This article is sponsored by
RRI Tools
Find out how to become a sponsor

Credit hyoin min

Special issue: RRI overview – Print Edition

Welcome to this Special Issue of EuroScientist on: Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)!

This issue outlines many facets of RRI. It also provides different perspectives on the topic, including historical, institutional, academic, and views of practitioners in the field.

This Special Issue follows the first one entitled Launch of Responsible Research and Innovation Toolkit.


Tackling grand challenges with socially acceptable solutions

By Ignacio Lopez Verdeguer, Foundation La Caixa, Barcelona, Spain, RRI Tools project coordinator.

Evolution of RRI concept over time

An abridged genealogy of the RRI concept

By Jean-Pierre Alix, EuroScience, Strasbourg, France, partner in RRI Tools.

Research governance: how the concept of RRI is slowly maturing

By Elise Tancoigne, Sally Randles and Pierre-Benoît Joly, INRA, Paris, France, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, UK and IFRIS, Paris, France.

Perspective from Brussels

Innovation is not inherently good: René von Schomberg, EuroScientist Interview

By Sabine Louët, EuroScientist editor.

EC implementing RRI through institutional change

By Gilles Laroche and colleagues, European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Innovation Union, Brussels, Belgium.

Perspective from Academia

Collective responsibility towards research and innovation’s risks and new ethical dilemmas

By Jack Stilgoe, University College London, UK.

RRI Tools – where we are and what we are after

By Frank Kupper, Athena Institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands, partner in RRI Tools.

Concrete examples of RRI good practice

Why develop a toolkit for RRI?

By Rosina Malagrida, Institute for Aids Research IrsiCaixa, Barcelona, Spain, RRI Tools deputy coordinator.

A regional science centre’s perspective on RRI Tools

By Malvina Artheau, Science Animation Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse, France, RRI Tools French hub coordinator.


Iferridelmestiere_creditGiuliaVirgilio on Flickr

Tackling grand challenges with socially acceptable solutions

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) encompasses a wide range of efforts. Their common objective is to reach a new approach of the governance of innovation and the relation of science and society by steering science towards socially desirable and acceptable ends. To do so, it is necessary to engage society in a permanent dialogue with science. The idea is to shift towards collective notions of responsibility in science and to foster anticipatory governance to analyse the possible unintended impacts of new technologies. RRI becomes crucial to tackle the grand societal challenges that Europe faces such as climate change or the health of our ageing societies.

As any initiative aiming at fostering deep changes in the structure of society, RRI itself faces a number of its own challenges. One of them is that it is a new concept. As such, it has yet to find its way into the mind set of all stakeholders, beginning with policy makers and researchers. Another challenge is that these stakeholders—who are already busy in their normal duties—will need all the available support, should they be truly engaged in this new perspective. RRI implies reframing the way we carry out science. It is also calling for deep changes in some of the steps of the complex path followed by research and innovation. It is therefore natural that RRI will find a natural resistance and inertia from the existing system during its transition.

To facilitate the implementation of RRI many initiatives are already in place. One of them is RRI Tools, a Framework Programme 7 (FP7)-funded project, whose main objectives is to develop and compile resources to enable all stakeholders to initiative their journey towards RRI. The toolkit will be based in already existing best practices in the field. For example, the UK’s EPSRC or the Netherlands’ NWO have already programs in RRI. The toolkit will also be encompassing existing efforts in related areas such as science in society or ethics in science communities. In addition, another objectives of the project is to train stakeholders in the use of these tools and to raise awareness on the new framing of research and innovation as well as to disseminate the concept across the European Research Area.

But RRI Tools is only one of several RRI projects funded in the 2012 and 2013 FP7 calls; each of them covering a different facet of the whole movement. Other projects include Reponsibility (a global model and observatory for RRI), Responsible Industry (RRI in industrial context) or ENGAGE (RRI in science education). Important efforts are already in place to interconnect these sibling projects. The overall objective is to gather, in a single comprehensible repository, all available tools for the implementation of RRI in Europe. In this sense, RRI Tools aims to be an umbrella project, acting as a gateway to all relevant initiatives. An RRI Community of Practice is already growing, as people and institutions start to get involved. And it is essential to rely on the contributions of all of them to shape and tune the relevant tools.

