RRI in Europe: what’s next?

The three-year European RRI Tools project has now come to an end.


A interview whitKurt Vandenberghe is Director of Policy Development and Coordination at the European Commission recorded during the RRI Tools Final Conference in Brussels, November 21st – 22nd 2016

Karin Larsdotter, who managed the Swedish hub of the RRI Tools project, shares her views on what has been achieved through the project, the legacy it is leaving behind, and what’s next for RRI (responsible research and innovation) in Sweden:

When the RRI Tools project began, RRI was a relatively new term. How far do you think understanding of RRI has developed over the last three years?

RRI Tools has been a very important project because it has really helped to get RRI off the ground in Europe.

At the start of the RRI Tools project, the term RRI was relatively unknown even though all the different dimensions that constitute RRI (such as ethics, open access, public engagement etc.) already existed individually. What is new, and characterises RRI, is the way that it takes a much more holistic and inclusive approach by incorporating all these individual principles into the research and innovation process. This results in outcomes that are much better aligned to the needs of society.

In Sweden, we have worked hard throughout the project to make the concept more widely known among stakeholders. For example, RRI was the theme of VA’s annual conference in 2014 and also was addressed at our 2016 conference on Open Science, which has helped to bring RRI to the attention of many of the organisations that we work with. In our experience, establishing a concept takes time. I’d say that RRI is still relatively unknown among individual researchers, but awareness among the research community is definitely increasing. RRI is now a cross-cutting issue in Horizon 2020 and many aspects of RRI, such as ethics, social challenges and gender equality in research, are being much more actively taken in consideration, in Sweden, the EU, and globally.

What do you think is the RRI Tools project’s greatest achievement?

RRI Tools has achieved a number of things and leaves several legacies. Firstly, it has developed an agreed definition of RRI. There have been various interpretations of RRI in the past, but now we have a much clearer idea of what RRI is and what it is not. This makes it a lot easier to both communicate and implement RRI. It is also important for future EU projects so that they can work within an agreed definition and that there are best practice examples to serve as role models.

The knowledge that has been generated throughout the project, examples of RRI in practice, newly-developed tools etc. are now all gathered in one place: the RRI Toolkit. The toolkit is a fantastic resource that makes it easier for many kinds of stakeholders to quickly get to grips with RRI and start implementing it at different levels of the research and innovation process.

What will happen to the RRI Toolkit now?

On a practical level, the project coordinator, the “La Caixa” Foundation will continue to host and maintain toolkit. But essentially, the RRI Toolkit now belongs to the growing R&I community of stakeholders, who are encouraged to not only use the toolkit but to develop and contribute to it too. The community of practice built up through the project will continue to grow and the website provides a central meeting place for all different types of stakeholders from different countries.

RRI is a cross-cutting issue in Horizon 2020 so the toolkit will serve as an important resource to support other projects. In fact, many of the Horizon 2020 calls stipulate that the results of RRI Tools and the toolkit should be used. So the toolkit is definitely not going to sit on a virtual shelf and get dusty!

Where is Sweden now in terms of RRI?

Sweden has a strong starting position when it comes to RRI, with a tradition of multi-disciplinary collaboration and non-hierarchical structures. Many of the RRI principles are also already being addressed both in the research community as well as in other organisations. However, RRI’s holistic approach, involving all societal actors via inclusive participatory approaches to tackle societal challenges, resonates particularly well in Sweden. There is a growing interest in RRI in Sweden, for example, among research funders, business and even civil society. Despite an unusually strong civil society in Sweden, many parts of civil society are not used to being involved in the research and innovation process. But civil society has a crucial role to play and lot of expertise that can help future innovations to be sustainable as well as socially accepted.

During the project, VA conducted a series of consultations and workshops with various RRI stakeholders, including researchers, civil society, industry, policy makers and the education community. They provided input to the concept and also discussed obstacles and opportunities. Unsurprisingly, compared to the rest of Europe, Swedish stakeholders are particularly positive towards RRI.

VA has also written up a number of good examples of RRI practices from Sweden that have been extremely well received in the EU. This includes Vinnova’s research funding programme, Challenge Drive Innovation, which embraces an iterative and inclusive approach to tackling societal challenges. Its challenge-orientated approach, in which consortia themselves must define the problems to be solved, is unique in Europe and is serving as an inspiration to others. Another of our RRI showcases, Mistra Urban Futures, won the first European Foundations Award for Responsible Research and Innovation (EFARRI) for inclusive its approach to address sustainable urban development issues using co-production practices.

What is next for RRI in Europe?

RRI remains an important part of Horizon 2020 and a key element of the EU’s Open Science agenda. Kurt Vandenberghe from the European Commission speaks about this and the future of RRI in an interview he gave at the RRI Tools final conference in November.

There are now new Horizon 2020 projects starting with an RRI focus, many of which are focused on mainstreaming and implementing RRI at all levels. For example, the EU NUCLEUS project, is specifically looking at how to embed RRI in universities and research institutions. Work is also underway to design the next framework programme for research and innovation, FP9, and we hope that RRI will be given even greater prominence.

What is next for RRI in Sweden?

VA now has a lot of expertise in RRI that we aim to utilise and we will continue to champion RRI in Sweden. This will partly be achieved through involvement in other European projects as well as by providing support to Swedish stakeholders to help them implement RRI. Anyone interested in finding out more about RRI is encouraged to get in touch! 

 

The final RRI Tools conference was held in November 2016. The main materials and outcomes of the conference: videos (talks and interviews), presentations etc are now available.


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