Implementing Responsible Research and Innovation

Responsible Research and Innovation matrix

Responsible Research and Innovation features both a product and process dimension:
Product dimension:
Products be evaluated and designed with a view to their normative anchor points: high level of protection to the environment and human health, sustainability, and societal desirability.
Process dimension
The challenge here is to arrive at a more responsive, adaptive and integrated management of the innovation process. A multidisciplinary approach with the involvement of stakeholders and other interested parties should lead to an inclusive innovation process whereby technical innovators become responsive to societal needs and societal actors become co-responsible for the innovation process by a constructive input in terms of defining societal desirable products. The product and process dimension are naturally interrelated. Implementation is enabled by five mechanisms: technology assessment and foresight, application of the precautionary principle, normative /ethical principles to design technology, innovation governance and stakeholder involvement and public engagement. The matrix provides examples of lead questions to be answered by the stakeholder either from a product or process perspective in order to fully implement an RRI scheme (the lead questions with the same colour, represent the alternative emphasis on either the product or process dimension).

The paper outlining this approach can be freely retrieved at:
A vision of responsible research and innovation

15 Responses to Implementing Responsible Research and Innovation

  1. Pingback: Mid-September 2012: News from IFIP, IFIP WG9.2 and members/friends – WG9.2 Social Accountability and Computing

  2. First of all, I would like to highlight the initiative of the European Commission to work on the concept of RRI and integrate it into some of its most significant actions. I also want to thank this website (and of course, René Von Schomberg, the author of the document “A vision of responsible innovation”) its bid for comments and opinions.

    On the formal aspects of the document:

    In my opinion, the overall document is quite comprehensive, concise and easy to understand. You don’t need to have specific training to understand its contents. Outlining sections of the concepts and basic ideas helps to move forward on the ideas discussed. The many examples given are also very useful to relate the concepts and discussions with news and aspects of everyday life.

    The large understandability of the general document contrasts, however, with the complexity of the matrix. Indeed, a matrix should add value to the document, be schematic and self-explanatory. However, in this case is complicated (at least for me). It has much text, repeated concepts, the color coding is not too clear, and so on. To help readers to understand the utility of this matrix I would suggest include an explanatory title. This title could, for example , summarize the idea explained in the text : “the matrix describes examples of lead questions to be answered by the stakeholder either from a product or process perspective in order to fully implement an RRI scheme (the lead questions with the same colour, represent the alternative emphasis on either the product or process dimension)”.

    On its contents:

    The definition proposed for RRI in this paper seems very attractive. Particularly, I think is very successful the emphasis on the idea that “societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other”. It is very interesting to remember the responsibility of everyone in this concept as it often tends to assume that the responsibility is just an issue of the scientists, industry and politicians, and we forget the role of society as main users of technologies etc. The concept RRI as shown in this definition should be interpreted more as an ideal – a goal toward which our efforts should be directed – than as something that could be reached at 100%. In this sense, this definition reminds the one made by the World Health Organization on the concept of health as a state of complete physical, mental and social welfare. Both definitions are in a certain sense utopian but undoubtedly mark a path, a direction to follow.

    How to implement the RRI? The matrix summarizes questions (questions to the different stakeholders), but not thoroughly explains where and how to ask these questions, what are the best scenarios, best practices, etc. How to ensure that the voices emerging from discussions and surveys will actually be heard by the other actors involved? I am concerned in particular about the voice of society, since the idea of “public engagement in science” has been interpreted in many different ways in recent decades. I suggest a deep reflection on methodologies and formats of RRI, as well as evaluation an assessment of them.


    • Thanks so much Gema for your thoughts. I admit that my matrix is in need of some improvement, trying to capture as many as aspects as possibility has led to some complexity…. I am going to work on it.
      I agree with what you call an ‘utopian’ component of the definition. I would say it is a sort of ‘regulative idea’, e.g you aim to achieve it but practical realities will refrain you from getting there…. People have always the freedom to ‘refrain’ from taking responsibility, whereby any legal obligations would contradict voluntary commitment..We have to live with this!
      The issue of public involvement you raise keeps on puzzling me as well: how much public engagement do we need? when is a lack of public engagement an issue for policy? etc


  3. It is good to see and to know that Commission officers like you have the time, the capacity and the expertise to reason out key concepts of the Commission’s new research policy in such a depth. Your paper »A vision of Responsible Research and Innovation« could easily be a contribution to a debate with the »general public«, which the Commission likes so much to mention since a couple of years. I would like to see more of this in the public domain.