In this special issue of the EuroScientist magazine, we look at RRI from many different perspectives. These include a historical perspective, the views of the European Commission, those of academics, as well as of practitioners, experts in the field. In addition some of the project partners will share their impression to illustrate the kind of tools that are of interest. All of these perspectives will provide partial views of a much wider picture. They are like notes in a great opera that is being composed at this very moment. Each of these will resonate differently for each of us. And each of us has a different role to play in this opera: we invite you to engage and play your part.

Ignasi López Verdeguer, RRI Tools Project coordinator, Director of the Department of Science, La Caixa Foundation

Daniel García Jiménez, RRI Tools team, La Caixa Foundation

Guillermo Santamaría Pampliega, RRI Tools team, La Caixa Foundation

Featured image credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Giulia Virgilio



An abridged genealogy of the RRI concept

Responsible research and Innovation, or RRI, may not be well understood by some. Yet, what it means is: science policy should explicitly include society. It stems from the fact that resistance to technical progress has always existed, particularly when such new technology is disruptive. Those who, in the XIXth century, did not agree and contested the value of such progress were accused of adopting romantic attitudes, or of being irrational. Meanwhile, to those subscribing to the positivist philosophy, novel science and emerging techniques were associated with progress and welfare for human kind.

Authors such as Heidegger and Jacques Ellul have captured this dichotomy by claiming that technical progress might be rational, but not reasonable, as far as people are concerned. This debate seems never ending. Its very existence suggests that knowledge has to be mastered in itself, but it needs to remain connected to people and societies.

Today, RRI might be a renewed way to deal with the tension between those in favour and those who do not embrace progress. The RRI terminology has regained momentum during the preparation of the H2020 Program. Then, negotiations between the European Commission and the European Parliament there was a need to reconcile different proposals between the two bodies.

The Commission—a structure of technocrats—wanted to reduce RRI to Science in Society actions. They considered that society should adapt to progress under the pressure of innovation and industrial interests. By contrast, the Parliament considered that research and innovation finalities should be addressed in the perspective of society. Resulting from the co-decision process, RRI emerged as a compromise concept allowing agreement between the economic aspect of innovation and the societal aspect of research.

This working definition of RRI was echoed by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, in a message delivered at the conference Science in Dialogue – Towards a European Model for Responsible Research and Innovation held in Odense, Denmark, between the 23 and 25 April 2012. She said: “As the Europe 2020 Strategy makes clear, to overcome the current economic crisis we need to create a smarter, greener economy, where our prosperity will come from research and innovation. Science is the basis for a better future and the bedrock of a knowledge-based society and a healthy economy.”

 She then pointed out: “After ten years of action at EU level to develop and promote the role of science in society, at least one thing is very clear: we can only find the right answers to the challenges we face by involving as many stakeholders as possible in the research and innovation process. Research and innovation must respond to the needs and ambitions of society, reflect its values, and be responsible.”

The RRI concept has its roots in the two previous Framework programmes, six and seven. Ulrike Felt in an ESF report on Science in Society have gone one step further by establishing five steps in the evolution of the RRI concept. The first, Information politics and monitoring of citizens lasted from 1989 to present. The second, Raising Awareness of Science and Technology has been discussed since the late 1990s. The third, Dialogue, participation and governance, started in the early 2000s. The fourth, From Science and Society to Science in Society, started in 2007. Finally, the fifth, Innovation Union 2020: from knowledge to innovation, was initiated in the early stage of the 2020 programme in 2013 .

It is normal for Societies to react to the fast evolution of science and technology. It is also tempting for people to resist such progress. The question that needs to be addressed, however, is how to master it in today’s conditions? This would involve tackling both acceptance and reluctance towards R&D policies. If the question is simple, the answer might be more complex. We expect projects like RRI Tools to bring answers and to demonstrate how such tools are pertinent in the new Science in Society dialogue.

