Responsible research and innovation, dubbed RRI, originates from European policy in the 2000’s. Specifically, it stems from the Science in Society programmes of DG Research within the European Commission. It is part of on-going reflection on changing governance relations between research, innovation, and wider society. Although the RRI label is very recent, the idea of responsibility of science is of course a reflection with a long and classical history, emerging hand in hand with the period of enlightenment of the 18th century.
But more recently it has been addressed systematically beyond its origins in the philosophy of science by several academic fields and from several points of view. Specifically, it has been covered under the terms responsible development, research integrity, technology assessment, anticipatory governance, public engagement in science, ELSI—Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of science—and ELSA—Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects of science—to name a few.
Most recently, it has also begun to form bridges and connections with other literatures coming from different directions such as corporate social responsibility, responsible innovation including steering towards societal challenges, responsible industry and innovation systems. But how strong is the connection between RRI and these related concepts?
RRI as a label took off in Europe with René von Schomberg’s publication on RRI in ICT in 2011. There, he defined RRI as follows: “Responsible Research and Innovation is a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view on 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)”.
Since the RRI label is recent, the number of related publications is still very low. By comparison to references related to other approaches of responsibility in research or innovation. In a search performed in March 2014, we identified 31 references out of a total of 4585 references in related fields in the academic repository Scopus. Most of the publications on RRI started in 2013, which was also the kick-off year of four FP7 projects on the governance of RRI; namely, they were ResAGorA, GREAT, Responsibility, and PROGRESS.
Within the scientific literature, the notion of research responsibility is split into two distinct areas: references related to research ethics and those which relate to governance of research. The former, ethics, focuses on individual behaviours and is strongly associated with US-based research; using terms such as ‘responsible conduct of research’ and ‘research integrity’. These notions have been much debated and institutionalised since several scandals in biomedical research led to the publication of the Belmont report entitled Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research, in 1979. Responsible Conduct of Research is now integrated into educational programs and research integrity has its own dedicated Office, called ORI, in the US.
Above all, RRI is linked to the governance of research. It includes two types of references: those associated with risk perception and those related technology assessment and emerging technologies. Although RRI has European origins and is still strongly linked to the EU research programmes, it belongs to a wider geographical space, beyond Europe. Interestingly, the Journal for Responsible Innovation was recently launched by David Guston, a professor of political science and the director of the National Science Foundation funded Center for Nanotechnology in Society based at Arizona State University, Tempe, USA.
What is new about RRI is that it aims to deal with responsibility associated with both research and innovation. This may stem from the science and technology studies literature that shows that relations between research and innovation are strong and non-linear. Controversies and conflicts on new technologies surely pushed some research institutions to support the development of RRI. However, our scientometric analysis shows that, so far, the links between responsible research and responsible innovation are very weak. This distance might be confirmed by a further analysis, which demonstrates that institutions, people and competences are not connected either. Indeed, RRI still has to create the conducts and forms of governance it aims to define.
Elise Tancoigne, Post-doctoral research fellow, INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research), Champs-sur-Marne, France
Sally Randles, Senior research fellow, MIoIR (Manchester Institute of Innovation Research), Manchester, United Kingdom
Pierre-Benoit Joly, Director of IFRIS (Institute For Research And Innovation In Society), Champs-sur-Marne, France
Featured image credit: CC BY 2.0 by Simon Cunningham
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