The recent study by Professor Richard Owen, from the University of Bristol, Professor Phil Macnaghten of Wageningen University & Research and Jack Stilgoe, Senior Lecturer at University College London, describes three emergent features of RRI discourse at an EU policy level, whilst providing a brief historical overview of the concept.

The first distinct feature that is emerging from associated discourses, is presented through an emphasis on science for society, with a focus on purposes, where research and innovation are targeted at Europe’s societal challenges and the ‘right impacts’, underpinned by a deliberative democracy. Henceforth, based on the narrative of democratic governance, the authors examine the purposes of research and innovation and their orientation towards the ‘right impacts’.

The second feature, linked to the first, is an emphasis on science with society – a focus on the need for research and innovation to be responsive to society in terms of setting its direction, as RRI calls for institutionalised responsiveness.

The third feauture is encapsulated in the explicit linking of research and innovation to responsibility, the ‘responsible’ in responsible innovation . According to the authors, this is prompting a re-evaluation of the concept of responsibility as a moral and philosophical social ascription in the context of innovation as a future-oriented, deeply uncertain, often complex and always collective phenomenon.

This in turn is challenging scientists, innovators, business partners, research funders and policy makers to reflect on their own roles and responsibilities, acknowledging that the irresponsibility in innovation is a manifestation of a the ecosystem of innovation and requires a collective, institutionalised response, if this is possible.

As such, it is becomes ever more obvious that the concept of responsible (research and) innovation has gained increasing EU policy relevance in the last two years, in particular within the European Commission’s Science in Society programme, in the context of the Horizon 2020 Strategy. Gaining an in-depth and holistic understanding of what are the true implications of the concept should be prioritised not only by moral philosophers and ethicists, but also by policy makers, innovation providers, CSOs representatives and business agents.

Read more about the study here.

Background and information on the research

The authors were part funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and
Economic Social Research Council to develop a Responsible Innovation Framework, on which this
paper is partly based.

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