Contacts :,

Featured image credit: mars_discovery_district via Flickr

Jean-Pierre Alix

Representing project partner EuroScience in RRI Tools, based in Strasbourg, France


Credit Simon Cunningham

Research governance: how the concept of RRI is slowly maturing

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, ELSIEthical, Legal and Social Implications of scienceand ELSAEthical, Legal and Social Aspects of scienceto 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


von Schomberg_creditFondazioneGianninoBassetti

René von Schomberg: Innovation is not inherently good

Science is not neutral. It can have both positive and negative consequences. Scientists increasingly have to face the ethical dilemma of the consequences of their research. And, thus, their responsibility in science governance. In the 80’s and 90’s, controversies surrounding science and technology have taken the form of bioethics debates. They have involved, among others, biology, genetics, or reproductive techniques. This was followed by questioning over the broad use of nanotechnologies in various day-to-day uses. These examples show that the negotiation of responsibility between scientists and the outside world is still a crucial issue in modern research.

René von Schomberg is an agricultural scientist and philosopher working for the European Commission on research and innovation policy. He was at the origin of the current concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). Specifically, he defines RRI as follows: “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)” in this article.

In this podcast interview, EuroScientist asked him to explain RRI, in his own words. These words represent his personal views and are based on his own academic publications.

This interview complements the presentation of what RRI means, as outlined in various opinion pieces reflecting diverse perspectives from people involved in RRI, included in this special issue.

In this interview, von Schomberg refers to precursors movements, which appeared in the committees studying the introduction of nanotechnologies. Some of the characteristics, such as “the ethical, legal and social implications, the incorporation of safety evaluation, the identification of risks or regulatory needs, the involvement of stakeholders, and international dialogue,” are still present in the current working definition of RRI outlined above.

But one of the main differences is that “the focus is not on a single technology, but rather on an integration of reflexions that could steer the innovation process,” he explains.

Von Schomberg’s idea of responsible innovation “comes from the idea that innovation does not serve a priori a societal end. Innovation is not inherently good as the predominant ideology goes.”

He thinks that “governments are one actor among many others involved in the innovation process” and that “we have to have stakeholders’ participation in innovation process, but we want to go a step further in RRI seeking a commitment to societal desirable goal.” The challenge, he concludes, is to have “NGOs and industry working together on a social motivational issue.

Interview by Sabine Louët, Editor, EuroScientist

Podcast editing Luca Tancredi Barone, freelance science journalist based in Barcelona, Spain

Featured image credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Fondazione Giannino Bassetti (von Schomberg is on the left)


Credit Pecub
The responsible research and innovation challenge

EC implementing RRI through institutional change

Horizon 2020 has as a notable ambition to address grand societal challenges. It fits in Europe’s strategy for jobs and growth, called Europe 2020, where research and innovation play a key role. In this context, several questions have arisen. How can we ensure that solutions to the societal challenges are based on research and innovation that will meet the needs of society? More importantly, how to make sure that they will not ultimately be rejected? Instead, is there a way to ensure that they will be adopted wilfully?

Lessons learned

Since 2000, the European Commission has been funding research to answer these questions. Informed by a number of evaluation studies, there are key lessons learned from this research. First, it has become clear that betting on technology acceptance by way of good marketing only is no longer a valid option. Second, fostering diversity in research and innovation is a must for achieving greater creativity and promoting better results. Third, early and continuous iterative engagement of society in research and innovation is essential to make innovation adequate and acceptable.

Based on these lessons, the EC has promoted an approach to research and innovation in which all societal actors—including researchers, citizens, policy makers, businesses, civil society organisations, etc.—work together during the whole process. The aim is to better align research and innovation outcomes with societal needs, values and aspirations. This is what is meant by Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI).

Such approach is deemed responsible because it fosters a co-creation process. Indeed, it encourages each stakeholder to care about the consequences for the other stakeholders, for society and for the environment. RRI directly relates to other initiatives often associated with the private sector, such as corporate social responsibility (CSR), responsible finance, socially responsible engineering or the Responsible Care initiative of the chemical industry.

