The term responsible (research and) innovation has gained increasing EU policy relevance in the last two years, in particular within the European Commission’s Science in Society programme, in the context of the Horizon 2020 Strategy. We provide a brief historical overview of the concept, and identify three distinct features that are emerging from associated discourses. The first is an emphasis on the democratic governance of the purposes of research and innovation and their orientation towards the ‘right impacts’. The second is responsiveness, emphasising the integration and institutionalisation of established approaches of anticipation, reflection and deliberation in and around research and innovation, influencing the direction of these and associated policy. The third concerns the framing of responsibility itself in the context of research and innovation as collective activities with uncertain and unpredictable consequences. Finally, we reflect on possible motivations for responsible innovation itself.