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Home > Focus > Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 8-2. Special issue: RRI Futures

Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 8-2. Special issue: RRI Futures

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 18 March 2022

Special issue: RRI Futures - Learning from a decade of Responsible Research and Innovation [2]; Guest Editors: Michiel van Oudheusden and Clare Shelley-Egan

The Special Issue opens with the editorial piece RRI futures: ends and beginnings [3], in which Journal Editor in Chief Erik Fisher offers an overview of the development of the concept and practices behind Responsible Research and Development (RRI).

Fisher explains the importance of RRI, describing it as a landmark among 'policy for science' and 'ethics policy' programs, before describing the contexts, settings and sites of the various authors' assessments contained in the articles that make up this substantial Special Issue.

The Issue continues with RRI Futures: learning from a diversity of voices and visions [4] from Guest Editors Michiel van Oudheusdena and Clare Shelley-Egan. The Editors explain that 'authors take stock of the shortcomings and accomplishments of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) by delving into past RRI policies and processes, and by probing possible and desirable RRI futures', weaving together a variety of approaches. The aim is to reflect on what has been learned during what Fisher calls the 'golden years of RRI' and address how lessons learned could 'inform policy, scholarly, and practitioner agendas and imaginations for the next ten years'.

The Editors conclude by explaining how several of the articles consider RRI as a discourse and policy approach, others as an intellectual and scholarly set of practices, while others address the scope, aims and uptake of RRI.

In the first research article Multiple futures for society, research, and innovation in the European Union: jumping to 2038 [5], Stephanie Daimer, Attila Havas, Kerstin Cuhls, Merve Yorulmaz and Petar Vrgovic consider how societal aspects are taken into account in research and innovation (R&I) activities in four fundamentally different scenarios, putting the emphasis on the political conditions of the interactions among the actors as opposed to focusing on RRI principles and instruments.

The paper is presented in 6 sections, an introduction, a conceptual framework followed by a methodology section, before section 4 describes the aforementioned scenarios themselves: The Kingdom of RRI; Fortress Europe: Yes, EU can; Failed Democracy: Long live Populism; and Benevolent Green Eurocrats.

As the titles suggest, the scenarios are very different from each other.

Section 5 offers a discussion of how RRI might unfold in the future, indicating how various actors can safeguard responsible innovation approaches while facing the challenge of being embedded in quite different normative or ideological frameworks. The paper closes with a short conclusion.

The Special Issue continues with From Responsible Research and Innovation to responsibility by design [6] from Bernd Carsten Stahl, Simisola Akintoye, Lise Bitsch, Berit Bringedal, Damian Eke, Michele Farisco, Karin Grasenick, Manuel Guerrero, William Knight, Tonii Leach, Sven Nyholm, George Ogoh, Achim Rosemann, Arleen Salles, Julia Trattnig and Inga Ulnicane.

Drawing on more than eight years working to implement Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in the Human Brain Project, the authors suggest the concept of 'responsibility by design', intended to encapsulate the idea of embedding RRI in research and innovation in a way that makes it part of the fabric of the resulting outcomes.

The article aims to answer two specific questions: What can we learn about the strengths and limitations of RRI from the implementation of RRI in a large multidisciplinary research project? And, following from this: How can we build on our specific experience to go beyond the current RRI discourse in theory and practice?

The authors first outline their view of the RRI discourse and how they implemented RRI in their project before discussing lessons and insights learned. They then move on to discuss the implications for their work in the future before developing the concept of responsibility by design and providing guidance on how and in which stages to include RRI in a research infrastructure.

The next offering is a perspective piece, Taking knowledge production seriously in responsible research and innovation [7] from Robert D.J. Smith, Zara Thokozani Kamwendo, Anja Berndt and Jamie Parkin.

Drawing upon their experience developing an RRI framework in the ERA Cofund on Biotechnology, Smith et.al. discuss how treating RRI as a form of knowledge production allows engagement with the institutional dimensions of science (research within scientific projects, administrative and methodological knowledge), proposing an approach that could be developed in the next European Commission Framework Programme.

The approach requires RRI to be seen as a form of research, context based and requiring new spaces within the institutional scientific landscape where it can debate the means and ends of science.

