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Shapping new Horizons

Inspiring findings to expand the RRI scene

Joint lessons and recommendations from the Go4 RRI projects

After more than three years of work, the first EU-funded projects with explicit objectives to address the emerging concept of responsible research and innovation (RRI) are ready to present their findings. These will be discussed at a dedicated ESOF2016 session, entitled Responsible research and innovation in action: policy and practice in Europe, in July in Manchester, UK. In this article, we present the outcome of four projects bundled as the Go4 projects including GREAT, Progress, Res-AGorA and Responsibility. These show a concern to contribute to a more contextualised understanding of the concept of RRI. We also refer to approaches, tools and mechanisms that have been developed to facilitate the up-take of RRI within science and innovation.

Better social challenge responsiveness

The quest for RRI has made remarkable progress over the last few years. It started back in 2003 from a rather confined academic debate until it became firmly established in the EU’s research and innovation policy as a cross-cutting theme in the current framework programme Horizon 2020. Furthermore, the Rome Declaration on Responsible Research and Innovation in Europe received high-level endorsement from the European Council in 2014. While the discourse on RRI is far from being settled, an impressive number of RRI activities have unfolded over the past few years.

For RRI to become part of mainstream research and innovation, we need to encourage a shift in practices, a better environment and conducive research and innovation policies. The Go4 projects have identified a number of implications and requirements for future policy and programme development. In particular, to foster institutional change towards increased responsiveness of research and innovation towards societal challenges, several issues outlined below need to be taken into consideration.

Bespoke RRI

First, responsibility in research and innovation is a context-specific, emergent process that is maturing over time. Policy makers at the European and Member State levels as well as within individual organisations need to work on these premises. This implies that they need to adjust and adapt the spirit of RRI to their own circumstances, mobilising bottom-up inclusive processes.

Second, we caution against top-down prescription of what the focal elements of responsibility in research an innovation should be. Indeed, the interpretation of what it means to be responsible in research and innovation differs from context to context. For example, science education and open access, may be important considerations for some actors but not for others. The latter may have other pressing societal and justice concerns that they wish to improve and transform.

Therefore, it is the research and innovation actors themselves, who are best placed to determine what RRI means for them through intra- and inter-organisational collective consultation. A genuine bottom-up inclusive processes will help actors to uncover and formalise these priorities.

There is indeed a risk that by attempting to fix the normative content of RRI, it will turn it into a bureaucratic tick-box exercise. We want to avoid at all cost falling into a kind of ‘responsibility-wash’ where the ambition of RRI remains on the organisational surface and does not become deeply institutionalised.

Greater responsiveness

Another aspect that needs further consideration is the fact that the EC funding frameworks shape the scope of action, which also affects the direction of research. While there is a need to meet political and economic objectives, these may have negative constraints on other research goals.

Researchers may thus need to find ways to cope with multiple conflicting aims. Current funding and project schemes have not taken sufficient account of these tensions. They are often not flexible enough to adequately address unforeseen issues, uncertainty, differences in epistemic cultures and knowledge gaps. This leads to a lack of responsiveness in some projects, which is closely linked to the lack of institutional responsiveness in addressing such shortcomings. It also reflects the funding institutions’ inability to deal with these issues.

Tackling geographical unbalance

Across Europe, and between different actor groups, there is an uneven distribution of the awareness and relevance of making research and innovation more responsible. The most advanced countries in realising this ambition are in the North and the West of Europe–namely, the UK, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. There, national policies are already well established, for example, within research councils.

A blanket top-down policy to encourage more responsible science across various regions in Europe is not the solution. However, to tackle the geographical unbalance, support for networking activities to exchange experiences on the design and implementation of RRI solutions would be a useful EU policy contribution. Eastern and Southern European countries, in particular, would require additional resources to make decisions and build their RRI capacity through their own approaches. Each solution needs to be tailored to their current and projected societal, technological and economic context-dependent future.

RRI globalisation

We have reached an impressive collection of conceptual and empirical knowledge in the field of RRI. This has been made possible thanks to the efforts of a growing community of academics, decision-makers and research and innovation practitioners.

RRI will remain isolated in Europe–and possibly the United States–if it does not link into relevant debates in emerging economies. Policy and funder efforts in China, India, and South Africa to achieve “inclusive innovation” through innovating for and with poorer regions need to be taken into account in debates in high-income settings.

More generally, it is now time for governments and funding institutions to vigorously encourage, enable and fund experimentation with different RRI approaches and instruments in as broad a diversity of settings as possible.

Ralf Lindner, Res-AGorA coordinator
Ralf is a Senior Researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, Germany.

Doris Schroeder, Progress coordinator Doris is Director of Centre for Professional Ethics and Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Central Lancashire, UK.

Robert Gianni, member of the GREAT coordination team Robert is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Namur, Belgium.

