Responsible Research and Innovation @ S.NET 2018 – Reported by Ineke Malsch, Partner in NANO2ALL

“Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is not a recent concern, but dominated mainstream research already in the 1970s,” argued key-note lecturer professor Cyrus Mody (Maastricht University), during the annual conference of the Society for New and Emerging Technologies in Maastricht, 25-27 June 2018. Historical analysis resulted in some propositions concerning factors that influenced RRI since the 1970s in the USA. As the national security state was dismantled and the regulatory state was being built up, RRI increased.

Other factors that contributed to RRI included protests and social movements, and a crisis in society. In the 1970s, RRI was more product oriented, and driven by researchers in public research institutions like NASA, which were exploring societal markets for their research, including renewable energy, biomedical technologies and assisting disabled people. Countercultural movements which were also targeting those applications remained outsiders. While in the 1970s, responsible innovation targeted the needs of society, this changed to research targeting commercial interests after the adoption of the Bayh-Dole act regulating patents and trademarks in 1980. Today’s RRI, on the contrary, is more focusing on improving research practices. Several participants argued that some protesters and countercultural activists have become today’s professors in (social) Science and Technology Studies, thereby influencing current RRI practices.
Several sessions discussed RRI in nanotechnology and other emerging technologies. For example, Aafke Fraaije, Frank Kupper, Wieke Betten & Anouk Heltzel (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) explored the value of art for public engagement on nanotechnology and other emerging technologies, in discussion with other participants. This approach is central to the Nano2All project. 

Other discussions involving leading researchers from the USA (Erik Fisher), Belgium (Michiel van Oudheusden), Germany (Christopher Coenen) and the Netherlands (Arie Rip and Harro van Lente), who shared lessons learned from their participation as social scientists in the shaping of nanotechnology in national programmes.

Gisle Solbu of NUST (Norway) compared newspaper coverage of nanotechnology and biotechnology in 2010-2014 and found that nanotechnology was more explained and treated as a scientific issue, while biotechnology was mainly taken for granted and framed as a political issue. He concluded that the socialisation process of biotechnology was more advanced than for nanotechnology.

Ingeborg Meijer (CWTS, Leiden University) presented the indicators for monitoring progress in five RRI keys underlying the EU H2020 programme, developed in the MoRRI project. These are Public Engagement, Science Education / Science Literacy, Gender Equality, Open Access and Ethics.

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