Implementation of RRI in practice

The European Commission aims to implement RRI as a ‘package’ aiming to better engage society in research and innovation activities. As such, the RRI package focusses on supporting civil society engagement in research and innovation. It also encompasses activities, such as enabling easier access to scientific results to all. In addition, it supports a better uptake of the gender and ethics dimensions in research and innovation. And it aims at spreading good practices in formal and informal science education.

RRI is designed to be implemented as a cross-cutting issue in Horizon 2020, outlined in its article 14. This approach is designed to make RRI mainstream throughout Horizon 2020. In practice, this means that special attention has been paid to ensure that RRI elements will appear in relevant call topics within Horizon 2020. Specifically, internal screenings are planned to monitor the level of RRI embedding in the different work programmes. Criteria for evaluating the success of such approach include the integration of multi-actor and public engagement, gender, ethics, science education and open access.

Science with and for society

Furthermore, RRI is also supported in the Horizon 2020 regulation; namely in article 14.1(l) and in its Annex 1, Part V, under the heading: ‘Science with and for Society’ (SWAFS). Under this specific objective, projects and actions will notably seek to promote RRI not only on the level of the individual researcher or research project, but also more systemically, on the level of institutions and their practises, so that changes may have a broader and more lasting impact.

Projects funded under the ‘Science with and for Society’ objective can have as an explicit goal to contribute to institutional change. Contributions can, for example, cover the development and implementation of ‘CSR-like’ strategies, ethics boards, or gender action plans in the respective institutions forming project consortia. Projects can also focus on RRI institutional change at a regional, national or European level, to be promoted among all institutions active within a given field or set of countries. This could for example entail promoting the inclusion of RRI teaching in the curricula of scientific and engineering disciplines.

Projects can also contribute to fostering institutional change in many indirect ways. For example, the development and implementation of a code of conduct can be instrumental to drive change in the working practices of research institutions. So can the development and implementation of game-changing concepts such as ‘privacy by design’. Other changes in research practice, for example, collaboration with non-researchers—via open science, citizen science or trans-disciplinary science —or more inclusive merit assessment, can also indirectly contribute to change in how institutions operate and define their research and innovation governance.

Testing RRI assumptions

With this range of RRI actions, Horizon 2020 is a proper ‘test-bed’ for the feasibility and exchange of good practices with regard to RRI implementation. And this, throughout the European research and innovation system. On the basis of our experience gained, other RRI actions are to be considered beyond those directly linked to Horizon 2020.

Due to the horizontal nature of the RRI approach, it has a role to play in contributing to the definition of research and innovation policy more generally. At the European level, the European Research Area (ERA) is a relevant EU policy that can be complemented with RRI actions. ERA already includes actions on Open Access and gender equality. ERA stakeholders, such as LERU and CESAER,have indicated an interest in complementing ERA with RRI-oriented actions, for example with regard to public engagement and ethics.

Any such actions would naturally be based on close coordination with, and support from, research and innovation stakeholders and EU Member States. Some of them have already launched RRI-oriented actions. For example, funding bodies such as EPSRC, in the UK, Region Ile de France, in France, and NWO, in the Netherlands, have established dedicated frameworks and programmes for responsible innovation.

In the same way, important philanthropy organisations that fund research have embraced the RRI approach. For example, La Caixa Foundation, in Spain, is coordinating the EU funded project RRI Tools, to develop a set of tools that can be implemented to effectively realise RRI. A wealth of experience and ‘lessons learned’ will therefore become available in the coming years. And this, on local, national and European levels, in relation to a range of stakeholders and sectors. As such, RRI is likely to gain further momentum, with new insights and shared understanding acting as drivers towards a new phase in RRI policy evolution.

Gilles Laroche, Lino Paula, Philippe Galiay, Karen Fabbri

European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Innovation Union and European Research Area Directorate.

The views expressed are purely those of the authors and may not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the European Commission.