    Economisation versus literacy

    Although science, research and innovation define the features of the European societies, politicians increasingly turn away from it, hiding behind ever more advisory boards of stakeholders from industry and science organisations in order to avoid decisions based on their own insights. In the current run for the federal elections in Germany, science, research, innovation or technology do not play a role at all. A shame for a country with such an economic and technological weight in Europe. I fear that will make it hard for the officers in the Commission to propose and to get through new ways of research and innovation policies and thinkings.

    The economisation of education, science and research, based on the concept of one of the biggest European companies and its foundation, currently contradicts the desperate need for educated, literate and engaged citizens in order to help shaping research and innovation according to the needs and the further prosperity of European societies.

    The normative dimension

    In your article you rolled out the history of the precautionary principle in early inventions and its links to the ownerships. Then you come to the logical conclusion for modern innovation precesses, that »we lack a particular responsibility for what could count for as a positive impact of the technology« and that »the normative dimension of what is count as an ›improvement‹ is decided by market mechanisms«.

    One of your concrete examples of normative problems intrinsic to modern innovations is that ».. the Kinect interactive games made for home computers by Microsoft have been recently used by surgeons to carry out delicate keyhole surgery.«

    This could have been also the other way round: Algorithms developed by surgeons could be suitable for games. Only because Microsoft’s algorithm was already available, the surgeons decided to use it in order to go the short path. But this involves royalties for Microsoft which might be quite expensive in the long run, probably more expensive than developing a totally new algorithm. In addition, the system is now dependent on one of the most powerful companies which can retract the licence at any time.

    Your other concrete example is Eric Cantor’s outdated web site »You cut« which brings you to the question: »would people have complained about … support to develop video gaming technology, if they could have known the potential of other contexts of use, such as surgery?«

    As I wrote above, in a longer time frame it would not have made any difference if the surgeons took the ready-made algorithm from Microsoft or if they developed a similar one by themselves. So cutting funding of a gaming technology would not have any effect for the further development of keyhole surgery. It depends on the time frame you take into consideration.

    Besides: such a populistic attempt like the »YouCut« action of Eric Cantor is only possible in unaware, illiterate societies. Despite my critics of the fate of literacy in Europe, the Europeans are far better off with regard to general scientific and technological knowledge than the US public. This is due to the already full fledged economisation of education and the different media culture in the US which gives anti-science voices the same platform as true science.

    Right outcomes and impacts, right direction

    In the next chapters you try to illuminate the two questions: »Can we define the right outcomes and impacts of research and innovation?« and »Can we subsequently be successful in directing innovation towards these outcomes if we would agree upon them?«

    In general I can agree with your line of thoughts. But I have some concerns.

    You wrote: »We can’t make an appeal to concepts of the good life, but we can make an appeal to the normative targets which we can find in the Treaty on the European Union. These normative targets have been democratically agreed …«

    That’s a point: the normative targets, either stated by personalities or quoted from the Treaty on the European Union, seem to be nice at first sight. But at a closer look it becomes clear that everything is based on economy and economic growth – and power, which only marginally takes the powerless into consideration. That is something that even educated and engaged citizens increasingly question, including the democratic agreement.

    Although the Commission has made strong efforts to promote these values in media statements, booklets and on the internet, it sometimes turned out that even some Commission officers have no idea how to comply with them. The utmost disgraceful Commission video »Science, it’s a girls thing« may stand as an example.

    On the European level it is questionable if these values, on which virtually all governments agreed, will be echoed nationally taking into consideration the quite conservative values of some governments and the economic constraints of crisis hidden countries which have lead to social and intellectual disturbances.

    You quoted the flagship »Innovation Union« with its goal »developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation«. With that, everything is said: »developing an economy«, but not a society. And: »based on knowledge«, but not on literacy. As pointed out above, literacy is the key to RRI. But just that is unfortunately not the business of DG Research, but of DG Education and its Literacy programme.

    As long as knowledge, and the ownership of it, still is used to strive for economic and political power, it is a nice vision to »ensure product improvement for the benefit of all,« as you wrote. But as long as the rules of the economic and political games are not changed, I do not see any progress or even success.

    However, you are totally right when you write: »Setting of research priorities and their anticipated impacts needs to be subject to a societal review.«

    But under the current economic system this is a grant which can be retracted at any time by powerful industry stakeholders, governments or even the Commission. It will only work when it is beneficial for the industrial shareholders (not stakeholders!), when they see that »Technology Assessment and Technology Foresight can reduce the human cost of trial and error and take advantage of a societal learning process of stakeholders and technical innovators«, as you wrote.

    Grand Challenges and irresponsible innovation

    Also in the following chapters: nicely said, but I am missing the time and the global dimensions. You see Europe and its research and innovation activities too much as free floating bubble.

