How to incorporate the RRI principles in a funding call
Much has been said about the societal impact of research and innovation (R&I). Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is an umbrella concept that includes in a holistic way different policy agendas aimed at improving the relation between science and society. Guaranteeing research integrity, open access scientific results, and gender equality in research content and teams are all crucial for properly embedding science in society. In a context of global societal challenges, such as climate change or the ageing of our societies, broader societal involvement in R&I is needed to collaboratively reflect on the futures we aspire to as societies.
Integrating the values, guiding principles and requirements of RRI in a funding scheme, whether existing or brand new, can contribute to increasing the ethical acceptability, sustainability and social desirability of the processes and outcomes of a programme. This section offers guidance for developing a funding policy aligned with the RRI principles.
Before the project: Defining the scope of the call
- Setting priorities with stakeholders
Sometimes public consultations and multi-stakeholder dialogues are organised by the funders of R&I themselves prior to setting research goals in specific funding calls. A participatory and deliberative process with concerned stakeholders can assist policymakers and researchers in effectively targeting R&I to (unmet) societal needs, setting R&I priorities and including the potential users of R&I results. Different methods are available, such as those in the following examples:
Priority Setting Partnerships in health research (Dialogue Model), James Lind Alliance (UK)
Multi-stakeholder dialogue for priority setting in health research (Mind the Gap!), King Baudouin Foundation (Belgium)
Engaging Citizens to Shape EU Research Policy on Urban Waste, Voices project
How to Set Up Collaboratively a Research Agenda, in this Toolkit, provides more information
- Funding R&I that integrates the RRI principles
There are different ways in which RRI can be embedded in a funding call. The first step is supporting active and balanced promotion of science to the public, as is done by the Luxembourg National Research Fund or the Swiss National Science Foundation. The next step may be to consider funding stakeholder involvement (e.g., UK’s Bioscience for the Future). The most ambitious approaches so far include RRI criteria or standards in the call (e.g., Dutch Responsible Innovation programme) or focus on practices -projects and programmes- in which the RRI process dimensions are successfully integrated throughout the R&I process (e.g., EFARRI, the European Foundations Awards for RRI).
During the project: Fostering RRI through criteria and guidelines
- Embracing the RRI holistic approach
The ProGReSS project’s RRI Funder Requirements Matrix offers an overview on how some R&I outcomes (ethical acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability) can relate to different instruments and appear at different stages of the R&I process depending on the funding strategies analysed (those in Australia, China, EU, India, South Africa and US). For example, on the first level, RRI outcomes may operate as compliance rules that those who receive funding must adhere to, such as:
a prerequisite for R&I in order to obtain funding (e.g., obtaining ethics committee approval, applying gender equality plans, accepting fair animal research practices, adopting open data management plans or ensuring societal desirability)
a set of rules to be followed during the study (e.g., Wellcome Trust’s Policy and Position Statement)
The European Foundations Award on RRI (EFARRI), launched in 2015, constitutes an up-to-date example of general selection criteria on RRI expertise, experience, process dimensions and organisational capacity. These criteria are based on RRI Tools’ quality criteria on RRI practices, but there are other criteria and indicators, such as those in the Quality Criteria and Indicators for Responsible Research and Innovation: Learning from Transdisciplinarity.
- Incorporating the RRI policy agendas
While incorporating RRI outomes into the funding strategy represents the most holistic approach, it is still not the most usual one. A more common and probably simpler way to embed RRI within a call is to include different requirements related to the RRI policy agendas. Funders can find a wealth of examples and resources to help them on this matter, especially on the three policy agendas that are more normative now:
Ethics and research integrity: The responsibility for ensuring that funds and resources are utilised optimally without any misconduct rests on the shoulders of the researchers, their institutions’ ethical committees, and the funding organisations. Thus, funding bodies refer to codes of conduct (e.g., Research Councils UK’s Policy and Guidelines on the Governance of Good Research Conduct, European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, Universities UK’s Concordat to Support Research Integrity and the European Commission’s Ethics Screening, Review, and Follow-up and Audit). Another example is Training and Resources in Research Ethics Evaluation (TRREE), which provides basic training and capacity building on the ethics of health research.
Gender equality and diversity: The gender dimension is progressively being integrated into research content, as described in the Yellow Window’s Gender in Research Toolkit. In parallel, funders remain committed to attracting the best potential candidates from a diverse population, as shown for example by the Research Councils UK’s Action Plan for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) grant terms regarding equality and diversity.
Open Access: A growing number of funding schemes incorporate requirements to enhance the openness and transparency of R&I processes. Useful resources can be found at the OpenAire project’s section for funding agencies, the Pasteur4OA Toolkit with case studies for research funders, and the MedOANET project’s Guidelines for Implementing Open Access Policies for Research Funding Organizations.
- Assisting applicants through guidelinesp
Funders usually provide guidelines or a framework to help researchers and innovators address the R&I practice criteria of the call when applying for funding. In the case of RRI principles, this may include such items as openness, communication, ethical acceptability, research integrity and gender equality. Examples of these guidelines are the Wellcome Trust’s Guidelines on Good Research Practices, the UK Medical Research Council’s Guiding Ethical Research Practice and the (Danish) Lundbeck Foundation’s Code of Good Research Practices. The UK’s EPSRC has adopted a Framework for Responsible Innovation that involves the “AREA process” (Anticipate, Reflect, Engage and Act) to help researchers consider societal issues that may be involved with or flow from their work. To develop such guidelines for RRI, funders may also find useful the RRI Tools’ quality criteria on RRI practices and the Self-Reflection Tool.
After the project: Assessing and evaluating
Different funding schemes use different methods to assess and evaluate proposals. Depending on the method chosen, the evaluation team may need to consist of people with different types of expertise:
Jury: The jury should be composed of experts familiar with the RRI concept or similar concepts and with the specific field of the call/proposal. Institutions may thus need to build a pool of RRI experts, sorted by discipline, which could be contacted for evaluations. The gender dimension should be taken into account in the jury’s composition to minimise gender bias. The jury can be involved before research (selection) and/or after research.
Stakeholders/End users: Stakeholders and end users can be involved in the assessment or the evaluation. However, to avoid tokenism it is crucial to clearly define their role in the assessment. For example, the Hart Foundation in the Netherlands has a Commission for Societal Quality that assesses the societal impact of research.
Peer review: Core principles of peer review are excellence, impartiality, transparency, efficiency, confidentiality, appropriateness for purpose, and ethical and integrity considerations, as described in the European Science Foundation’s European Peer Review Guide or the UK Medical Research Council’s Peer Review Policy. The inclusivity and engagement of stakeholders could be added to these principles. Therefore, criteria are needed to evaluate public engagement (the plan; use of results; different publics, including less heard voices; etc.), such as those proposed in the article Which Indicators for the New Public Engagement Activities?, in the reports Indicators for Promoting and Monitoring RRI and Metrics and Indicators for RRI, or in the RRI Tools’ quality criteria on RRI practices.
One step further: Research uptake and policy advice
Research uptake includes all the activities that facilitate and contribute to the use of research evidence by policy makers, practitioners and other development actors. The UK government’s Research Uptake guide offers practical advice on how to build a functional communications interface between researchers and policy makers. The European Commission has also published a guide on Communicating Research for Evidence-Based Policy Making.