Midstream Modulation in Biotechnology Industry: Redefining What is ‘Part of the Job’ of Researchers in Industry
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In response to an increasing amount of policy papers stressing the need for integrating social and ethical aspects in Research and Development (R&D) practices, science studies scholars have conducted integrative research and experiments with science and innovation actors. One widely employed integration method is Midstream Modulation (MM), in which an ‘embedded humanist’ interacts in regular meetings with researchers to engage them with the social and ethical aspects of their work. While the possibility of using MM to enhance critical reflection has been demonstrated in academic settings, few attempts have been made to examine its appropriateness in industry. This paper describes the outcomes of a case study aiming to find out firstly whether MM can effectively be deployed to encourage and facilitate researchers to actively include social and ethical aspects in their daily R&D practice, and secondly to what extent the integration activities could form an integral part of the engaged industrial researchers’ professional activities. Our data show that after MM, researchers display increased reflexive awareness on the social and ethical aspects of their work and acknowledge the relevance and utility of such aspects on their daily practice. Also, all participants considered actively reflecting on social and ethical aspects to be part of their work. Future research on the role of MM in industrial settings could focus on how to embed social and ethical integration as a regular part of innovation practice. We suggest that one possibility would be through aligning social and ethical aspects with innovation Key Performance Indicators.
KeywordsMidstream modulation Ethics of science & technology Upstream engagement in industry Responsible innovation
This article is the result of a research project of the CSG Centre for Society and Life Sciences carried out within the research programme of the Kluyver Centre for Genomics of Industrial Fermentation in The Netherlands at the Delft University of Technology, Department of Biotechnology, Section Biotechnology & Society (BTS), funded by The Netherlands Genomics Initiative (NGI)/Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). We thank Dr. Daan Schuurbiers for providing us with his interview protocol and for his critical comments throughout the study and on the manuscript. Also we thank Dr. Erik Fisher for his critical feedback early on in the study and also on the manuscript. Further thanks go to the BTS-group for critically reviewing the manuscript. But most of all we thank Royal DSM N.V. for hosting this research project, and in particular our five participants.
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