Definitions of RRI debated during EWI-focus on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)”event

On 6th of September 2016 the FoTRRIS project and its concept was presented in Brussels for a wide range of stakeholders (academia, business, public services and civil society organisations) during the EWI-focus 22 event “Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)” co-organised by the Flemish Department of Economy, Science and Innovation (EWI), the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts (KVAB) and the King Baudouin Foundation. More than 200 participants were involved in discussions about the role of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in society.

Several approaches of RRI were proposed to the audience. A presentation of FoTRRIS was given by the project coordinator, Dr. Anne Snick of VITO; this was followed by a break-out session co-chaired with Dr.-Ir Egbert Lox of Umicore, a company active in the Circular Economy. The session started by describing a problem this company is facing: how to engage citizens as crucial partners in recycling old mobile phones for the ‘urban mining’ of scarce materials ? The session proceeded with a brief presentation of the MISC methodology which FoTRRIS is testing. This methodology is based on the curve of sustainability, and consists in defining a goal for governance, engaging various stakeholders in a mapping of lock-ins and leverages in the social, technological as well as economic-monetary sphere. This allowed for a lively debate which was very constructive and gave participants new insights into systemic aspects of this problem. Various blockages keeping citizens from recycling their old cell phones were listed, and a number of possible solutions were scrutinized as possible leverages. Besides more conventional ones such as the instalment of (sufficiently high) deposit fees, more emergent alternatives came up as well,  e.g. a waste company that pays citizens in a local currency when they recycle. The audience came to understand that for RRI (as a response to big challenges), technological solutions alone are ineffective as long as the citizens are not engaged; and that the dominant valorisation system (bank money) does not motivate people to recycle (paying them for their trash would make recycling too expensive). Innovative monetary and social tools however can lead to social change (e.g. recycling habits…) and thus make the technological part possible. The main result of the discussion was that the participants acquired a (systemic) framework allowing them to analyse this ‘wicked’ problem and to detect (emergent) innovative solutions. The response of all participants about the FoTRRIS methodology was very positive.

 Two other European RRI projects were also presented.

RRI Tools: this project develops an online toolkit where policy makers, research community,  education community, business and industry as well as civil society organisations can find a wealth of resources to assist them in developing your understanding of, and capacity to, implement RRI.

EnRRICH: Enhancing Responsible  Research and Innovation through curricula in Higher Education. This project aims to enrich higher education curricula with community based research. It will improve the capacity of students and staff in higher education to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes required to support the embedding of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in curricula by responding to the research needs of society as expressed by civil society organisations (CSOs).

An overall conclusion of the day was that RRI is being defined in very diverging ways; according to the vice-president of the KVAB, some researchers only focus on one principle (e.g. ethics) and consider that if they do not fraud with their data, this already shows they do RRI. Research questions may be intriguing to most people in society – e.g. the quest for life on other planets – but it remains to be clarified how this research – even if it is conducted without fraud – will help society to address its big challenges. So for RRI to really stand out from classical research, further research is are needed to design a common RRI-approach for a better future. A good starting point might be: “Responsible innovations are innovations that are responsible both in their aims (finding solutions to the great societal challenges and contribute to quality of life for all) and in their means (respecting the six principles of RRI: gender, ethics, governance, education, citizen engagement and open access).”

Information about the event:

Author(s): Anne Snick – Jelena Mazaj
Organisation: VITO – CESIE
Date: September 10th 2016

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