    You seem to be convinced that it is possible to repair the negative effects of past technological advances with ever new innovative solutions.

    It looks like the inventions and innovation during the past 150 years brought mankind into the situation that it today faces a serious climate change and the rapid depletion of limited resources. Now the rich countries try to cope with climate change and – with minor engagement – with resource depletion with even more innovations. They believe that they can overcome these threats somehow. But that is just a nearly religious believe, only based on hope, not on facts, foresight, insight or valid models.

    Resource efficiency is believed to be a tool to cope with climate change. But all innovations targeting resource efficient solutions do not think of totally avoiding the use of limited resources. If your sentence: »Setting of research priorities and their anticipated impacts needs to be subject to a societal review« is taken seriously, this could mean to question a whole innovation product or process, even to abandon it totally despite its market success.

    In the Lund declaration, global warming is just one policy theme among others. But if mankind does not manage to cope with just that, the chances to survive in prosperity are not good. Thats also the main outcome of the recently leaked IPCC report AR5 to be published in October Then everything else, all other defined »Great Challenges« loose their importance. It will then be pure survival, eventually a new start for human evolution (if we think in time frames of 100 and 1000 years, which we should).

    Jevons’ paradox

    In the current EU concept of sustainable innovation the Jevons paradox is largely neglected. Taking this into consideration, resource efficient innovations mean an increasingly stronger pressure on limited resources – mainly rare earth metal ore. For example the focus of Europe on renewable energy sources and narrowing everything on electricity, means that the price is paid by the workers in the ore mines of Africa and Asia who work under inhuman conditions. How to deal with them when they cannot take part in research and innovation debates in Europe? The European research and innovation policy should also be responsible for them.

    Also enormous areas on continents where mining is done will be uninhabitable at least for many decades. Recycling is said to be the innovative answer. But currently we have no idea how to efficiently recycle for example solar cells. Recycling of complex composites is currently not marketable according your statement: »… what counts as an ›improvement‹ is decided by market mechanisms.« But doesn’t Europe have a responsibility for the global effects of its research and innovation policy? And what about the mine workers’ inhumane, but life supporting jobs when everything is recycled in Europe?

    This is currently not enough reflected.

    Is true RRI possible?

    When you outline the framework for Responsible Research and Innovation you implicitly refer back to your statement in the beginning of your article, which says: »Modern technological innovation therefore receives its specific form by technology which has been democratised in its use and privatised in its production. Competition on the market should ensure product improvement for the benefit of all, rather than a demonstration of the capabilities of a single actor. … Technology from now on can be discussed in terms of benefits and risks for all citizens. Competition on the market is fostered by an openness and access to knowledge.«

    This is be too good to become true. I guess it is unfortunately quite utopic to wait for »Openness and access to knowledge«. Whenever an innovation is done inside or when it enters the gates of a company all transparency is gone. Knowledge is power. And I do not see that the industry will waive this privilege. It starts already when a company is involved in a Commission funded research project. Not even the participating researchers on the public payroll are willing to speak out until a patent is achieved. This is even valid when public authorities are involved, which should be a role model for transparency.

    The INDECT project for example did and will never allow for public involvements or public debates. There is absolutely no transparency, although this project probably will end up like the body scanners you mentioned in your article – wasted money. There are already a number of anti-INDECT pages, e.g.. Of course are they aggressively out for clashes. But what would one await if no information is shared, no possibility to participate is offered, neither from the European Commission nor from the INDECT organiser?

    Nevertheless I highly welcome your statement: »Early societal intervention in the Research and Innovation process can help avoid technologies failing to embed in society and/or help that their positive and negative impacts are better governed and exploited at a much earlier stage.«

    Even more: »One can imagine further initiatives to have citizens shape calls for research proposals.«

    That is the best statement of all!

    You are again totally right when you write: »Setting of research priorities and their anticipated impacts needs to be subject to a societal review.«

    But under the current economic system this is a grant which can be retracted at any time by powerful industry stakeholders, governments or even the Commission. It will only work when it is beneficial for the industrial shareholders (not stakeholders!), when they see that »Technology Assessment and Technology Foresight can reduce the human cost of trial and error and take advantage of a societal learning process of stakeholders and technical innovators«, as you wrote. Only, and only, in this framework the BASF dialogue attempts have to been: Turning consumers to prosumers at no cost.

    Currently even the new rationales are still top down and supply driven. The time is more that ripe to make research policies really democratic and provide a bottom up, demand driven channel. There are many issues around in European societies of which neither politicians nor scientists are aware. These issues and problems need to be tackled. Even more: a huge expertise and knowledge can be found in society which can be used for the benefit of all. But one mistake should not be made: taking it for granted that citizens offer their time, experience and knowledge for free to help framing research. There needs to be a mechanism to pay them. And the outcome of such research has to be in the public domain.