Featured image credit: Pécub



Collective responsibility towards research and innovation’s risks and new ethical dilemmas

Research and innovation constantly change our world. From the Internet and mobile phones, to climate change and new cancer treatments, science and technology have the potential to transform our lives. These developments also create new risks and new ethical dilemmas. Responsible research and innovation (RRI) seeks to bring these issues into the open. It also aims to anticipate the consequences and directions of research and innovation. In parallel, it involves society in discussing how science and technology can help shape the kind of world and future people want.

Why is RRI necessary? Increasingly powerful science and technology have granted humans unprecedented scope to intervene in our surroundings. Examples range from altering ecosystems and the Earth’s climate at the global scale, to manipulating the minute building blocks of matter and life itself. In addition, as a society, we face great challenges, from healthy ageing to sustainability, and from global health to resource security. Research and innovation have the power to tackle these challenges, but their success is not guaranteed.

Research and innovation will always, at least partly, be unpredictable. However, this does not justify behaving in an irresponsible manner. Such developments profoundly affect all our lives. Therefore, understanding and taking responsibility for these developments go well beyond just science and scientists. The direction and purpose of research and innovation, the distribution of its outcome—be it positive and negative—, the uses of new technologies and maintaining a focus on solving pressing problems are matters we, as a society, need to discuss and choose together.

This brings us to the question of what responsible research and innovation should look like. RRI is not a magic bullett. It will vary across institutions, cultures, scientific disciplines and technological areas. However, it will have one key, central feature: it will put the needs of ordinary citizens at its centre. Companies will still need to make profits in a market economy. But RRI will re-orientate research from ‘can this make money?’ to ‘how can this fulfil the needs of society within the market?’

So how can we uncover the priorities and concerns of fellow citizens? Over the last few decades, we have seen many experiments that foster involvement of the public in discussions and policy decisions regarding science, collaboration between scientists, ethicists and social scientists, open source and user-driven innovation, citizen science and more besides. We should encourage such experiments, join them up and demand a response from the institutions that fund, regulate and govern science and innovation.

In summary, RRI means experimenting further and improving upon existing practice. It means paying close attention to current developments—be they scientists’ positive efforts to take responsibility for emerging technologies, or institutional and cultural barriers that are stopping progress.

RRI also encompasses research ethics, gender and other forms of inclusion, open access to scientific data and publications and scientific education. Scientists and innovators should be encouraged to take responsibility for the futures they help shape. But the responsibility is not individual, nor is it theirs alone. The challenge is to find collective ways to take care of the future.

Jack Stilgoe

Lecturer in Social Studies of Science, Department of Science and Technology Studies, University College London, UK

Featured image credit: CC BY-NC 2.0 by Sebastien Wiertz



RRI Tools – where we are and what we are after

Today’s societies face several challenges, ranging from healthy ageing to climate change and security, for which there are no straightforward solutions. These challenges are reflected in the European Commission’s seven Grand Challenges, which constitute the focus of European research policy. Throughout the research and innovation (R&I) landscape, people are working to meet these challenges.

Too often, however, R&I practices suffer from an implementation gap, lead to societal controversies or fail to answer societal needs.

Hence, it has increasingly been acknowledged that for R&I to continue to play a central role in meeting today’s challenges, a dialogue between science and society is required. Inclusive deliberation amongst a diversity of stakeholders from an early stage of science and technology development onwards, will contribute to more acceptable and sustainable societal outcomes. In order to achieve this, certain process requirements should be met, however. These include meaningful openness, anticipating possible futures, reflecting on societal values, and being open to change.

The EC has put forward the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) to help steer R&I in this direction. The RRI Tools project will develop and implement a Training and Dissemination Toolkit that must help policymakers, researchers, industries and innovators to render their practices responsible. The toolkit may comprise anything that assists parties involved in R&I to reconfigure their practices to meet the above-mentioned requirements. Tools can be anything from large-scale funding programmes to instruments that engage citizens or help to think through environmental and social impacts of R&I.

One of example of a tool already in use is the Dutch funding programme ‘MVI’ (Responsible Innovation). This programme is directed at the study of ethical and societal aspects of technological innovation trajectories that are deemed to be likely to have large impacts on individuals and societies. The program demands multidisciplinary research teams, public-private collaboration and some degree of stakeholder involvement. So far, already more than 30 research projects have been funded in this programme, totalling more than five million euros.

