Responsible Research and Innovation - RRI

From The Embassy of Good Science

Responsible Research and Innovation - RRI

What is this about?

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) refers to engaging the public in the research process to better align the goals and outcomes of research with the needs of society and to address societal challenges.

Why is this important?

Research and innovation are often funded by society and even if they are not, it is reasonable to expect that they have implications for society. This is why there is a movement aimed towards aligning research with societal needs and values and tackling societal challenges. There are several definitions of RRI. Von Schomberg defined it as “a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view to the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products (in order to allow a proper embedding of scientific and technological advances in our society)”[1]. A broader definition is offered by Stilgoe et al., who refer to “taking care of the future through collective stewardship of science and innovation in the present”[2]. The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council defined RRI as “a process that seeks to promote creativity and opportunities for science and innovation that are socially desirableand undertaken in the public interest”[3]. According to the European Commission, RRI “means that societal actors work together during the whole research and innovation process in order to better align both the process and its outcomes, with the values, needs and expectations of European society”[4].

  1. Von Schomberg R. Prospects for Technology Assessment in a framework of responsible research and innovation. In: Dusseldorp M, Beecroft R, ed. Technikfolgen abschätzen lehren: Bildungspotenziale transdisziplinärer Methoden. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften; 2011. 50 p.
  2. Stilgoe J, Owen R, Macnaghten P. Developing a framework for responsible innovation. Research Policy. 2013 Nov; 42(9):1570.
  3. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Framework for Responsible Innovation.  Accessed June 3 2020. Available at: https://epsrc.ukri.org/research/framework/.
  4. European Commission. Responsible research & innovation. Accessed June 3 2020. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/responsible-research-innovation

For whom is this important?

What are the best practices?

The ‘Research; Increasing value, reducing waste’ project, led by The Lancet medical journal, provides an excellent example of an RRI approach. This project aims to address deficiencies in the medical research system that reduce the value of research and often result in significant financial loss caused by inadequate research agendas, flawed research designs, not publishing negative results, and poorly reporting findings.

In order to increase the value of research and reduce waste, the project adopted four RRI process requirements: diversity and inclusiveness, transparency and openness, anticipation and reflection, as well as responsiveness and adaptation to change. Inclusion of patients and medical caregivers in setting the right research agenda is recommended to increase diversity in the research process. The project proposes that research should be more transparent and open, and supports a full and public documentation of the research process. The project also highlights a need to discuss current practices that lead to wasted effort. Finally, a series of five papers published in The Lancet offers 17 recommendations that outline the changes that should be made to current structures and systems[1].

RRI is not just about better science from a scientist’s point of view; it is a continuous effort to talk to diverse societal actors and involve them in the research process, through meaningful conversations and contributions beyond “just” being a participant[2]. Various activities for bringing more awareness to research processes, such as science cafés or open lab days, are just a part of the framework[3]. Collaboration with small enterprises and social innovators, as well as citizen scientists, is also a crucial part of RRI. It involves the improvement of science and society through mutual sharing of expertise and experiences.

  1. Kupper JFH, Klaassen P, Rijnen MCJA, Vermeulen S, Broerse JEW. A catalogue of good RRI practices, RRI Tools deliverable 1.4. Athena Institute VU; 2015. Accessed June 9 2020. Available at: https://www.rri-tools.eu/about-rri
  2. We Thinq. 41 Inspiring Examples of Social Innovation; 2017. Accessed June 9 2020. Available at: https://www.wethinq.com/en/blog/2014/02/18/32-Inspiring-Examples-of-Social-Innovation.html
  3. Artheau M, Catalão C, Famà P, Praça G, Khodzhaeva A, Laursen S, Martinelli L, Stijnen G, Troncoso A, Vaaher L, van der Meij M. Responsible Research and Innovation. A quick start guide for science engagement organisations.  Accessed June 9 2020. Available at: https://www.ecsite.eu/sites/default/files/quick_start_guide_in_rri.pdf