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Kickstart Guide - Episode 3: Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI)

After summarizing the key terminology and frameworks for Responsible Innovators in the last episode, this one is about responsible innovation as an overall concept and will address the following questions:

(1) What is Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI)?

(2) What are the principles behind the concept of RRI?

(3) How can RRI be put into practice?

(4) What further resources are available on RRI?

(5) Which stakeholders in the Responsible Innovators Ecosystem specialize in RRI?

As described in Episode 2, I chose the title Responsible Innovators for our platform specifically because it signals sufficient openness to all dimensions of responsibility. So it's not just about the environmental and social dimension, nor is it exclusively about the digital dimension. In the same way, innovation is more than technology. It encompasses all new ideas and approaches, whether from academia or corporate practice. My approach is based, among other things, on the fundamental principles of Responsible Research & Innovation.

(1) What is Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI)?

Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI) was developed as a concept under the European Commission's Horizon 2020 project. It was subsequently further developed in the NewHoRRIzon project until 2021.

'The concept of RRI is an approach which intends to bridge gaps between science, research and innovation communities and society at large by fostering more inclusive, anticipatory, open and responsive research and innovation systems. In this frame, multiple stakeholders (from research, business, policy making, education and civil society) are involved in research and innovation on the project and system level to better align its processes and outcomes with the values, needs and expectations of society.' (NewHoRRIzon – An Experiment in Responsible Research and Innovation)

(2) What are the principles behind the concept of RRI?

The original RRI concept developed in the Horizon 2020 project was based on the principles:

  • Research & Innovation for social value: 'Research & innovation which considers value in a more holistic way - considering social, ethical, cultural and economic benefit.'

  • Considering all impacts: 'Which considers, assesses and effectively prioritises the potential social, ethical, environmental, cultural and economic implications and impacts - in use and misuse.'

  • Stakeholder Participation: 'The values, concerns and issues raised by stakeholders are respected and respond to and they are proactivley involved in the innovation process and its governance. They are themselves mindful of the public good.'

  • Governance and Transparency: 'Demonstrating trustworthiness is at the heart of governance. Oversight mechanisms antipiate and effectively manage opportunites and problems and can adapt and respond quickly to changing knowledge and circumstances.'

Responsible Research and Innovation has been developed as a holistic framework for research and innovation. Although my focus is primarily on digital technologies, the framework and the corresponding methodology is applicable to any kind of research and innovation processes. Within the practical project NewHoRRIzon, which is based on the RRI principle, the operationalization of the principles was tested in 19 social labs in a wide range of science and innovation areas. (see Image, source: What is a Social Lab? – NewHoRRIzon)

As part of these practical projects, the principles were further developed to facilitate their applicability. For a better operationalization of the framework, six core elements are now used as orientation (Our Aim – NewHoRRIzon)

  1. Ethics

  2. Gender Equality

  3. Governance

  4. Public Engagement

  5. Science Education

  6. Open Access

Between the initial research project on RRI and the more practically oriented NewHoRRIzon several years have passed. This example shows once again that theoretical research must always be further developed in practice. Especially related to values or the alignment of ethical frameworks, it is important to recognize that theoretical lists of values are of no use. It certainly is necessary to have a common understanding of a unified set of values and a common objective. However, this must be limited to the key principles in order to be able to implement them effectively.

(3) How can RRI be put into practice?

For this reason, a major focus of the follow-up project NewHoRRIzon was on operationalizing the principles. However, the team has taken many steps further and developed a tool that can support research and innovation teams in the development process when implementing RRI principles.

The Societal Readiness Thinking Tool ‘offers practical guidance on how to mature the societal readiness of research projects. The tool was developed in a three-step procedure (concept, design, validation) involving the consortium and participants in the Social Labs. Each step has been reported in a separate deliverable. The SR Thinking Tool provides a generic methodology allowing researchers to reflect on the societal impact of their work at critical stages in the project life cycle. The primary goal is to help researchers align their project activities with societal needs and expectations. The SR Thinking Tool asks reflective questions to stimulate thinking about how to integrate ideas about RRI into research practice.’ (Societal Readiness Thinking Tool – NewHoRRIzon)

Even though it was primarily developed for research, the tool and RRI principles are also applicable to innovation processes in companies.

