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Home > Focus > S.NET, a Review of the Panel Sessions

S.NET, a Review of the Panel Sessions

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 28 November 2013

As a follow up on my previous S.NET post [2] I would like to take a brief look at the contents and debates provoked during some of the panel sessions.

The conference hosted a series of panel sessions, many of which directly addressed issues surrounding responsible innovation. The following are a selection.

In the Theories of Responsible Innovation panel Carl Mitcham [3] presented a paper co-authored with Rene' Von Schomberg [4]: Mitcham reviewed the philosophical history of responsibility, a process that led him to ask the question of 'responsibility to whom?'

Sally Randles [5] followed by offering her model of the five building blocks of responsible innovation. She described the blocks as the need to think of RI as a historically situated object of study, to look at actors' and collective normative positions, to view innovation as both creation and destruction, the need for responsible governance and performative and transformative agency.

Collette Bos [6] raised the issue of how the need to garner funds plays an important variable in how researchers both behave, describe and go about their work. Her examples of solar panel researchers demonstrated different motivations for operational choices that may have an effect upon a more or less responsible approach.

Erik Thornstensen [7] concluded the panel by raising the argument of responsibility for social sustainability. He argued that the social dimensions of responsibility are underdeveloped but hold potential resources, and argued for a social life cycle assessment of product life cycle.

The Next Generation Thinking on Responsible Innovation Technology Assessment, and Societal Dimensions panel opened with a paper by Emily York. York described techniques used for teaching students about nanotechnology, raising issues of what students take from class, the nanodream syndrome and the non critical modes that lecturers use and their propensity to brush problem questions under the carpet.

Davy Van Doren [8] followed with a critique of the difficulties that policy makers have while dealing with science they do not fully understand, in this case synthetic biology. Issues of conflict of interest when too many experts are involved were addressed, and the speaker closed by asking whether holistic policy approaches are possible at all.

Dorothy Dankel [9] described her experience of working as a social science in a biotech lab. She posed questions to the scientists and organized meetings between experts and doubting members of the public in order to critique the problems in creating common sense understandings of objects such as vaccines within the general public.

Kerstin Goos [10] closed the panel with a historical reconstruction of how governance and the governing of science has changed since the experiences of the second world war. She described the move towards dialogue, citing the UK's Science and technology Committee as an example alongside the influence held by the Royal Society in terms of policy making.

The Monday evening Plenary, STS Perspectives on Emerging Technologies, brought together Edward Woodhouse, Sheila Jasanoff and Alfred Norman. The plenary opened with a debate around what we can expect from government, with responses ranging from nothing at all to questions of how STS can influence policy making.

Jasanoff argued that ethical issues and regulation are being internalized by disciplines, giving the examples of nanotechnology and synthetic biology that she argued are almost completely self regulated - which closes down possibilities for actual public debates on them.

Further questions were raised about how such a general purpose technology came to the fore in ethical debate and how the issue of fracking slipped through the back door as the academic and regulatory community was busy looking elsewhere.

The discussion closed as the moderator W D Kay pointed out that the question of time ran through the debate and comments, and raised the point that the burden of proof being largely on the critics is a problem that needs to be addressed. There was also a call for the funding of more public science and scientists to improve the balance between public and private knowledge.

Tuesday opened with a panel entitled Responsible Innovation: Governance and Regulation.

In describing government regulation Avieza Tucker [11] argued that the policy surrounding fracking worldwide was schizophrenic. He argued that the causes of the different approaches were difficult to determine, but that difference in land ownership law could play some role in policy making and interpretation as it leads to differing distribution of the profits.

Fern Wickson [12] investigated the different policy approaches surrounding nanoremediation, arguing that the discussion in terms of responsibility of techniques used to rectify pollution problems could lead to less debate surrounding the responsibility that the polluters themselves hold. She also argued that there are no alternatives to real world testing in some technologies, using nanoremediation as an example.

