Science for Society: Responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Science and technology have a major impact on our lives. While our world has been improved through research and innovation, science and technology may create ethical dilemmas and risks. This is due to the fact that the impact of innovations in such fields like healthcare, energy and electronics have become more complex, more disruptive and global [1]. There is always progress through research and innovation and we experience many rapid changes at high speed. Sometimes, these changes can cause harm to human health or environmental disruption. In this regard, the importance of the impact of the responsibility of business on society and environment has increased over the years. Having the balance between a competitive environment arising from innovation and ethical, sustainable growth is not easy to achieve. Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) has emerged to achieve this balance and maintain the public trust while having economic returns [2]. 

RRI is a term that is used by the European Union to emphasize the need for alignment between the outcomes of research and innovation and the values of society in order to tackle the societal challenges we face [3] and take care of the future. Indeed, RRI is a cross-cutting issue in Horizon 2020, now Horizon Europe, EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation. There are many ways that research and innovation can be responsible such as politically, socially, and environmentally [2]. Thus, implementing RRI requires collaboration of various stakeholders from researchers to businesses, public and policy makers. It is important to involve society in science and technology to increase their positive impact on today’s and future generations. 

It should be taken into consideration that new technologies are not just answers to technical questions – they change the world we live in. Innovation is a social endeavour in which society and science influence each other. RRI, in this regard, aims to create sustainable solutions for societal challenges with ethical consideration by including different perspectives of all relevant stakeholders throughout the process, making the process transparent and open for debate, and ensuring that the technologies are socially desirable [3]. 

An Horizon 2020 Project: RRIstart

RRIstart is an Horizon 2020 Project that responds to the EU efforts to foster impact investment (an investment that delivers social, environmental and economic benefits) by developing an innovative Responsible Impact Assessment Model (RIAM) for start-ups, complemented by an RRI-based impact investment indicator list in a multi-stakeholder (beyond quadruple helix: industry, policy, research, civil society) context. Through RRIstart, the consortium aims to demonstrate the value of RRI for the Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) entrepreneurship ecosystem [4]. 

The Role of RRI in RRIstart

RRI is the cornerstone of RRIstart. For the mission of RRIstart that stated above, an RRI model is applied for start-ups to help them provide investors with evidence for the advantages of impact investment, based on RRI’s Four Principles/Process Requirements. The focus of the project, which is fostering impact investment and supporting responsible start-ups, carries a great importance since existing RRI research and practice mainly focuses on public Research & Innovation (R&I). However, privately funded industrial R&I provides a completely different context from the public with its own challenges [5] and especially RRI in private investment has not received attention in the literature so far.

RRI driven startups can help investments contribute to societal needs and tackle challenges, however having a balance between four helices for startups can be difficult. In order to achieve practical feasibility of RRI, RRIstart implements the RIAM Model to startups through Social and Behavioral Labs, considering the indicators of the four helices that are carefully selected.

Want to learn more about the cornerstones of RRI? Then stay tuned for our next RRIstart blog post!

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1. Sutcliffe, H. (2011). A report on responsible research and innovation. MATTER and the European Commission.

2.Martinuzzi, A., Blok, V., Brem, A., Stahl, B., & Schönherr, N. (2018). Responsible research and innovation in industry—Challenges, insights and perspectives. Sustainability, 10(3), 702.

3.Smallman, M. (2018). Citizen science and responsible research and innovation. UCL Press.

4.WUR, M. R., Berliri, M., Alfonsi, A., & K&I, A. D. Pilot Methodology.

5.Blok, V., & Lemmens, P. (2015). The emerging concept of responsible innovation. Three reasons why it is questionable and calls for a radical transformation of the concept of innovation. Responsible innovation 2: Concepts, approaches, and applications, 19-35.