    EC’s past attempts

    However, I followed the developments in the Commission’s philosophy of bringing science and society closer together since about 20 year when it tried to do first steps into public involvement provoked by the PUSH (Public Understanding of Science and Humanities) and PUST (Public Understanding of Science and Technology) movements, which overall did not reach their goals, also due to missing backing from the big scientific organisations, governments and the Commission. After first experiments at the end of FP5, the »Science and Society« programme was introduced in FP6, followed by »Science in Society« in the outgoing FP7, which you mention in your article.

    These were important, although very slow steps. They were not so much meant to share information, but resulted basically in research and innovation PR. Only in the last five years or so there have been attempts in the calls for proposals to include the general public, the citizens, in dialogue processes. Because the project proposers, usually scientists and engineers, were not used to communicate with the public on equal levels, these attempts broadly failed. Also courses for young scientists in order to prepare them to communicate with the media and the public were not successful, because the target audience experienced them as communicators only trying to ›sell‹ their research.

    However, there were some research projects which had elaborated work packages for dissemination of results in their proposals and performed dialogues with citizens about their research. But these events came too late. How could the citizens influence the research when the research project already was evaluated and funded? The researchers had to stick to the project work packages and mile stones whatever the input of the citizens were. These events thus only tried to gain acceptance from the citizens, basically with PR tricks and more or less strong persuasion. Citizens, instrumentalised as alibi for »democratic dialogues«.


    Out of frustration about the increasingly burgeoning one-sided, acceptance-gaining PR-events with senior researchers, research administrators and research politicians called »dialogues« we started the German online science debate in 2009, still without any financial support and backing from authorities and politicians, but with the favour of researchers and some research organisations. Soon followed real, independent debates organised by science journalists as moderators between the researchers and the public. In 2010 I proposed such independent science debates on the European level beginning with ESOF2010 in Turin with the presentation »Democratisation of Science – The Debate, of which at least EuroScience became aware of in its article »The German Science Debate – Innovation with Democratic Participation«. In the meantime the debate has arrived at the global level on the World Congress of Science Journalists 2013 in Helsinki with »Debate-Driven Journalism: Science Debates as Tool and Opportunity for Science Journalists«.

    Since 2009 a number or similar fora of concerned citizens came up all over Europe. Currently no network structure can be seen. Networking is difficult for them, because they usually work without external funding. They are maintained in the spare time of engaged people. Because of the financial and timely constraints their influence is limited, but they may make this disadvantage good as they increase in numbers (I would like to map them, if somebody pays).

    However, such activities are broadly ignored by governments, authorities and the big research organisations, including the Commission. These bodies are only aware of their own, more PR-driven activities, or of those which are part of PR communications, like those of NGOs or the BASF dialogue forum, which you mention in your article. But citizen engagement broadly slip through their attention.


    It is very promising for the future of European research when you stress: »On-going public debate and monitoring of public opinion is needed for the legitimacy of research funding and particular scientific and technological advances.« Yes! And the debate already rolling!

    All your good ideas and vision in your »Outlook« chapter are not new. But they are a very good summary based on solid thoughts and strong arguments of what is going on since a couple of years in the educated, engaged »general public«.

    Most of your visions have been challenged by CSOs and concerned citizens since a while, even from science journalists like me. However, it is a nearly revolutionary progress that you, as a Commission officer, put it together in such a thoughtful and knowledgable way. It is the encouraging evidence that politics sooner or later cannot avoid to take up societal changes.


    The RRI concept you introduced results in the matrix at the end of your article. Taking all your ideas and lines of thoughts into consideration, I wonder why you put public engagement in the end and to the bottom? Didn’t you consider that it could be even part of shaping calls for research proposals?

    That aside, there are already answers to the questions in column 5 and the bottom row:

    — How to engage the public? Just go out and do it.

    — Which technologies for which desirable goals? Just ask the public.

    — How can innovations geared towards social desirable objectives? Again: Just ask the public.

    — Defining/choice of methodology for public engagement: There is not the one methodology for all and everything. Ask those who are engaged in public debates and engagement, but be careful when talking to professionals with a PR background.

    — Setting of social desirability of RRI outcome: Let the public, CSOs or groups of citizens debate. But be not surprised if there is no outcome. In that case the research is probably not desired.

