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Home > Focus > Journal of Responsible Innovation: Volume 6, Issue 3 Reviewed

Journal of Responsible Innovation: Volume 6, Issue 3 Reviewed

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 20 February 2020

Journal of Responsible Innovation, Vol6, Issue3

Late last year saw the release of issue 3 of Volume 6 of the Journal of Responsible Innovation [2]. In this post we offer an overview of this Issue.

This issue of the journal opens with Erik Fisher's Editorial [3] entitled Learning from Failure, in which the Journal's Editor in Chief offers an overview of the issue, including introducing the Special Section of perspective pieces that offers a series of investigations into RRI practices from a range of countries and continents.

The issue continues with 3 Research Articles, the first of which is A responsibility to commercialize? Tracing academic researchers' evolving engagement with the commercialization of biomedical research [4], by Kelly Holloway and Matthew Herder.

This article raises some interesting questions for anyone studying or working within RI, as it brings forth an implicit criticism of the idea that working towards the improvement of society may have an unseen effect on the way scientists view their work. The article describes in-depth qualitative research with scientists working within the medical field, investigating their opinions and practices relating to commercialization and cooperation with industry.

One major finding is that senior researchers express reservation when speaking about the commercialization of their work, but are faced with the conundrum of feeling that they have to train their junior researchers into approaches that may lead to commercialization as this is seen today as a necessary career skill. This leads to more junior researchers holding less of a critical opinion and being exposed to less critical literature and alternative ideas than might be possible.

In a further development many young researchers come to see commercialization as a responsibility, as in the current system, research needs industrial involvement if it is to become a marketable product. Working for the good of society may therefore require industrial involvement if the research is to come to practical and societally beneficial use, in other words to a responsible innovation.

Certainly, food for thought.

The second research article Ethics as a rare bird: a challenge for situated studies of ethics in the engineering lab [5] by Eun Ah Lee, Nicholas R. Gans, Magdalena G. Grohman and Matthew J. Brown follows an approach that very much reflects Foundation interests in the social construction of decision-making.

In the article, the authors narrate what they describe as a 'failed research project' into ethical decision-making processes in an engineering research lab. The authors describe how they first tried an ethnographic research approach, but came across what they call the rare bird problem; just looking into the habitat of a rare bird may not lead to you seeing the rare bird, in this case we find discussion of ethical issues representing the bird, and the laboratory the habitat.

The authors adopted other methodologies in order to try to overcome the problem (including Fisher's STIR approach and the Ethics Toolbox) but with limited success. They seem to conclude that even in an environment where free discussion and problem solving in groups is typical, discussion of ethical issues in the laboratory is an abnormal activity.
The authors suggest various possible reasons for this lack of public discussion, including training techniques and the prevalence of technical discussion, concluding with the suggestion that 'engineering education and engineering practice may need to focus on the relationship between engineering ethics and engineering habits of mind, and work on how to make thinking, talking, or acting about ethics as engineers' habits in daily engineering practice'.

The third and final research article in this issue is The promise and perils of produced waters: intelligent trial and error as an anticipatory framework for enabling responsible innovation [6] by Taylor C. Dotson.

In this article, the author praises the need for an Intelligent Trial and Error approach to be adopted in both technology development and political and ethical decision-making, taking the case of the use and disposal of produced waters. Produced water is water that is a bi-product of industrial production, in the case of this article via oil and gas production.

This water production raises many governance, safety, social and ethical issues; which authorities are responsible for its safety? who owns the water? What are the social and environmental implications of its use?, to name but a few.

Through the description and discussion of the current situation in Kern County California, the author aims to show how an Intelligent Trial and Error approach can enhance the Responsible Research and Innovation framework, and address the material and political obstacles to more responsible R&D in general.

The issue continues with a Special Section that 'addresses Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) as an increasingly global concept that is translated and transformed in heterogenous national contexts'.

In the series introduction [7]Translation, transduction, and transformation: expanding practices of responsibility across borders, Tess Doezema, David Ludwig, Phil Macnaghten , Clare Shelley-Egan and Ellen-Marie Forsberg outline 'a framework of transduction through which RRI becomes contextually negotiated and reconfigured', based upon the seven national perspective articles that make up the Special Section and were born from the RRI-Practice project [8].

The authors explain their use of the concept of transduction emphasizing the need to see changes in meaning ascribed to technologies as they pass across boundaries and cultures, describing similarities and differences between the contexts represented in the articles that follow.

In Exploring the value proposition for RRI in Australia [9], Peta Ashworth, Justine Lacey, Semso Sehic and Anne-Maree Dowd explore conceptualizations of RRI in the Australian context.

This article presents an overview of findings taken from research that involved interviewing 33 key Australian research and innovation actors, all working within a national government science agency and a leading research university.

