Find out what RRI means,

why it is important and how to foster it

RRI in a nutshell
​Responsible Research and Innovation is:
  • Involving society in science and innovation ‘very upstream' in the processes of R&I to align its outcomes with the values of society.
  • A wide umbrella connecting different aspects of the relationship between R&I and society: public engagement, open access, gender equality, science education, ethics, and governance.
  • A cross-cutting issue in Horizon 2020, the EU Programme for Research and Innovation 2014-2020.
RRI. Towards an open science and innovation system that tackles societal challenges
Why RRI?

Science and technology are transformative forces that have granted humans the capacity to alter ecosystems, the Earth’s climate, and even the building blocks of matter and life itself. R&I have improved our world and our lives in many ways, and will most likely continue to do so.

However, parallel to the large positive impact on human welfare and wellbeing, science and technology sometimes create new risks and ethical dilemmas, fail in solving the problems they are meant to, and spur controversy.

Over the last decades many efforts have tried to reduce the distance between science and society, leading to a European-wide approach in Horizon 2020 called Responsible Research and Innovation. RRI seeks to bring issues related to research and innovation into the open, to anticipate their consequences, and to involve society in discussing how science and technology can help create the kind of world and society we want for generations to come.

Some usual concerns

Does RRI mean that current R&I is irresponsible? Not at all. Many R&I practices already pay attention to some aspects within the RRI concept. However, significant improvement is possible, especially in considering the holistic approach provided by RRI.

What about ‘basic’ or ‘fundamental’ research? RRI challenges basic researchers to build bridges to society too. Only then will we, as R&I community, manage to bring science into democracy, and democracy into science.

Get more insight from our experts
What is Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)?
Responsible Research and Innovation: Why? What is it? With Richard Owen
What you do when you do RRI?

RRI entails engaging all actors (from individual researchers and innovators to institutions and governments) through inclusive, participatory methodologies in all stages of R&I processes and in all levels of R&I governance (from agenda setting, to design, implementation, and evaluation).

This in turn will help R&I tackle societal challenges — like the seven Grand Challenges formulated by the EC — and align to values, needs and expectations of a wide public. This is not only ethically and societally worthwhile, but also produces better science, making research agendas more diverse and taking better account of real-world complexities.

Adopting RRI is meant to aim the following outcomes:

Engaged publics

Responsible actors

Responsible institutions

RRI leads to empowered, responsible actors across our R&I systems (researchers, policymakers, businesses and innovators, CSOs, educators). Structures and organisations should create opportunities for and provide support to actors to be responsible, ensuring that RRI becomes — and remains — a solid and continuous reality.

Ethically acceptable


Socially desirable

RRI practices strive for ethically acceptable, sustainable, and socially desirable outcomes. Solutions are found in opening up science through continuous, meaningful deliberation to incorporate societal voices in R&I, which leads to relevant applications of science.
Seven Grand Challenges
Our societies face several challenges, which the European Commission has formulated as the seven ‘Grand Challenges’ — one of the three main pillars of the Horizon 2020 Programme. In order to support European policy, the EC requires R&I endeavours to contribute to finding solutions for these Grand Challenges.
Process dimensions

To reach these outcomes, practicing a more responsible research and innovation requires that processes are: 

Diverse & inclusive: involve early a wide range of actors and publics in R&I practice, deliberation, and decision-making to yield more useful and higher quality knowledge. This strengths democracy and broadens sources of expertise, disciplines and perspectives.
Anticipative & reflective: envision impacts and reflect on the underlying assumptions, values, and purposes to better understand how R&I shapes the future. This yields to valuable insights and increase our capacity to act on what we know.
Open & transparent: communicate in a balanced, meaningful way methods, results, conclusions, and implications to enable public scrutiny and dialogue. This benefits the visibility and understanding of R&I.
Responsive & adaptive to change: be able to modify modes of thought and behaviour, overarching organizational structures, in response to changing circumstances, knowledge, and perspectives. This aligns action with the needs expressed by stakeholders and publics.
A normative framework for RRI: the six policy agendas

