Professors Richard Owen, René von Schomberg, and Phil Macnaghten reflect in their article – published in Journal of Responsible Innovation – on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) as a discourse emerging from the European Commission (EC) over the last decade.

Foundations

The context from which RRI emerged is that of a period (1998-2002) during which the legitimacy of European democratic institutions was seen as being under threat, and citizens were increasingly distrustful of politics and institutions, including scientific institutions. To secure societal acceptance of new technologies and overall trust in science, the EC started to use the Fifth Framework Programme – and later the subsequent ones – to bring research closer to society, eventually setting the scene for RRI.

From that moment, issues of privacy, autonomy and data protection, in the context of emerging technologies, led to the first volume on responsible innovation being published in 2011. The language of responsibility had begun to explicitly permeate the science and society policy lexicon. If innovation was to play a part in society going forward, it would need to be undertaken responsibly.

Horizon 2020

In 2012, RRI was positioned as a cross-cutting concept for the EC Horizon 2020 Programme, which had the ambition to bring scientific, private, public and civil society stakeholders together to address grand societal challenges through research and innovation. Its focus was as much on innovation and the ‘Innovation Union’, as on science. Responsible science and research per se were not sufficient. Innovation had to be brought into the frame, thus Responsible Research and Innovation was a useful umbrella term.

Furthermore, between 2011 and 2013, other initiatives, frameworks and policies for responsible innovation and RRI began to emerge in parallel to that proposed by the EC.

What future for RRI?

In 2021, during the global pandemic, the Horizon Europe (FP9, 2021–2027) was launched, with RRI remaining an operational objective of the Strategic Programme.

Certainly, over the last decade, RRI has inevitably been shaped by those actors and the contexts within which it has found itself. It has indeed been replicated, translated and transduced, and thus become institutionalised to varying degrees. At the same time, debates concerning the governance of science, technologies and innovation remain open and ongoing.

As stated by the authors, RRI has been part of “a broader conversation that has a past, present, and future” and the concept must continue to be an important site for ongoing debate, contestation and negotiation about science, technology, innovation, society and responsibility.

You can access the full article here.

Note: Original photo retrieved from the article’s website. All rights reserved.