    — Stakeholder roles in achieving social desirable outcomes: That is very important. But be aware that industry stakeholders have an enormous power in stakeholder meetings and debates, because they have money to pay their employees to participate, they have the money to train them for debates, they have the money to produce glossy brochures, they have money and time to prepare themselves a lot better than citizens can do it. The same for scientists, who are also paid for the participation in such events and are paid to become optimally prepared. The weakest link are the citizens who are often not in the financial and timely position to perform their own information research and adequate preparation. Too often they are dependent of usually one sided information provided by the researchers and the industry stakeholders.

    Hanns-J. Neubert [Nt]


    • Thanks so much ‘Hajo’. I have to distinguish between the comments you make on Commission policies and for which I argue in my own work. In my response I will concentrate on the latter.
      I am little bit less pessimistic than you. Indeed, research and innovation have always been primarily justified in macro-economic terms and your complaints associated with this, was precisely the point of departure of my argument: if many EU policies are driven my normative principles anchored in the EU treaties, why this should and can not then, also apply to Research and Innovation policy? My answer to this is, that we can. Whether innovations will eventually help to ‘solve’ grand challenges remains, if we align Research and Innovation policies with major EU-treaty anchor-points, to be seen. Even, an ideal scheme of responsible innovation can ultimately fail. But we can not address the grand challenges without innovation: the question is how to shape these innovations without blind hope in any kind of technological optimism. For me, it is clear that we should not leave the shaping of innovation completely over to global market-mechanisms.
      I am not after any kind of PR exercise or technology-acceptence strategy: on the contrary. Public engagement and public deliberation are part and parcel of what I propose and my matrix does not, as you seem to suggest, a hierarchy in the five essential dimensions of RRI- no dimension is priortorized over the other- they are all mutually related anyway, hence a matrix: but your comments and those of others made clear to me, that I have to improve on the presentation of this matrix- I am struggling….
      Your question, whether I would not “consider that it could be even part of shaping calls for research proposals? The answer is: yes, I do consider it, and I think it is good idea. I am optimistic that under the new Framework Programme such type of calls could be created.


  4. Pingback: Responsible Innovation – some more interesting links | scipolicyeu

  5. Pingback: Mid-September 2012: News from IFIP, IFIP WG9.2 and members/friends » IFIP Working Group 9.2

  6. Stephan Lingner says:

    Yes, I am wondering too, how this tension might be managed. But it has to be dealt with, finally w.r.t. the objective that “RI … (should) become responsible.” May be that these conflicts might sometimes diminish because some potentially critical issues might prove not to be so relevant in EVERY case. Otherwise I would guess “legitimisation by procedure” – which again needs to be specified. A tricky thing … May be we can discuss your interesting approach in Tübingen. I am looking forward, meeting you, St.


  7. You rightly point out to a tension which always will exist between product authorisation requirements(including legals standards, and fundamental rights) and process driven demands which can either require more or less intervention in terms of policy, doubt wheather you can develop a methodology for that. If modern TA would also go into innovation processes and not only focus on a particular technology, then you might be right.


  8. Overall: the matrix seems to be very “busy”. Conflicts may occurr in the course of its application (e.g. compare the fields “Setting of … thresholds”, “How safe is safe enough?” and “Setting of acceptable standards”). An overarching methodology solving these conflicts may have to be developed …
    “Technology assessment” should better read “Risk assessment”: the implicit (restricted) risk-mode of TA is no more valid for many TA instituitions. Modern TA covers more or less all issues of the matrix.
    European Perspective: what is the status of International human rights, WHO-standards and possibly conflicting national constitutional laws within the matrix?


  9. I find this a useful framework because it raises a number of questions for reflection but is not prescriptive as to the answers. As a heuristic and thought-tool we might expect it to produce plural heterogeneous outcomes as it is applied to a variety of collective circumstances and contexts of science, technology, and innovation. The big questions to be asked down the line are: How was it received by various target audiences? And what difference did it make?


  10. I find this a useful framework. it provides a set of stimulating questions and ideas without being prescriptive about the answers. It is a useful heuristic out of which we might expect plural heterogeneous responses and implementation outcomes when the matrix is applied as a ‘thought tool’ to different circumstances and contexts, in a variety of collective arenas of science, technology, and innovation. The interesting questions to be asked a little further down the line are How was it received by various target audiences? And what difference did it make?


    • Indeed not meant to be, and should not be prescriptive. The different audiences, or better partipating stakeholders would possibly focus on particular elements of the matrix, the whole matrix should provide and lead ideally, to an integration of expert, public and interest driven stakeholders.


  11. Alexa Joyce says:

    I miss a dimension: not just “engage” the public but also “educate” the public. A real informed debate cannot happen if RRI is not part of education too, from children to adults…


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