How to initiate RRI at a national level
Governments set the agenda for research and innovation (R&I) on a national basis. They can also provide leadership, direction and resources to researchers and business innovators, and platforms to engage civil society organisations and science educators. Ensuring R&I really do meet a wide range of societal needs and desires means drawing upon a range of governance agendas and often the expertise of more than one government department. The ethical acceptability, sustainability and social desirability of R&I outcomes as well as the compliance of research integrity in a global context, the achievement of gender equality, the inclusion of silent voices, and the wider involvement of society in opening the science and technology system are some of the most important considerations and challenges for governments today.
The values, guiding principles and requirements of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) can help people address these issues in a holistic manner and play a more effective role in leading social development. Promoting RRI at a national level requires acting at different levels and involving not only policy and funding communities but also other actors traditionally outside of the world of policy, research and innovation. The case study below shows how Portugal’s government is working to involve outside actors in RRI.
A case in point: Portugal’s Laboratórios de Participação Pública
In January 2016, the Portuguese government launched a nationwide plan to involve the public in setting the R&I agenda: Laboratórios de Participação Pública (Public Participation Laboratories). It will lead to an additional “national participatory budget” of several million euros in 2017 for an R&I programme that is voted on and scrutinized by the citizens. For this programme, the government is making use of the network of Ciência Viva science centres, which works at arm’s-length with the Ministry for Science, Technology and Higher Education.
The programme was launched in Bragança, in the Trás-os-Montes sub-region, by Minister Manuel Heitor, who deliberately chose this rather isolated part of Portugal for the launching. Local people and municipal authorities have proposed ideas for research projects their region needed, and the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança has been assigned as research partner, emphasizing the variety of Portuguese universities that could participate. The full programme of meetings is still underway, but projects specifically geared to mountain regions and to international links (particularly with Spain, which borders Trás-os-Montes) are being put forward.
Although initiated by the government, the Laboratórios de Participação Pública have “no defined rules of engagement”. This allows bottom-up participation by ordinary citizens in defining and prioritizing research agendas alongside their local representatives. The laboratórios take advantage of public engagement facilities such as science centres to provide neutral territory that is closer to the wider public than are higher education or research institutions. The programme as a whole makes use of both “open” laboratories -public participation assemblies- and more traditional focus groups, depending on agenda- and budget-setting activities and the stage of research. At present, the programme is being rolled out on a trial basis, so the available budget is limited, but future developments may see that increase.
Though this initiative comes from Portugal, it has the potential to be widely applicable across Europe. For example, it has many similarities with Sweden’s Challenge Driven Innovation scheme, one of the showcases available on this Toolkit.
Making the case for RRI
RRI as an overarching framework is a new concept, even though it draws upon more established agendas and processes. Thus, governments and institutions may need to be convinced on the benefits of adopting RRI principles and practices. It is important that policy and funding institutions understand what RRI involves and that senior ministerial and civil service teams appreciate its importance and can act as its advocates.
The RRI Toolkit offers some helpful information for understanding and implementing RRI. The European Commission’s leaflet Europe’s Ability to Respond to Societal Challenges and video Aligning R&I with European Society explain what the EC understands RRI to mean. Further insights are available in this Toolkit’s What is RRI? page and in the Project Brief, Training Showcases, Catalogue of Good RRI Practices and the Report on the Analysis of the Opportunities, Obstacles and Needs of the Stakeholder Groups in RRI Practices in Europe produced by RRI Tools.
At the national level, a good working knowledge of approaches taken across Europe can be found in the Res-AGora project’s case studies and comprehensive databases: RRI Trends (national policies on RRI) and RRI Trends 2nd Wave (RRI in companies, universities and research funding organizations). The MASIS report provides a useful snapshot (from 2012) of the state of science-and-society relations across Europe.
A variety of measures foster and support RRI at the institutional level. A straightforward background of RRI is outlined in Euroscientist’s special issue on RRI. The outcomes of capacity-increasing projects, such as PACITA, can help institutions increase their ability to practice RRI. Surveys (such as Eurobarometer on RRI, S&T) can be a useful source of information about public attitudes on science and technology. And it is always useful to know about possible negative consequences of failing to carry out RRI-compatible processes (see Late Lessons from Early Warnings). Institutions can also adopt indicators to gauge how they are doing in implementing RRI (e.g., Indicators for Promoting and Monitoring RRI) and make use of specific evaluation tools (e.g., NCCPE EDGE tool for institutional reflection on public engagement).
RRI’s key agendas
RRI embraces six policy agendas: Governance, Ethics, Gender Equality, Open Access, Public Engagement and Science Education. All six come into play to a greater or lesser extent depending on the challenges being addressed. You can evaluate where you and your team are regarding each agenda by using the Self-Reflection Tool.
The following resources can help you advance the agendas:
normative frameworks that include RRI principles, such as EPSRC’s Framework for Responsible Innovation;
codes of conduct, such as those provided by the US Office of Research Integrity, and training tools aimed at identifying and avoiding fraud and misconduct, such as Training and Resources in Research Ethics Evaluation (TREE);
plans that support structural change for gender equality in both decision-making bodies and labour conditions (e.g., the European Commission’s Vademecum on Gender Equality in Horizon 2020, Yellow Window’s Gender in EU-funded Research toolkit, the EC’s report on elements and solutions for structural change in research institutions and the INTEGER guidelines for structural change in higher education and research organizations);
measures to promote open access (e.g., ALLEA’s statement on the enhancement of open access, the UNESCO guidelines) and facilitate researchers’ use of open access repositories (e.g., Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR)), as well as internal policies to promote transparency and openness across the R&I process (e.g., TOP Guidelines);
plans for fostering dialogue, reflection, and participation within institutions (e.g., Sciencewise’s Departmental Dialogue Index, Involve’s People & Participation tool) and for supporting structural change towards public engagement (e.g., NCCPE’s Planning for Change, the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research); resources on using participatory methods to widen dialogue (e.g., Engage2020’s Action Catalogue, the King Baudouin Foundation’s Participatory Methods Toolkit, the UK government’s Open Policy Making toolkit, Sciencewise’s The Use of Experts in Public Dialogue) and on evaluating those methods (e.g., the RCUK’s Guide for Evaluating Public Engagement Activities);
understandings that all citizens are involved in RRI, to a greater or lesser extent, as discussed in Societal Issues in Social Studies and Science Education: Promoting Responsible Citizenship, Sciencewise’s Enabling and Sustaining Citizen Involvement, and the OECD’s Focus on Citizens.
Walk the walk: Fostering RRI
At the European level, RRI is a key element of the European Research Area and the Horizon 2020 programme, both of which are strongly geared towards wealth creation and economic prosperity. RRI addresses the EU’s Grand Challenges to bring the benefits of R&I to its citizens and to involve them in ensuring the system addresses their needs, concerns and aspirations. These considerations also apply to the national level. Thus, ministerial teams with responsibilities in all fields of science and research, business and innovation, and education and training can benefit from incorporating RRI and adapting it to their needs.