Regular readers might already be familiar with the Perspective piece that follows, RRI legacies: co-creation for responsible, equitable and fair innovation in Horizon Europe from Douglas K. R. Robinson, (Bassetti Foundation's) Angela Simone and Marzia Mazzonetto from this review [8].

The authors argue that a change of focus from research and knowledge production to an approach based on mission driven open innovation offers an opportunity to leverage the insights gained from the past decade of activities in RRI and to extend and improve, particularly with regards to fair and equitable co-creation activities.

Three of the biggest names in Responsible Innovation author the article that follows, An unfinished journey? Reflections on a decade of responsible research and innovation [9] comes from Richard Owen, René von Schomberg and Phil Macnaghten.

The authors reflect on a decade of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) as a discourse emerging from the European Commission (EC), consider its prospects for the future and offer some thoughts into how RRI has contributed to debates around the relationship between science, innovation and society.

The in-depth and personal knowledge of developments in the field offer the reader an accessible history and analysis of developments in real time, through the foundations of the concept and its early development within the European Commission, on to Horizon 2020, the adoption and use of the EU keys (both positive and negative aspects), the proposal of Open Science, and its position within Horizon Europe. The article closes with thoughts on the future. A fantastic article that offers real insight into the process.

Danielle Shanley takes up the argument with Imagining the future through revisiting the past: the value of history in thinking about R(R)I's possible future(s) [10], proposing an alternative historiography based on ethnographic and archival research.

After an introduction and methodology section, the author discusses the suggestion that R(R)I could be seen as a scientific intellectual movement, before briefly touching upon established histories within the narrative of R(R)I and moving on to look at histories that are missed by the narrative.

Sections follow entitled Technology and society (the Columbia Seminar as a fundamental spark), Technology Assessment and Appropriate Technology, all of which describe the development of systematic collaboration processes involving a host of different stakeholders and which share many of the aims and approaches of modern RRI.

Two Perspective piece articles follow. In Slow Innovation: the need for reflexivity in Responsible Innovation (RI) [11], Marc Steen reflects upon several personal experiences in projects and advocates Slow Innovation as an alternative to the putative need for speed, the primacy of efficiency and the assumption that faster is better.

Reflexivity is seen as the driver of a form of (possibly European influenced) slow innovation that the author proposes as a tool for the improvement of current RI approaches.

Responsible research and innovation meets multispecies studies: why RRI needs to be a more than-human exercise [12] from Erika Amethyst Szymanski, Robert D. J. Smith and Jane Calvert suggest that RRI can learn from multispecies studies to expand definitions of stakeholders and responsibilities, including other creatures in conversations and frameworks from which they are currently missing.

The authors propose the need for multispecies studies within RRI as a broadening of stakeholders. They find several shared concepts, not least care (related to response-ability), concern and rationality, drawing their argument close to that of the widely known Stilgoe et.al. definition of RI: an integrated multispecies RRI in which care for future worlds through stewardship of research in the present accounts for how human wellbeing is always about the wellbeing of humans and non-humans together.

A Research Article follows. In Reconceptualising responsible research and innovation from a Global South perspective [13], Kutoma Wakunuma, Fabio de Castro, Tilimbe Jiya, Edurne A. Inigo, Vincent Blok and Vincent Bryce discuss the contextual factors driving the emergence of responsible innovation practice and ways in which they can inform efforts to develop an inclusive and global conceptualization of RRI.

They raise the question 'How can RRI be re-conceptualised to be inclusive of both the Global South and Global North?'

The authors call for a reconceptualization of RRI that allows for the inclusion of a range of practices observed in the Global South that tend to be underrepresented in the RRI debate, in order to develop a broader model that can guide future research. The Netherlands and Malawi are the examples used of Northern and Southern RRI perspectives, while Brazil represents an intermediary context.

In the methodology section the authors describe their collection of de-facto RRI practices across the field sites, before moving on to offer a description of the country-specific context and RRI related practices.

In the discussion, the authors describe two contrasting RRI perspectives, capital-oriented and livelihood-oriented, before proposing the case for their conceptual integration.

