote itself has shown just why responsibility and responsiveness in research and innovation systems and process is needed now more than ever.
In a nutshell, that is the view of Professor Richard Owen, Executive Dean of the Business School at Exeter University.
In an interview for the RRI Tools project – for which he is an Advisory Board member – Owen explained that the UK referendum showed that Britain, like many parts of the world, is a deeply divided society. “Why that is important,” he said, “is that, for many parts of society, innovation and the benefits of innovation are not being realized for them.
“But frameworks of responsible research and innovation put, as a key [requirement], inclusion, which means including the kinds of voices that sometimes do not get represented in innovation and in the benefits of innovation systems. Our referendum showed that we have to be in touch with those members of society and include them.”
Earlier Owen had addressed the second RRI Tools second Train-the Trainers workshop at the CosmoCaixa science center in Barcelona (July 4-6, 2016). He challenged the participants from the hubs, networks and institutions that make up the project to take on “organized advocacy and even activism” to promote responsibility in research and innovation.
As well as the key requirement for including those sections of society that are currently excluded, Owen called for a “second-order” reflexivity that challenged just why research and innovation is being carried out. “The tragedy is that the word innovation itself is intimately and overwhelmingly tied to a political economy based on free markets, on competitive destruction, on entrepreneurialism, on the creation of value, on consumption, on never-ending growth, on social polarization in which many feel left out.
“Will RRI be a toolbox for an engine that is tuned to lead us to a future that is unsustainable, one that is increasingly polarised. Or will it be grand enough in its ambition to challenge our political economy, to ask the questions and to ensure those questions are answered. Surely it has to.”
So as RRI Tools enters its last few months, the community and the discourse that it has generated need to be sustained. That means the project – its hubs, its networks, its institutions – has now to look forward to an expanded role and a future that leads to greater and long-term efforts to make a “future-orientated” responsibility in research and innovation, in the systems and amongst the various actors it encompasses, a reality. If not, a dangerously divided society will surely damage us all.
Steve Miller works on RRI Tools at University College London, the RRI Tools Hub coordinator for the United Kingdom.