Preliminary reflections from our experiences with RRI in practice

10.10.2018

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12 national case studies about RRI are now finalised in the project (see https://www.rri-practice.eu/knowledge-repository/publications-and-deliverables/) and we have concluded a consortium meeting with much reflection on our work, especially related to how the organisations we have worked with have regarded RRI as a concept and as practices. We are now starting the comparative part of the work which will give us a solid basis for recommendations regarding the RRI keys, RRI understood as anticipation, inclusion, reflexivity and responsiveness (AIRR), as well as RRI as an integrated ‘umbrella concept’ (understanding RRI as related to better aligning the science and innovation process and outcomes with societal values, needs and expectations). But we have already a number of preliminary reflections – questions and observations – from our experiences with RRI in practice. Here are a few.

  • Does RRI as an integrated concept help bring about more responsible practices? All of our organisations have policies and practices on some RRI key areas, in particular, ethics, open access and gender equality. These have different geneses in the organisations and are often the responsibility of different staff functions (HR, librarians, R & I support offices). Introducing RRI as an umbrella concept seems from our work to have been generally well received. Labels have mobilising power and RRI appears to mobilise new perspectives – and sometimes new energy – to existing organisational practices. The ambiguity of the RRI concept may be necessary to make it relevant in different contexts.
  • RRI may not need to compete with other concepts, such as CSR, sustainability, inclusive innovation, open science, etc. The different concepts and policy agendas may reinforce each other and open up for new synergies between RRI related actions. For instance, the increasingly important open science agenda may help to see societal engagement and science education as related to open access and ethics.
  • Our interviewees tend to support RRI when they are explained what it is and we often have an impression that when engaging researchers, leaders and administrators in discussions about RRI, we make implicit values explicit. Such conceptual work is important, but perhaps it is even more important to provide concrete tools for people to work with RRI?
  • Although we are studying organisations in quite different cultures, there appear to be several barriers and drivers common to all research conducting and funding organisations, perhaps more than we initially thought. A common barrier in research conducting organisations is an overload of expectations on researchers; where some (such as publishing in international, peer reviewed, scientific journals) are rewarded, whereas RRI related expectations seldom are. A common driver for research funding organisations is the need to orient funding towards societal challenges, which are generally perceived as becoming urgent.
  • One may claim that the European Commission’s focus on RRI is based in maintaining the trust of the population in science and innovation and intimately connected to the European Union’s particular need for public legitimacy for an innovation agenda to strengthen Europe’s global competitiveness. However, is such a feared mistrust perceived as urgent in all countries and in all organisations? How realistic is it that the European Commission can succeed in creating institutional change in member state organisations, and even outside of the EU? To the extent that organisations would like to implement RRI as a concept, must it not emerge organically from a self-identified need? Must not the force of RRI (as a transformative concept) be related to the convincing power of the concept, rather than a programme from the EC? If the diagnosis behind RRI is not shared, can we assume that RRI can be a response to different perceived needs, – or is such a search for alternative justifications to stretch the concept too far?
  • How closely connected is the acceptance of RRI in the organisations to their interests in securing European Commission funding? Is there a risk that RRI will only be maintained as long as RRI continues to figure in European framework programmes for research?
  • Few organisations have wanted to attach indicators to their RRI related actions. Is the current EC focus on RRI indicators at the level of organisational actions a mistake? Should RRI be seen as a learning process, rather than as a strictly defined actions? Or, on the contrary, is the lack of willingness to attach indicators to actions a sign that the organisations are not really committed to the RRI actions so they do not want to be measured on them?

We do not expect to be able to fully answer these questions in the project, and we believe many of them should simply be kept open for continued deliberation by a wide range of RRI scholars, practitioners and STI decision makers. For now, they are questions we will keep in mind when we enter into the final year of the project.

 

1 comment on “Preliminary reflections from our experiences with RRI in practice”

  1. J. Andrés Domínguez-Gómez says:

    Hi. Quite interesting questions. In my opinion, and considering other similar processes that arrived to the international focus decades ago, that point of awarding academics for working in RRI (from theories, methods, tools and practices) is a key element. And possibly it would push RRI from theory-and-practice, but getting RRI into the educational system too. In the medium-long term, this is a strategic initiative.

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