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Putting Responsible Research and Innovation into Practice. A Multi-stakeholder Approach

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 14 June 2023

Putting Responsible Research and Innovation into Practice. A Multi-stakeholder Approach [2], edited by Vincent Blok, (Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy Volume 40, published by Springer, 2022), is a collection that has grown out of the NewHoRRIzon project (2017-2021). This project focused on developing a 'conceptual and operational basis to fully integrate RRI into European and national (R & I) practice and funding', establishing Social Labs as 'inclusive methodology to implement and study RRI in all program lines of H2020' (taken from the introductory Chapter 1 from Vincent Blok and Lucien von Schomberg).

Part 1 Responsible Research & Innovation as EU Policy

Chapter 2: The Drama of Responsible Research and Innovation: The Ups and Downs of a Policy Concept
Erich Griessler, Robert Braun, Magdalena Wicher and Merve Yorulmaz

Chapter 2 offers a detailed political description of how the passage followed by RRI within the EU and some of the characteristics of those within the RRI community led to fragility in its acceptance and existence. Those supporting and championing RRI were no longer able (in Horizon Europe) to stabilize and sustain a clear and accepted definition of RRI or the legal foundation necessary to fund a separate RRI program, leading to an inability to build upon the financial and institutional resources that they had been able to secure in Horizon 2020.

Chapter 3: The Institutionalization of a New Paradigm at Policy Level
Stephanie Daimer, Hendrik Berghäuser and Ralf Lindner

This chapter describes what the authors see as limited success in mainstreaming RRI due to it having been introduced prematurely, offering an analysis of processes related to policy practice and implementation using Sally Randles' concept of Deep Institutionalization (DI). The RRI analysis (at policy level) applies DI through four elements:

Evolution of dominant narratives: questioning existing narratives and creating new counter-narratives;
Maturation process: government learning, lesson drawing, social learning;
Systemic consolidation: the implementation of new instruments or the operationalization of new policy guidelines of a horizontal nature as cross-cutting issues;
Vertical multilevel alignment: policy transfer and diffusion.

An empirical illustration follows an explanation of these elements, based on experience within the NewHoRRIzon project and the MoRRI study. The authors find that the lack of experimental embedding of RRI into funding practices within the EU has led to fragility, but that British, Norwegian, and Dutch approaches provide examples to learn from, as (unlike the EU) they all implimented experimental steps, and all achieved some systemic embedding. The authors conclude that the problem does not lie with the RRI concept itself, but in the way it has been implemented.

Chapter 4: Democratic Experimentation with Responsibility: A Pragmatist Approach to Responsible Research and Innovation
Joshua B. Cohen and Robert Gianni

These authors pose the following research question: what is, from a pragmatist perspective, a proper way to conceptualize and understand collective democratic experimentation with RRI in social labs?

Following John Dewey's understanding of democracy as an ethical way of life, his attention to the contextual nature of responsibility and focus on publics and social inquiry, the authors aim to further conceptualize and operationalize the collective democratic experimentation agenda for RRI through a multi-step process: conduct social inquiry, transform the situation into a problem statement, formulate ideas and hypotheses about possible solutions to the problem, reason through these solutions, and finally test the hypothesis in real life and collectively evaluate the consequences of the actions. They connect these ideas not only to recent calls for experimentation with social lab methodologies within RRI, but also to Open Science, Citizen Science, Open Innovation and co-creation paradigms, in order to foster the inclusion of a diversity of publics and aid the democratization of science and innovation.

Chapter 5: Cultural Particularities and Its Role in the "Innovation Divide": A Closer Look at the Origins of "Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation"
Raúl Tabarés and Antonia Bierwirth

Chapter 5 addresses the problem of the 'innovation divide' found in the EU, with particular focus on countries that became members after 2004. The authors investigate a series of initiatives aimed at 'Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation', pointing to several weaknesses in approaches taken that are primarily related to cultural differences and the mistaken but taken for granted idea that these countries can be seen and addressed as being uniform.

