Methods for Practising Ethics in Research and Innovation: A Literature Review, Critical Analysis and Recommendations

Abstract

This paper provides a systematic literature review, analysis and discussion of methods that are proposed to practise ethics in research and innovation (R&I). Ethical considerations concerning the impacts of R&I are increasingly important, due to the quickening pace of technological innovation and the ubiquitous use of the outcomes of R&I processes in society. For this reason, several methods for practising ethics have been developed in different fields of R&I. The paper first of all presents a systematic search of academic sources that present and discuss such methods. Secondly, it provides a categorisation of these methods according to three main kinds: (1) ex ante methods, dealing with emerging technologies, (2) intra methods, dealing with technology design, and (3) ex post methods, dealing with ethical analysis of existing technologies. Thirdly, it discusses the methods by considering problems in the way they deal with the uncertainty of technological change, ethical technology design, the identification, analysis and resolving of ethical impacts of technologies and stakeholder participation. The results and discussion of our literature review are valuable for gaining an overview of the state of the art and serve as an outline of a future research agenda of methods for practising ethics in R&I.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In line with Achterkamp and Vos (2008), a stakeholder is conceptualised as either a group or an individual who potentially affects or is affected by an ethical impact and/or has a vested interest in the R&I context to which the ethical impact is ascribed.

  2. 2.

    For literature reviews that focus on RRI in general, or on the governance of science and technology, see for instance Burget et al. (2017), Forsberg et al. (2014), Landeweerd et al. (2015) and Stilgoe et al. (2013).

  3. 3.

    Accessed through: http://apps.webofknowledge.com/.

  4. 4.

    Accessed through: http://www.scopus.com/.

  5. 5.

    Accessed through: http://link.springer.com/.

  6. 6.

    This includes “the ethical Matrix”, “ETHICS”, “anticipatory ethics”, “ethical technology assessment”, “ethical impact assessment”, “ethical dilemma scenarios”, “value sensitive design”, “the SBU approach”, “the walkshop approach”, “ethical parallel research”, “just war theory”, “human practices approach” and “interactive technology assessment”.

  7. 7.

    Three sources were left out of the final selection because they were not available (they used two different institutional subscription systems).

  8. 8.

    Van den Hoven (2008) also typifies methods in computer ethics as “ex ante” (emphasis on design) and “ex post” (emphasis on evaluation of existing technologies). However, we introduce the “intra” type to distinguish between methods that focus on the design process in which the conceptual steps have already been taken (a general idea of the type of technology is already present) vis-à-vis “ex ante” methods that focus on technological systems, artefacts and applications that might be designed at some point but have not entered the design process yet.

  9. 9.

    By targeted user is meant the type of person who would use the method when engaging with ethics in R&I. The user could also be termed an “assessor”, i.e., the person who is responsible for conducting an ethics assessment or review.

  10. 10.

    It should be noted that Rehg’s version of discourse ethics could also be characterised as ex post, which would explain the greater focus on a variety of stakeholders.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the ADAPT Centre. The ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology is funded under the SFI Research Centres Programme (Grant 13/RC/2106) and is co-funded under the European Regional Development Fund. This research was partly conducted in the context of the project: Stakeholders Acting Together on the Ethical Impact Assessment of Research and Innovation—SATORI—which received funding from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement No 612231. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and are in no way intended to represent those of the European Commission.

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Appendix

See Table 4.

Table 4 Overview of all the useful sources selected in this literature review

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Reijers, W., Wright, D., Brey, P. et al. Methods for Practising Ethics in Research and Innovation: A Literature Review, Critical Analysis and Recommendations. Sci Eng Ethics 24, 1437–1481 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-017-9961-8

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Keywords

  • Practising ethics
  • Research and innovation
  • Ethics of technology
  • Ethics assessment
  • Ethical impact assessment