Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI): Coming to Grips with a Contentious Concept
Date: 30 March - 1 April 2017
Convenors: Martin Carrier (Bielefeld, GER), Rolf König (Bielefeld, GER), Peter Weingart (Bielefeld, GER)
The goal of the conference was to explore the notion of
responsible research and innovation (RRI) in an interdisciplinary and international setting. The concept of RRI has come to the fore in the past decades and can be viewed as a response to the insight that science is a powerful instrument that can bring about valuable and damaging outcome. The conference is embedded in a project on RRI that is part of the research endeavor NUCLEUS, directed by Alexander Gerber in the framework of Horizon 2020. This Bielefeld wing of this large-scale European project is pursued by Martin Carrier and Rolf König and aims to identify notions of RRI in the scientific community and among higher administrative officers of universities. On this basis, a notion of RRI is supposed to be developed that is coherent and can be put into practice. The conference also implemented a research cooperation with RRI-scholars in South Africa. This cooperation is established through Peter Weingart who holds the chair of science communication at Stellenbosch University.
Three topical areas were chiefly addressed.
Science for society explores how to identify, choose, and implement socially beneficial research topics.
Science with society investigates frameworks of lay participation regarding the selection of research fields.
Science communication studies ways of establishing a dialog between science and society.
Science for society is supposed to suggest that the research agenda be chosen on social grounds such as practical urgency or desirability. The expected outcome of a research undertaking should be beneficial to society. This outcome-oriented understanding of RRI presupposes a normative framework that serves to identify such socially responsible research objectives. René von Schomberg proposed to draw upon fundamental treaties of the European Union for this purpose. Some talks in the conference inquired into the feasibility of large-scale transdisciplinary research endeavors of this sort. Other speakers pointed out concrete examples of successful research projects
on behalf of the people.
science with society emphasizes the goal of implicating stakeholders and the public at large in the scientific discourse. This process-oriented branch of RRI is supposed to include citizens in designing and pursuing research projects and to thereby enhance the responsiveness of science to social needs and desires. It complements the outcome-oriented branch of RRI outlined before. Lay people can be involved in defining the common good and in assessing the responsible character of research, and they can also actively participate in the research. Relevant talks addressed suitable participatory schemes and explored conceptual frameworks for assessing the benefit and harm done by some research and innovation endeavor. Two case studies of participatory research were presented, the first concerned psychiatric classification and the second climate change research in Bangladesh.
Demands for participation are often combined with the requirement to enhance the science-and-technology literacy among the public. Various talks explored how this goal can be achieved. This conference section was devoted, in particular, to science communication efforts in South Africa. These efforts concerned the question how a dialog between research scientists and a larger audience can be established.
Debating RRI productively demands a multidisciplinary approach which combines accounts from sociology, economy, and philosophy of science. Accounts from these fields jointly illuminated the interaction among social forces, economic constraints, and epistemic characteristics in intensifying RRI. The conference scheme strongly emphasized practical options for and obstacles to implementing RRI.