Aki Menevidis, Responsibility coordinator Aki is Senior Researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK, Germany.


Overview of the Go4 projects’ key results


The GREAT (Governance for Responsible Innovation) project has developed an empirically based and theoretically sound model of the role of responsible research and innovation governance. The project has explored the dynamics of participation in research and innovation, and investigated the characteristics of responsible practices. It also emphasised the nature of new partnerships among various stakeholders, researchers and policy makers that are developing within innovation networks and the influence that these developments have on knowledge production and policy.

The analysis carried out by GREAT followed a triadic methodology, namely a theoretical analysis of the features of RRI, an empirical investigation of the obstacles and promising actions, and an agent-based model for ex-ante evaluation of research and innovation networks fed by empirical outcomes.

These three aspects converged into the generation of a governance model for RRI based on three main features:

  1. Responsible approaches must be participatory by nature, foreseeing active and meaningful inclusion of different stakeholders.
  2. Responsible approaches must be developed on the basis of a two-order reflexivity, meaning that participants should be able to reflect on specific issues, but also on the institutional conditions that have enabled the reflexive process. This operation can be promoted by a co-constructive model of governance.
  3. Finally, responsible approaches to research and innovation must be focused on the ethical values and norms that define what responsibility means contextually. However, given the polysemy of responsibility and the meaning of ethics, the relation amongst the different meanings of responsibility must be kept in a constant, dynamic equilibrium avoiding any of these understandings being disregarded.


ProGReSS (PROmoting Global REsponsible research and Social and Scientific innovation) linked existing international networks of RRI with relevant societal actors on a global scale in order to analyse international efforts of focusing innovation on societal challenges.

A major fact-finding mission comparing science funding strategies and innovation policies in Europe, the US, China, Japan, India, Australia, and South Africa came to the following conclusions:

  1. To avoid Eurocentrism, global discussions of RRI should, in the future, make prominent reference to “inclusive innovation”, a governance framework designed to reduce extreme poverty and unsustainable inequality in countries such as China, India and South Africa.
  2. The vocabulary of Grand Challenges is suitable for a global dialogue on RRI.
  3. Responsible innovation linked to the Grand Challenges can open new market opportunities and ensure profitability.
  4. RRI is not yet established to a great extent at any major funding organisation analysed, except at the level of compliance with ethical acceptability and sustainability.
  5. In inclusive innovation, it is important to promote longer‐term as opposed to short‐term relationships between partners, such as industry, marginalised end-users, to sustain trust in co‐operations.
  6. An inherent tension in European-style RRI is a challenge; namely the tension between striving to create a more just and inclusive society and the promotion of Europe-an economic competitiveness.


The Res-AGorA project (Responsible Research and Innovation in a Distributed Anticipatory Governance Frame. A Constructive Socio-normative Approach) had the objective to develop a comprehensive governance framework for responsible research and innovation.

A number of explicit proposals for RRI have already been developed. However in the view of the project consortium these cannot be the definite final manifestation for all the different contexts at different political and organisational levels across Europe, as the very essence of what is responsible in research and innovation is contested and will need constant renegotiation and deliberation.

The aim of Res-AGorA was to develop a framework of principles intended to harness the self-governing capacities and capabilities of actors within Europe. This orienting framework has been developed with the aim to support actors to understand their responsibility challenges and to design, negotiate and implement their own context-specific understanding of responsibility in research and innovation.

Res-AGorA has designed this framework in the form of ten governance principles, codified in the Responsibility Navigator, which was conceived as a means to provide orientation without normatively steering research and innovation in a pre-defined direction. Furthermore, the Co-Construction Method is a collaborative workshop method designed to systematically facilitate the practical use of the Responsibility Navigator.


The RESPONSIBILITY project (Global Model and Observatory for International Responsible Research and Innovation Coordination) had the scope to set up a virtual observatory including a forum as an interface between politicians, society and industry, researchers and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). Its objective was to enhance a common understanding of RRI, in particular through the deployment of practical tools to implement RRI in all relevant spheres. In doing so, it provided deliberative fora for discussion and international cooperation, involving the societal, policy and research stake-holders in these activities.

As a comprehensive approach the observatory aims to affect social, democratic as well as economic dimensions of RRI. The RESPONSIBILITY platform is expected to contribute to the development of RRI on three different levels:

  • First, by providing a space for a wide range of research and innovation stakeholders to reflect on the purposes and implications of research and innovation;
  • Second, by contributing to the development and dissemination of RRI governance tools and methods;
  • Third, by contributing to the more detailed practical application of the key RRI action points issued by the Science with and for Society unit of the European Commission.

The concept or approach of RRI is emergent and subject to contestation and adaptation. Against this background, the platform is particularly interesting since it embodies one of the first concrete manifestations of RRI principles that have been set out so far.

Featured image credit: Shaping new Horizons

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