The European Commission has provided more concrete normative orientations in the form of six policy keys that RRI should further:

focuses on (1) research integrity: the prevention of unacceptable research and research practices; and (2) science and society: the ethical acceptability of scientific and technological developments.
Gender Equality
is about promoting gender balanced teams, ensuring gender balance in decision-making bodies, and considering always the gender dimension in R&I to improve the quality and social relevance of the results.
arrangements that lead to acceptable and desirable futures have to (1) be robust and adaptable to the unpredictable development of R&I (de facto governance); (2) be familiar enough to align with existing practices in R&I; (3) share responsibility and accountability among all actors; and (4) provide governance instruments to actually foster this shared responsibility.
Open Access
addresses issues of accessibility to and ownership of scientific information. Free and earlier access to scientific work might improve the quality of scientific research and facilitate fast innovation, constructive collaborations among peers, and productive dialogue with civil society.
Public Engagement
fosters R&I processes that are collaborative and multi actor: all societal actors work together during the whole process in order to align its outcomes to the values, needs and expectations of society.
Science Education
focuses on (1) enhancing the current education process to better equip citizens with the necessary knowledge and skills so they can participate in R&I debates; and (2) increasing the number of researchers (promote scientific vocations).
Summing up

Research and innovation can only be labelled ‘responsible’ in case (1) they are aimed at particular outcomes, (2) certain process dimensions are met, and (3) several policy agendas are adopted.

In short:

  • RRI’s aim is to create a society in which R&I practices strive towards sustainable, ethically acceptable, and socially desirable outcomes. 

  • RRI does so in such a way that the responsibility for our future is shared by all people and institutions affected by and involved in R&I.

What to know more on the concept
Here we compile some of the definitions for RRI that can be found in current literature, and in which RRI Tools is basing its working definition. Although it is very far from being a comprehensive bibliography, participants can find here some food for thought and some common ground on which to start. Take into account that the emerging nature of RRI and its broadness possibly means that no ‘one-size-fits-all' definition will be possible, and that processes of negotiation are still taking place, both in the realm of policy and in the domain of science.
A reflection workshop on RRI was held in May 2011 at DG Research in Brussels, attended by a number of experts drawn from academia and policy. Its report, by Hilary Sutcliffe, explains that, based on a previous article by René von Schomberg, the concept of RRI includes the following:
  • the focus of research and innovation to achieve a social benefit and the involvement of all stakeholders in society;
  • prioritising social, ethical and environmental impacts and opportunities;
  • anticipating and managing risks to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.
  • openness and transparency becoming an integral component of the research and innovation process.
Richard Owen and Jack Stilgoe, in the 2012 paper "Responsible research and innovation: From science in society to science for society, with society", describe RRI as
  • challenge to ask ourselves "what kind of future we want innovation to bring into the world";
  • an emphasis on science for society, focusing on research and innovation targeted at the major challenges and the ‘right impacts', underpinned by a deliberative democracy;
  • an emphasis on science with society, in which deliberation and reflection are coupled with action, which focuses on institutionalised responsiveness;
  • the framing of responsibility in the context of research and innovation as collective activities with uncertain and unpredictable consequences, "challenging scientists, innovators, business partners, research funders and policy-makers to reflect on their own roles and responsibilities".
Based on previous studies, the European Commission disseminates another definition, where Responsible Research and Innovation
  • means that societal actors work together during the whole research and innovation process in order to better align both the process and its outcomes, with the values, needs and expectations of European society;
  • is an ambitious challenge for the creation of a Research and Innovation policy driven by the needs of society and engaging all societal actors via inclusive, participatory approaches; 
  • is framed by six key issues: engagement, gender equality, science education, open access, ethics, and governance.
René von Schomberg, in "A vision of responsible innovation", puts forward the following working definition:

"Responsible Research and Innovation is
  • a transparent, interactive process
  • by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other
  • with a view to the ethical acceptability, sustainability, and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products 
  • in order to allow a proper embedding of scientific and technological advances in our society."
In addition, Stilgoe, Owen and Macnaghten, in "Developing a framework for responsible innovation", describe four dimensions of RRI:
  • anticipation in governance
  • inclusion of new voices
  • responsiveness in the innovation systems
In 2014, RRI Tools was set up. The first objectives of the project are to:
  • gather all relevant knowledge about RRI,
  • establish a common, working definition for it
  • test it in an iterative process with the wide range of stakeholders that will be involved in the project
  • share it with the growing RRI Community of Practice
Further reading
Fostering RRI: the RRI Toolkit
In the RRI Toolkit you can find a wealth of resources to assist you in developing your understanding of, and capacity to, implement RRI:
Use manuals, guidelines, and how-tos to implement RRI.
Inspiring Practices
Find inspiration in RRI success stories across Europe.
Learn on RRI from articles, reports, cross-analyses, and more.
Know what other projects have developed and find potential partners.
How Tos
Get concrete examples on how to put RRI into practice in different contexts.
Self-Reflection Tool
Reflect on how RRI is your own professional practice.
Training Materials
Organise trainings on RRI using showcases and presentations.
Communication Materials
Spread the word on RRI with videos and presentations.