The chapter is divided into clear and easy to follow sections: an historic overview of the inception and development of the Widening Work Program; current policy transition in research and innovation towards the "Grand Challenges"; general problems that confront the Widening Work Program; and the role of cultural particularities in this transition. The final section also makes recommendations aimed at closing the gap.

Chapter 6: Joining Forces - Staying Unique: Adapting RRI to Different Research and Innovation Funding Agency Contexts
Ulrich Schoisswohl, Ulrike Wunderle, Luboš Studený, Lieke Michiels van Kessenich, and Pia Weinlinger

Part 1 of the book concludes with Chapter 6, in which the authors shine a spotlight on national funding and innovation agencies in order to address the question of how RRI can best develop its potential to establish commitment and cooperation within the various research and innovation actors, thus contributing to supporting responsibility in research and innovation.

Thanks to their experience they are able to analyze the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), the Austrian Promotion Agency (FFG) and the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TA CR) from an insider perspective, considering how actions reflect RRI approaches (de facto RRI) and analyzing possible gains from introducing RRI to agency practitioners.
This leads to 4 levels of action recommendations: raise understanding of why RRI is relevant and how it can contribute to improve research and innovation performance; improve communication about RRI towards and within the agencies; the integration of national agencies in participatory RRI spaces; and the development of participatory negotiation spaces.

Part 2 Public Engagement for Responsible Research & Innovation

Chapter 7: Public Engagement in the Tradition of Participatory Approaches - An Approximation
Philine Warnke, Tanja Bratan, and Ulrike Wunderle

Based on case studies, the authors expand the body of literature on public participation in RRI, addressing the potential of participatory design, user-led innovation, participatory research and systemic R & I policy instruments. After a thorough review of these participatory traditions, the authors introduce Social Lab case studies in the fields of healthcare and environment, all of which took place in the context of the NewHoRRIzon project on "Excellence in Science and Innovation".

The authors present several specific challenges and opportunities, going on to discuss those co-creation and participation initiatives highlighted by participants as being particularly interesting for reaching specific societal impacts, before summarizing the main objectives and knowledge gaps identified in the Social Lab discussions on participation.

Chapter 8: Social Labs in Public Engagement Processes for RRI
Ilse Marschalek, Lisa M. Seebacher, Elisabeth Unterfrauner, Katharina Handler, and Margit Hofer

This chapter raises the question of how the Social Lab approach is able to respond to frequent challenges of Public Engagement processes, beginning with a theoretical overview that ends with a list of requirements for public engagement processes in order to address the challenges raised: Targeted selection and invitation of participants including reluctance to participate; clear roles for participants; management of expectations; addressing of Group dynamics; visible effects and measurable impact; outlines and criteria for engagement process.

A description of how social labs can operationalize public engagement for RRI follows, with a short methodology section followed by a comprehensive set of results in the (very honest) form of experiences from the social lab processes, followed by a wide-ranging discussion and set of conclusions.

Chapter 9: Exploring the Ambivalent Nature of Diversity in Social Experimental Settings: First Insights from Social Labs Established to Promote Responsible Research and Innovation
Merve Yorulmaz and Susanne Bührer

The authors explain that the effect of diversity in groups participating in RRI processes has not been well studied, but that there is evidence that balanced diversity within groups is beneficial, while unbalanced diversity (too little or too much) is not. An analysis is carried out of social labs to investigate whether and how diversity plays a role in achieving social change and (responsible) innovation.

They describe the diversity of the NewHoRRIzon social labs, their diversity dynamics, the lab process and the manifold outputs manifested in the pilot actions. Complimenting this with additional information from workshop reports, the authors find that the degree of diversity affects the type of output produced in social labs with regard to innovativeness, originality and novelty. Groups with higher levels of gender, stakeholder and geographic diversity who cooperate under more 'challenging' conditions characterized by more friction, divergence but also creativity, were more likely to produce tangible and practical results. Less diverse groups primarily achieved results in terms of awareness-raising.

