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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

Go back to the Special Issue: RRI Overview

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