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Challenges for Responsible Innovation: Leiden Review

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 16 September 2019

The first in the series of events aimed at addressing challenges for responsible innovation (RI) and coinciding with the release of the International Handbook on Responsible Innovation [2] was held on Thursday 12 September in Leiden University (NL). The event was extremely well attended with more than 50 people squeezed into the audience and an extensive panel of well known expert speakers.

Event Chair René von Schomberg opened proceedings with an introduction in which he asked the question of what is responsible innovation? He explained that RI should be seen as a new innovation paradigm, that is both critical of and goes further than previous paradigms.

The speaker described some of the flaws and shortcomings of two previous paradigms, Responsible State and Responsible Market, using a table that can be seen on the photo attached to this post, before introducing the paradigm of RI. He then introduced each speaker in turn with short responses to some of their points, before chairing the debate.

Panel Presentations

Sarah de Rijcke of Leiden University Centre for Science and Technology Studies [3] raised the issue of the many institutional changes required in the move towards an RI approach. She described some of the problems provoked or worsened by current scientific reward systems, a point that led to further debate in the hall, before moving on to the related argument of Open Science and open publication.

De Rijcke argued that implementation of an open science approach is not without problems itself as although it might be advantageous from certain perspectives and in some fields, it also presents serious issues and could also be seen as potentially harmful in others. She raised the question of who is responsible for making science open and how its effect might differ for different forms of scientific endeavor.

Paul Wouters, Dean of the Faculty of Behavioral Sciences at Leiden University discussed one of the deficits in the global research and innovation system outlined by von Schomberg in his opening chapter in the Handbook, the lack of open research systems and open scholarship as a necessary, but not sufficient condition for responsible innovation.

Wouters argued that the promotion of a global open science system risks not taking diversity in account as different scientific fields may require different approaches to openness. He also raised the issue that an open science system, particularly if it is global, could also become a tool for those actors with the power to exercise control over it (and through it), calling instead for new ways to empower and inspire new approaches to scientific dissemination.

Harro van Lente of Maastricht University described three challenges based upon his experiences including those working within the NanoNextNL consortium.

1. RI has become mainstream, is no longer a radical critique of innovation systems and could become banal.
2. The concept is difficult to measure and to enact for those with hard science experience, making them nervous. Concepts such as sustainability or democratization are easier to understand and act upon.
3. RI seems to be focused on research that falls somewhere between open curiosity driven research and application.

Melanie Peters, Director of the Rathenau Institute [4] argued that innovation is about society and not only about science. She described her own experience with the debate over nuclear power, highlighting the difficulties in pinpointing the issues and the right questions to be addressed. She concluded that such debates revolve around what kind of society we want as we are all travelling along the same path to a shared future and know our roles therein. She concluded by reminding the audience that we have to understand the history of the power relations that have shaped policy.

Dirk Stemerding described the move towards RI as representing a paradigm shift from a technological approach (through technology assessment practices) to a societal approach (RI), pointing out that thinking about societal challenges is also a challenge in itself. He explained that in earlier paradigms the scientists themselves are the primary driving force for innovation, while the second (RI) brings with it the need for other actors as drivers, as well as other voices that help to determine what the challenges actually are.

He argued the need for new spaces within which these new actors can interact and converse in what could be seen as a new social contract between science and society.

Jacqueline Broerse of the Free University of Amsterdam Athena Institute [5] pointed to an implementation gap within RI asking how we can get from the current situation to the situation of implementation that we hope to achieve as a society. She explained that researchers would like to know how to bridge this gap as they seem to lie in a position having done the groundwork but unable to apply their findings. She concluded by asking how we are going to change the agents of change.

Ibo van de Poel of Delft Technical University challenged the idea that RI should be challenge orientated at all, arguing that it leads to empty promises and expectations, shallow notions of science and society, an ends justifying means ethics and that it ignores the uncertainty in the innovation process.

He also pointed to problems with the language used in RI (a repeated issue from various panel members) describing it as non inclusive.

Vincent Blok of Wageningen University closed the panel presentations arguing that there is currently an implementation problem for RI as demonstrated by its low level of uptake across different policy levels. He argued the need for the development of a policy framework to manage the further integration of RI and raised the question of whether dedicated RRI programs should be curtailed and integrated with other disciplines.

Calling on his own experiences, Blok described the underrepresentation of business within RI and the related (causal) problem that businesses do not find themselves criticized for their innovation processes, before raising issues surrounding what he called the 'dark side' of RI such as stakeholder exclusion.

Further Discussion

The panel presentations were followed by a lively debate that included many members of the audience and the panel. Issues such as regional variation, the need to move the debate into a much broader sphere, the effect of funding and political focus on RI and what the aims of the RI practitioners present actually are were all discussed amongst a host of others.

The event closed with a reception full of informal discussion that I am sure will be carried on into the London event on 19 September. All are welcome, and we would urge readers sho have the possibility to join the debate.

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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/international-handbook-on-responsible-innovation
  3. 3] https://www.cwts.nl/
  4. 4] https://www.rathenau.nl/en
  5. 5] https://science.vu.nl/en/research/athena-institute/index.aspx
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Challenges for Responsible Innovation: Leiden Review
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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