RRI is a profoundly new way of doing research and innovation.

But will it become more than a fashionable buzz-word and develop into a powerful policy instrument that transforms R&I systems? Some major challenges have to be addressed in order for it to live up to expectations. For example, most innovation takes place in the private sector, whereas most responsible research and innovation is—or will be—publicly funded.

How can private parties therefore willingly contribute to RRI?

The foresight that is crucial for RRI cannot change the fact that unforeseen effects of technologies are exactly that: unforeseen effects that are utterly unpredictable.

Moreover, however much stakeholder involvement one organises in R&I practices, there is no guarantee that communally held values will always be in harmony with whatever solutions for societal problems are technologically possible. In addition, the different contexts we find throughout Europe confront us with different challenges, and ask for different solutions.

Thus, the question is how we can have RRI tools do their work in practice. Our task is to develop a dynamic toolkit that has just enough structure to be powerful in realising inclusivity anticipation, reflection and adaptivity, at the same time remaining sensitive to local contexts, now and in the future.

Frank Kupper

Assistant professor of Science Communication, Athena Institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands, partner in RRI Tools

Featured image credit: CC BY 2.0 by Missy Schmidt


Credit Maia Weinstock

Why develop a toolkit for RRI?

The role of research and innovation in society is increasingly being questioned. In the past few decades, this trend has been exacerbated by controversies around the acceptability of some technologies, such as GMOs, synthetic biology or nanotechnologies. Or even by the decrease in young people choosing science and technological careers. In addition, the big societal challenges of today, such as climate change, health and demographic changes, the need for a clean and efficient energy or food security can only be tackled through transdisciplinary research approaches and in collaboration with different stakeholders.

To tackle such challenges, research and innovation scholars, policy makers, scientists and engineers, teachers, civil society organisations as well as industry and business representatives have started to work together on RRI to better incorporate societal values, needs and expectations in research and innovation. The trouble is that it is such a new field that there are no real established ways to go about implementing RRI. Hence, the project RRI Tools set out to identify various practices in the field of RRI as a means to recognise best practice and best tools and share them widely.

RRI Community of practice

The challenge is now to identify effective models to implement RRI, with the help of collaborative platforms between different actors in the field. To help identify promising case studies of success stories, the RRI Tools project is doing a pan-European consultation during the autumn of 2014. The consultation is currently performed through workshop organised by the project’s 19 hubs spread across the continent.

These workshops aim to consult different stakeholders on what RRI means to them and to identify potential challenges and opportunities for implementation. Subsequently, RRI Tools will start developing a toolkit with case studies, reading and training materials and guidelines with methodologies to implement and evaluate RRI.

The Toolkit will be constantly updated, and for that, the consortium working in RRI Tools relies to work together with all the stakeholders involved in RRI through a Community of Practice, which will be promoted through the project’s website and within a wide range of participatory workshops and training events.

Shared research decision

There are already many examples where the governance of science, technology and innovation is no longer restricted to its practitioners but is also shared with the members of society or with civil society organisations, who will ultimately be at the receiving end of discoveries.

For example, some believe that patient’s role in research should not be restricted to being objects of study and beneficiaries of research results. This is the opinion of scientists from the Athena Institute, at the University of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. They have developed a dialogue model for patients to be involved in setting up the health research agenda. In some cases, this approach has resulted in the identification of research areas, previously not considered as a priority.

In parallel, in Germany, an initiative called the Civil society platform for a change in research (zivilgesellschaftliche Plattform ForschungsWende) has built a platform of civil society organisations striving for more transparency in research and innovation (R&I). They are also looking for opportunities to take part in the agenda setting process at the national level and for more trans-disciplinary research and innovation.

Another example, which is taking place in many countries, whereby universities expose students to trainings on how to improve the research and innovation governance, in relation to society, through undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Some of the universities have strategically embedded this activity through the creation of so-called science shops, coordinated by the Living Knowledge Network. Their role is to address societal needs and challenges, to contribute to enrich European research agendas while at the same time developing students’ skills.