Wickson also argued that the present publication culture can lead to misrepresentation, because authors have difficulty publishing findings that they cannot find an explanation for, before concluding with a suggested rubric grid that could be used to learn what the challenges that particular technologies face might be.

Barbel Dorbeck - Jung [13] argued for the regulation of information schemes, asking the question of how this regulation could contribute to the governance of RRI, before Daniele Ruggiu closed the panel with a discussion of normative anchor points and codes of conduct for nano research and RRI.

The Responsible innovation Theory and Innovation Systems panel had two speakers: Sally Gee and Charles Anica Endo.

Sally Gee [14] described the experiences surrounding the development of biofuels in Brazil and the USA arguing that problems related to the development of this technology only became apparent through the scaling up process. She argued that a longitudinal approach must be taken when analyzing any effects that development might provoke, as issues often occur over a protracted process.

Charles Anica Endo [15] introduced a modification to the Etzkowitz Tripple Helix model of innovation adding a fourth dimension, that of social responsibility. The quadruple helix model would involve society by bringing it and its interest into the process from the very beginning.

During the Responsible Innovation: EU Policy and Publics panel Mickael Pero [16] argued that Responsible innovation is represented by the means and the infrastructures that embed science in society. He argued for a move to stimulating R&D investment into responsible skills, as responsible outcomes require responsible means. He offered an example in that the clustering of research facilities might produce advantages not only for science, but also for a movement towards more responsible approaches.

Ralf Lindler [17] debated the policy coordination challenge faced within the EU, and Stevienna de Saille [18] raised the issue of making science public while asking the question of how RRI is understood by all those involved in the research process, from funders to scientists themselves. Miriam Hufnagal [19] concluded the panel by urging interested parties to think about the politics behind policies, and to raise the question of what is the strategy that underlies today's policies.

The final panel session featured a round-table discussion that included sally Randles, Arie Rip, David Guston and Ralf Lindner.

The discussion included a call for a politics of RI and a critical politics within the study of the subject. Responsible Research in Innovation (RRI) was described as an attempt at social innovation, and the suggestion of Slow Innovation was aired and debated. Issues such as whether certain innovations actually improve quality of life and whether the technoscientific promise may be flawed were raised in questions from the floor, as was the question of the effect that user developed innovation has on the general debate.


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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] /en/focus/2013/11/a_report_from_the_snet_confere.html
  3. 3] http://lais.mines.edu/Carl-Mitcham
  4. 4] http://renevonschomberg.wordpress.com/
  5. 5] http://www.mbs.ac.uk/research/people/profiles/srandles
  6. 6] http://www.uu.nl/staff/CBos/0
  7. 7] https://hioa.academia.edu/ErikThorstensen
  8. 8] http://www.isi.fraunhofer.de/isi-en/t/mitarbeiter/dod.php
  9. 9] https://www.imr.no/om_havforskningsinstituttet/ansatte/d/dorothy_dankel/nb-no
  10. 10] http://www.isi.fraunhofer.de/isi-en/t/mitarbeiter/gok.php?WSESSIONID=6331f0c056f9d3a6132844a62c5b0a8a
  11. 11] http://www.energy.utexas.edu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=95&Itemid=165
  12. 12] http://genok.com/ansatt/fern-wickson/
  13. 13] http://www.utwente.nl/mb/pa/staff/dorbeck_jung/
  14. 14] http://www.sci.manchester.ac.uk/people/dr-sally-gee
  15. 15] http://www.linkedin.com/pub/charles-anica-endo/5/877/b83
  16. 16] http://www.isi.fraunhofer.de/isi-en/t/mitarbeiter/pem.php?WSESSIONID=3
  17. 17] http://www.isi.fraunhofer.de/isi-en/t/mitarbeiter/rl.php
  18. 18] https://sheffield.academia.edu/SteviennadeSaille
  19. 19] http://www.isi.fraunhofer.de/isi-de/p/mitarbeiter/mh.php
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S NET Conference in Boston
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