Chapter 10: Engaging Stakeholders by Implementing RRI in the Social Lab Process - A Single Case Study

Elisabeth Frankus and Helmut Hönigmayer

The authors outline the Social Lab approach and describe the single case study method, before introducing the case study of EURATOM. They analyze and discusses the procedure, challenges and lessons learnt of this case study in the context of four characteristics in responsible innovation: Transparency, Interaction, Responsiveness and Co-responsibility.
They present their experiences through six analytical features: Social Labs offer a space for experimentation, are not closed off from the outside world, require active participation of a wide range of societal stakeholders that are of relevance, are multi-and interdisciplinary involving a wide range of expertise and backgrounds, support solutions and prototypes on a systematic level and have an iterative, agile approach.

Narration of the experience of participating in workshops leads to analysis and reflection of 4 categories: transparency, interaction, responsiveness and co-responsibility, before a short conclusion wraps the experience up (warts and all).

Part III Governance of Responsible Research & Innovation

Chapter 11: Implementing Responsible Research and Innovation: From New Public Management to New Public Governance
Anne Loeber, Michael J. Bernstein, and Mika Nieminen

This chapter identifies the European Commission's approach to implementing RRI as a case of New Public Management, contrasting this with efforts at 'bottom-up' RRI implementation and raising the question 'how was RRI put into practice in the ERA and what lessons can be drawn about policy implementation in such complex governance settings?'
The authors narrate their experiences of being responsible for social labs, offering a clear overview of NewHoRRIzon goals, practices and realities and lessons drawn from the experience.

Chapter 12: Stakeholders in Research and Innovation: Towards Responsible Governance
Robert Braun and Johannes Starkbaum

These authors focus on the question of responsible stakeholder inclusion though the analysis of two social lab case studies within the NewHoRRIzon and RiConfgure projects. They describe their experiences of working with the Joint Research Center of the European Commission and the Community Creates Mobility initiative of the Austrian Railways while investigating how stakeholder theory may be combined with RRI, RI and Quadruple Helix approaches and applied to research and innovation.

They conclude that moral, epistemic and power diversity and balance are key to a stakeholder theory of RRI, but that more research is required due to considerable difficulties encountered during this research process.

Chapter 13: Managing the Responsibilities of Doing Good and Avoiding Harm in Sustainability-Orientated Innovations: Example from Agri-Tech Start-Ups in the Netherlands

Thomas B. Long and Vincent Blok

This, the final full chapter, highlights difficulties in transferring RI practices to industry through case studies focusing on the development of smart farming sustainability orientated innovations (SOIs), such as drones, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and gene editing technologies. The research involves the combination of SOI and RI, exploring how start-up firms manage the dual responsibilities to do good and avoid harm, an approach carried out in 3 phases: Exploratory Interviews, the development and Implementation of Ways to Manage Responsibilities and Follow-Up Interviews.

The results and discussion section describe the findings and offer a host of practices and suggestions for how this line of research could continue.

Chapter 14: Conclusion: Implementation of Responsible Research and Innovation by Social Labs. Lessons from the Micro-, Meso- and Macro Perspective
Erich Griessler and Vincent Blok

The conclusion identifies the key lessons from the NewHoRRIzon project about RRI implementation in general and via Social Labs in particular.

The authors offer an almost editorial style overview of the book chapters, describing each in terms of its position within three levels: the micro-level of Social Labs, the meso level of organisations, and the macro-level of national and European research and innovation systems and policy making. The overviews are clear, as are the calls for future research to follow this and similar research approaches, and more importantly the compelling call for continued funding on a national and international level to further the development and practices of RRI principles.

This is a comprehensive body of work, and as an open access publication is free to download here [3].



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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://philarchive.org/rec/BLOPRR-2
  3. 3] https://philarchive.org/rec/BLOPRR-2
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Putting Responsible Research and Innovation into Practice. A Multi-stakeholder Approach
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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