The Perspective piece An RRI for the present moment: relational and 'well-up' innovation [14] from Kevin Albertson, Stevienna de Saille, Poonam Pandey, Effie Amanatidou, Keren Naa Abeka Arthur, Michiel Van Oudheusden and Fabien Medvecky argues that discussions about placing responsibility at the centre of innovation should not solely be aimed at promoting GDP measured growth.

This piece buids upon previous work [15] published by many of these authors in which the concept of 'responsible stagnation' is proposed, offering an argument and description of 'well-up' innovation based on the following questions: Compared with current innovations, and alternative uses of the same resource, what are the benefits and costs of this innovation for the most vulnerable stakeholders? Does the innovation enhance the agency of the most vulnerable stakeholders?

The research paper Indigenous-led responsible innovation: lessons from co-developed protocols to guide the use of drones to monitor a biocultural landscape in Kakadu National Park, Australia [16] from Jennifer Mairi Macdonald, Cathy J. Robinson, Justin Perry, Maria Lee, Ryan Barrowei, Bessie Coleman, Joe Markham, Aaron Barrowei, Billy Markham, Henry Ford, Jermaine Douglas, Jatbula Hunter, Elijah Gayoso, Tyron Ahwon, Dennis Cooper, Kadeem May, Samantha Setterfield and Michael Douglas follows.

In order to address the underrepresentation of indigenous knowledge systems (and ethics) within innovation governance, the authors draw on Indigenous-led research in northern Australia's Kakadu National Park, reflecting on research practices for responsibly navigating the introduction of aerial drones as a tool for local Indigenous co-managers to monitor and manage this World Heritage Area. The researchers co-developed protocols to guide Indigenous-led innovation - empowering Indigenous governance, developing ethical and trusted research relationships, and enabling on-going Indigenous-led technological innovation.

After an overview and explanation of problems associated with digital technologies and (in particular) drone use, the authors describe their indigenous responsible innovation approach, with a historical and cultural overview, methodology and results section that details the 3 co-designed protocols for introducing the technology:

(1) Empowering Indigenous governance
(2) Developing ethical and trusted research relationships
(3) Enabling on-going Indigenous-led technological innovation

Lessons learned and a discussion on extending human-centred design and ethics for Indigenous-led responsible innovation follow, in which the question of how 'human-centred design' can be expanded to include Indigenous ethics and protocols to ensure responsible innovation recognizes Indigenous knowledge and governance.

The Special Issue closes with one more Research Article.

In Organizational patterns of RRI: how organizational properties relate to RRI implementation, [17] Thomas Kjeldager Ryan, Niels Mejlgaard and Lise Degn explore the connectedness of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) profiles and organizational properties of 188 European higher education institutions, identifying three distinct clusters, one of low RRI uptake and the other two that employ a range of policies and procedures, before discussing how insights from established theory about change in organizations can be used to explore these similarities and differences.

The overall goal of the paper is to contribute to understanding how organizational properties relate to RRI implementation through the lens of isomorphism, comparing RRI profiles with other organizational properties to examine the theoretical expectation that organizations with similar RRI policies and procedures show similarity in other characteristics.

In the discussion section the authors find that the RRI active clusters were alike in that they are characterized by having a high degree of research intensity and impact, multi-disciplinary orientation, active participation in H2020 funding schemes, and were larger than the RRI passive cluster. They open up a series of interesting and important questions however, many of which require further (and in many cases qualitative) investigation.

Once again, the Journal of Responsible Innovation offers open access publications of the highest order. All at the Foundation would like to congratulate the Special Issue editors on their important contribution alongside that of Editor in Chief Erik Fisher and recommend the publication to all of our readers.


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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tjri20/8/2?nav=tocList
  3. 3] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1996771
  4. 4] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1989656
  5. 5] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1978692
  6. 6] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1955613
  7. 7] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1935584
  8. 8] https://www.fondazionebassetti.org/en/focus/2021/08/two_recent_academic_publicatio.html
  9. 9] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1948789
  10. 10] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1882748
  11. 11] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1904346
  12. 12] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1906040
  13. 13] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1944736
  14. 14] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1961066
  15. 15] https://www.fondazionebassetti.org/en/focus/2020/10/book_review_responsibility_bey.html
  16. 16] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1964321
  17. 17] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1975376
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Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 8-2. Special issue: RRI Futures
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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