Shift in science policy and communication

This new RRI approach is bringing innovation in many different areas. In the field of science communication, for instance, practitioners move away from understanding and knowledge dissemination. Instead, they engage various parties concerned so that they engage in a reflexive and participatory dynamics before, during and after the research and innovation process. Activities tend to be geared towards achieving specific policy outcomes or towards influencing the direction of research and innovation.

In Europe, RRI is highly being promoted by the European Commission, with programmes such as the “Science with and for Society.” Some national governments are also promoting RRI, such as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPRSC), in the UK, which has published a framework for RRI that the scientists they fund and the organisation they support are expected to follow.

Other research institutions, such as the Institute for Aids Research IrsiCaixa, where I work, are also moving towards RRI. We have established a Community Advisory Board, designed to maintain a periodic dialogue with different stakeholders who contribute to the institute’s research agenda. Another initiative, in collaboration with the Foundation La Caixa, offers an ambitious educational platform called Xplore Health. It is designed to involve secondary school pupils in the research and innovation system and to promote them becoming active citizens of the knowledge society.

We encourage you to join this RRI community by visiting the RRI Tools web site, to explore how it could benefit your field of work and to contribute to shape the path towards responsible research and innovation!

Rosina Malagrida

Head of Public Engagement on Health Research Unit at the Institute for Aids Research IrsiCaixa, Barcelona, Spain, RRI Tools deputy coordinator

Featured image credit: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by


Credit Science Animation Theatre Gourmand-001

A regional science centre’s perspective on RRI Tools

How did we get involved in such an ambitious European project as RRI Tools? It all started when we were first approached by the European network of science centres and museums, Ecsite, to participate to a tender over a call pertaining to the production and use of a training and dissemination toolkit on responsible research and innovation. This topic appealed to us, as a science centre, because our job is to communicate on issues related to science, techniques and innovation. The idea is to give our audience the tools they need to demystify scientific information.

What makes this project relevant to us is that we have visibility at national level over what science centres can achieve. Indeed, we are part of the Inmédiats program, which stands for ‘Innovation, Mediation, Territories’; this means innovation for science centres within their ecosystems. A national project, it involves six science centres all over France. These include Science Animation in Toulouse, La Casemate in Grenoble, Espace des Sciences in Rennes, Cap Sciences in Bordeaux, Relais d’Sciences in Caen and Universcience in Paris. This programme aims at testing and sharing new ways of communicating science.

As such, we are engaged in a process to change the way we look at our own work, to be more inclusive, more reflexive. The idea is to try and break free from our preconceptions of how we ought to operate in our field. We are also interested in listening to what our audience, partners and other stakeholders have to say. It therefore seemed natural to invite our partners from the Inmédiats project to join the French hub.

After all, as science centres, each one of us is already a hub between scientists, policy makers, citizens, NGO’s etc. Each one of us knows its own local and regional ecosystem very well while retaining a wider view on national initiatives. Between the six of us, we can have a picture that should reflect that diversity and dynamism of initiatives throughout our country.

Currently, we are gathering information from all kind of initiatives. These include well-established participatory research programs, such as VigieNature, Noé Conservation, or the Seasons Observatory. Bringing together social entrepreneurs and scientists to tackle today’s social and environmental challenges, it also involves initiatives developed by young start-ups including Soscience! and the Atelier des jours à venir. We also focus on specific laboratories or research teams—such as the research laboratory LUTIN, the think tank Observatory for Responsible Innovation— as well as on individual researchers who question their own practice. Some, for example, are engaged, in the promotion of gender equality in science in addition to their scientific work. There are so many more that we cannot name them all.

It is a very thrilling work to get a deeper understanding of each one of these initiatives. And we hope they will contribute to help many others to get a better understanding of how RRI is not only another fancy word but can really mean something in the field.

Malvina Artheau, PhD in freshwater biology

Head of the digital department at Science Animation Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse, France, Coordinator for the French Hub in the RRITools project

Featured image credit: Photo of 'Gourmet theatre' by Science Animation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.