(4) What further resources are available on RRI?

Although the project's funding periods have expired, there are currently still many official online resources that summarize content and tools regarding RRI:

  • NewHoRRIzon – An Experiment in Responsible Research and Innovation: Follow up project website

  • RRI-Ex: Virtual exhibition about the project results of NewHoRRIzon

  • MOOC on Responsible Research and Innovation: Free online course for self-learning of RRI

  • Pilot Actions: Final project book with practical insights

The principle has also been the subject of much scientific research. The following publications, among others, can be recommended as an introduction to the subject:

  • Publications by NewHoRRIzon: Offizielle Publikationsliste des Projektes

  • Sutcliffe, H.: A report on Responsible Research & Innovation

  • Von Schomberg, R.: Towards Responsible Research and Innovation in the Information and Communication Technologies and Security Technologies Fields

  • Stahl, B., Coeckelbergh, M.: Ethics of healthcare robotics: Towards responsible research and innovation

Since this is an introduction to the subject, I am only sharing open access publications here. Many more can be found on the common library and research sites.

(5) Which stakeholders in the Responsible Innovators Ecosystem specialize in RRI?

The fact that RRI can be applied not only in a research context is shown by the Center for Responsible Research and Innovation (CeRRI) at Fraunhofer IAO. Das CeRRI ‘develops new strategies and methods that enable specialists to follow a demand-oriented approach to research projects and innovation processes from day one. Responsible research and innovation is the ethical foundation of our work. This commitment means that they resolutely consider the needs of society when they research and innovate. In other words, they systematically examine societal implications, incorporate various perspectives and shape the future in cooperation with others. They therefore help translate research findings into innovations for all of society.’(

However, the diversity of experts on the subject shows that many other institutions also address RRI. Among others, these include:

  • Karin Aschberger (Senior Scientist at ER Joint Research Centre Italy)

  • Vincent Block (Associate professor in Philosophy and Ethics of Technology and Innovation at the Philosophy Group,Wageningen University, The Netherlands)

  • Yannick Cornet (Senior Researcher Sustainable Mobility Systems, University of Zilina, Slovakia)

  • Stefanie Daimer (Leiterin des Geschäftsfelds Politik für Innovation und Transformation bei Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI)

  • Linden Farrer (Clusters Co-ordinator Public Authorities, Eureka Network, Belgium )

  • Franz Fischler (President of the Board of Trustees, Institute of Advanced Studies Austria, former EU Commisar)

  • Erich Giessler (Head of IHS research group “Techno-Science & Societal Transformation”, Institute of Advanced Studies Austria)

  • Katharina Hochfeld (Director of Center for Responsible Reserach and Innovation (CeRRI), Fraunhofer IAO)

  • Margit Hofer (Senior Researcher at the ZSI Centre for Social Innovation, Austria)

  • Simone Kaiser (Director of Center for Responsible Research and Innovation (CeRRI), Fraunhofer IAO)

  • Ingeborg Meier (Senior Researcher, Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) Leiden University, The Netherlands)

  • Mika Nieminen (Team Leader at VTT, Adjunct Professor at Tampere University & Program Director at Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland)

  • Hilary Sutcliffe (Director SocietyInside and TIGTech)

The theories behind responsible innovation and digital ethics are complex and subject to constant change. For a transformation towards responsible design of future technologies, the most important thing is practical implementation. The RRI framework can be a starting point for accomplishing that. In the next episodes, I will explain other frameworks that are important for the implementation of responsible innovation in my opinion.

With my Responsible Innovators Kickstart Guide, I want to give you access to knowledge in the field of digital ethics and responsible innovation. I will also show you how you can put this knowledge into practice. Get insights into an inspiring ecosystem and let's create change for a better future together!

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