A summary of the range of understandings and interpretations of RRI is presented, followed by a discussion of the broader implications for RRI in Australia.

In Global challenges, Dutch solutions? [10] The shape of responsibility in Dutch science and technology policies, Franke van der Molen, David Ludwig, Luca Consoli and Hub Zwart describe how 'national dynamics in the Netherlands have not only contributed to the adoption of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) frameworks but also to a distinctly Dutch meaning and institutionalization of responsibility'.

The article is based upon a series of 9 interviews, an RRI workshop with both experts and policy-makers and content analysis of 35 reports and documents on Dutch science and innovation polices, identifying three core Dutch context features (Science and innovation for the public good, trust in inclusive deliberation and collaboration and responsibility as an integrated feature of research and innovation) that have contributed to the institutionalization of RRI approaches in the Netherlands.

The authors argue that the Dutch form of RRI has only limited potential as a disruptive concept that challenges the status quo of science and technology policy, primarily due to the risk of it obscuring tensions between economic and societal interests due to the way societal benefit and the pursuit of economic interests are so tightly entwined and perceived.

In Responsible research and innovation in Germany - between sustainability and autonomy [11], M. Ladikas, J. Hahn, L. Hennen, P. Kulakov and C. Scherz address the issues of how responsibility is understood, the relationship between RRI and this interpretation of responsibility and the position of RRI in relation to sustainability and autonomy.

Implimentation challenges are discussed before a conclusion section describes how responsibility in science in Germany is seen as lying within the concepts of sustainability and autonomy, and thus how the RRI debate also sits within this framework.

The section continues with 'Opening up' science policy: engaging with RRI in Brazil [12] from Luis Reyes-Galindo, Marko Monteiro and Phil Macnaghten.

This article presents an overview of findings from the authors' work within the RRI Practice project based upon focus group and interview data. After an introduction in which the authors paint an alarming portrait of the current political situation in Brazil, the article goes on to first describe the research process, before moving on to analyze RRI as a pathway to reflexive governance and conflicting values within the Brazilian context.

The authors describe how the EU defined RRI keys are operationalized within this particular innovation setting before concluding statements about the effect of the project on the science community in Brazil.

The section continues with The role of intermediary organizations in the mainstreaming of Responsible Research and Innovation in the Italian industrial sector [13], from our Italian colleagues Simone Arnaldi and Federico Neresini.

Based upon the specific economic structure in Italy (predominance of SMEs within the industrial context), the authors describe the important roles that intermediary organizations and processes can play in aligning these enterprises with RRI initiatives, based upon the experience of conducting a stakeholder workshop in Padova.

The authors explain that the notion of intermediation has a significant importance in the study of innovation, but is almost absent in the debate on responsible innovation, and call for further research in this area.

In Exploring complexity, variety and the necessity of RRI in a developing country: the case of China [14], Lu Gao, Miao Liao and Yandong Zhao raise the question of whether pre-existing political-economic factors will become obstacles for the development of alternative innovation trajectories in China.

In order to address this question they describe a series of possible entry points for RRI in the Chinese scientific and innovation society: Government, enterprise, and the scientific community itself, in an attempt to 'see how RRI can be aligned with extant developments in Chinese society, to help better evaluate and clarify problems and opportunities that exist in current practices, and thus to evaluate how RRI can help technological innovation to develop with and for society in a coordinated way in the Chinese context'.

In the final essay in this section RRI: implementation as learning [15], Cathrine Egeland, Ellen-Marie Forsberg and Tatiana Maximova-Mentzoni conceptualize RRI as learning, based upon the authors' experience of researching the Research Council of Norway (RCN).

The authors first present the case of the RCN, discuss implementation tensions in its RRI approach before reflecting on the effectiveness of the approach. In concluding they point out that conceptualizing RRI as learning raises a series of issues related to implementation, due to the question of how much flexibility in defining RRI is necessary or brought about by the reflexive self-learning process itself.

The issue closes with Helen Pallett's very positive and comprehensive book review of Democratic experiments: problematizing nanotechnology and democracy in Europe and the United States [16] by Brice Lauren.

We would like to warmly congratulate Erik Fisher and the Editorial Board on another high-quality issue. We recommend it to our readers (several articles are open access), and look forward to the forthcoming 2020 issues.


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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tjri20/6/3?nav=tocList
  3. 3] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1658063
  4. 4] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1608615
  5. 5] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1605823
  6. 6] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1603567
  7. 7] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1653155
  8. 8] https://www.rri-practice.eu/
  9. 9] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1603571
  10. 10] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1603569
  11. 11] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1603536
  12. 12] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1603568
  13. 13] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1608616
  14. 14] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1603572
  15. 15] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1603570
  16. 16] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2019.1610934
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Journal of Responsible Innovation: Volume 6, Issue 3 Reviewed


Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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