Responsible Research and Innovation training

Europe of Knowledge |

Inga Ulnicane

How to align research and innovation with values, needs and expectations of society? During the past ten years, researchers, policy-makers and funders in Europe have developed and supported the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) approach to address societal aspects of research and innovation early on. This approach aims to go beyond risk management and have a broader focus on the purpose of research and innovation. It involves a range of anticipation, reflection, engagement, and action mechanisms to involve society and foster interdisciplinary collaborations to shape research and innovation towards socially beneficial goals. Importantly, in the RRI approach responsibility does not just refer to responsible conduct of individual researchers but aims to facilitate responsible processes and governance arrangements across the whole research and innovation system.

To build such a system, it is important to provide relevant training opportunities for researchers and stakeholders. Some of the major research funders such as the EU Framework programme and UK research councils have supported the development and delivery of RRI training activities, which play a crucial role in raising awareness and developing culture that puts societal aspects at the core of research and innovation. Two recent collaborative publications in the Journal of Responsible Technology share a number of good practices of RRI training.

 

RRI capacity development in a large-scale EU research project

Researchers in the EU-funded Human Brain Project (HBP) have developed a dedicated RRI capacity development programme (Ogoh et al 2023). The HBP (2013-2023) was one of the largest international collaborations ever that brought together around 500 researchers from over 100 universities and research centres from some 20 countries. Over ten years, the project received approximately half a billion Euros from the EU Framework Programmes. An integrated RRI team of social scientists and humanities researchers in the HBP worked alongside neuroscientists, computer scientists and engineers.

Continuous collaboration in this case allowed the development of the RRI capacity development programme in close consultation with researchers and stakeholders. The programme included 17 modules on a range of topics such as data governance, dual use, and diversity. Moreover, it developed online training resources, lectures, and videos.

Many participants of online and in-person training were eager to learn about and reflect on societal aspects of their work. Often, they told us that this much needed training has been missing during their university education, which typically had covered ethical aspects rather narrowly in terms of ethics approvals. However, assessing the impact of RRI training is far from straightforward. Counting training sessions and participants as well as reading evaluation forms gives some indication of interest and satisfaction. At the same time, it is much more challenging to assess some of the core aspects of RRI such as reflexivity, changing culture and increased sensitivity towards societal expectations.

 

RRI and doctoral training

In the UK, RRI training is integrated in the centres for doctoral training. A recent editorial (Stahl et al 2023) presents a variety of examples of how RRI training is organized and assessed in the context of these centres. This collaborative publication provides rich information and reflection on aims, content, and challenges of teaching RRI. It addresses questions such as: What kind of skills, attitudes and competencies do researchers need in the context of RRI? Should they be required to have a relatively detailed understanding of methodologies of foresight or public engagement? Or should they rather be willing and able to continuously reflect on and address social and ethical aspects of their own research?

The editorial demonstrates a broad range of approaches and methods to RRI training and assessment across diverse disciplines and universities. While having RRI as part of doctoral training is an important step towards its institutionalization, it is rather limited on its own. To be impactful, it needs to be part of a broader transformation of the research and innovation system including policy, reward system and funding.

 

References:

Ogoh, G., Akintoye, S., Eke, D., Farisco, M., Fernow, J., Grasenick, K., Guerrero, M., Rosemann, A., Salles, A. & Ulnicane, I. (2023). Developing capabilities for responsible research and innovation (RRI). Journal of Responsible Technology15, 100065. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrt.2023.100065

Stahl, B. C., Aicardi, C., Brooks, L., Craigon, P. J., Cunden, M., Burton, S. D., De Heaver, M., De Saille, S., Dolby, S., Dowthwaite, L., Eke, D., Hughes, S., Keene, P., Kuh, V., Portillo, V., Shanley, D., Smallman, M., Smith, M., Stilgoe, J., Ulnicane, I., Wagner, C., & Webb, H. (2023). Assessing responsible innovation training. Journal of Responsible Technology, 16, 100063. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrt.2023.100063