SoScience is an organisation – and a tool – that helps others achieve RRI. SoScience believes science has a role to play in solving the greatest challenges of today and tomorrow. By creating partnerships with laboratories, engineering schools, social entrepreneurs and major companies, SoScience helps launch responsible research projects and catalyses the invention of innovative solutions for a more sustainable world for all.
The organisation works to 1) identify R&D ideas from communities aggregated around social entrepreneurs; 2) build academic research partnerships to align research with the needs of social entrepreneurs; 3) train current and future researchers and engineers on responsible innovation that focuses on solving issues rather than avoiding problems; and 4) launch responsible R&D programs with businesses, based on their own initiatives or the needs of social entrepreneurs.
The diversity of social entrepreneurs involved (a company in Burkina Faso, networks of refugees) is, in itself, a source of wide social diversity. Similarly, the needs are diverse enough to involve researchers from different disciplines. Examples include design improvements for clean ovens, a drone swimming study for ocean cleaning, micro-encapsulation of mosquitoes repellent to fight malaria and connected objects for monitoring autistic children.
The openness of the research is decided by the social entrepreneur(s) in question, not by SoScience. For example, the work of SoScience on marine drones is 100% open science, open hardware, open source, while other research might by protected by patents.
Each project is built upon expected social and/or environmental benefits. Projects are discussed with potential users before being launched so that all aspects can be identified and understood. Questions of possible impacts (positive or negative) thereby appear early in the project definition, and designs can be adjusted as necessary. For example, a clean drinking water project in Cambodia must find an alternative to chlorine because communities will not accept water tasting of chlorine.
The organisation encourages researchers to consider the needs of social entrepreneurs and their communities when designing new research projects and shows social entrepreneurs that research can be a powerful ally in helping to meet their needs. So far, changes to existing thought and behaviour have occurred at the level of the individual; it will take more time for this first circle of people to effect changes in their respective organisational structures.
During the past two years, the organisation has launched approximately 10 one-year academic research/social entrepreneur projects and trained 1.500 engineering school students. SoScience has also received recognition for its work from the social entrepreneur community and from social and solidarity economy actors.
Success in collaborations between research sectors and ‘the rest of the world’ and advocating RRI in big companies both require intermediation. The chances of real success are increased when people or organisations with expertise in working with social entrepreneurs and their communities and the research world get involved.