Devices of Responsibility: Over a Decade of Responsible Research and Innovation Initiatives for Nanotechnologies

Abstract

Responsible research and innovation (RRI) has come to represent a change in the relationship between science, technology and society. With origins in the democratisation of science, and the inclusion of ethical and societal aspects in research and development activities, RRI offers a means of integrating society and the research and innovation communities. In this article, we frame RRI activities through the lens of layers of science and technology governance as a means of characterising the context in which the RRI activity is positioned and the goal of those actors promoting the RRI activities in shaping overall governance patterns. RRI began to emerge during a time of considerable deliberation about the societal and governance challenges around nanotechnology, in which stakeholders were looking for new ways of integrating notions of responsibility in nanotechnology research and development. For this reason, this article focuses on nanotechnology as the site for exploring the evolution and growth of RRI.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    ELSA and ELSI programmes emerged prior to the advent of nanotechnology, most notably as part of the emergence of biotechnology (Wolfe 2000).

  2. 2.

    In 2011, Grunwald carried out a similar study in which he described and assessed the outcome and impacts of 10 years of research on nanotechnology and society, the objective of which was to offer reflections on the opportunities and constraints of further research at the interface between nanotechnology and society. Grunwald concludes that while fields such as Science and Technology Studies (STS), Technology Assessment (TA) and studies of Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) likely played a role in the ‘normalisation’ of nanotechnology, the objective of shaping nanotechnology directly in terms of its development paths and specific application fields was not achieved.

  3. 3.

    We use the term ‘change aims’ since often, desired measurable impacts of RRI activities are not made explicit in many of the RRI activities, whereas a global notion of change is often mentioned.

  4. 4.

    The notion of grand societal challenges as a driver for research and innovation policy is itself an emerging trend and it is not clear how it will unfold. Will RRI become part of the ‘mission’ of mission-oriented public agencies (Mazzucato and Robinson 2016) that incorporate grand societal challenges in their strategic agendas?

  5. 5.

    The development of a robust multi-layered framework is not the motivation of this article. For further details on this discourse, see Larédo et al. (2015) and Robinson et al. (2017).

  6. 6.

    The NanoCode project -funded by the EC’s Framework Programme 7 (FP7)—aimed to develop a strategic framework with which to guide the further development and implementation of the Code, along with the development of a practical implementation tool to assist stakeholders in evaluating their performance in complying with the Code. The FramingNano project–another FP7 project–aimed to define a governance framework to support responsible development of nanoscience and nanotechnology through international multi-stakeholder dialogue.

  7. 7.

    We locate the principles of oversight here at the macro-level because its intention was to influence research and innovation policy, rather than directly engage with individual firms or research organisations.

  8. 8.

    The regulation of industrial practices in nanotechnologies is strongly influenced by Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) discourse and activities. Indeed, CSR has much to offer RRI with respect to actual devices that can serve to contribute to the RRI ambition, e.g. codes of conduct and various voluntary initiatives, along with various theories and perspectives. However, it is beyond the scope of this paper to address the link between CSR and RRI in any detail.

  9. 9.

    By scope we mean the stage of emergence of the nanotechnology field, whether it is research, a prototype or working in society. Another element of ‘scope’ is that nanotechnology is often part of a larger technology or system. The ‘scope’ of the nanotechnology will play a role in the questions and issued raised for implementing RRI.

  10. 10.

    Outside the nano sphere, this is changing, however, with the recent initiation of two European Horizon 2020 projects–RRI –Practice and Joining Efforts for Responsible Research and Innovation (JERRI). The RRI-Practice project brings together international experts in RRI to understand the barriers and drivers to the successful implementation of RRI both in European and global contexts and in specific organisational structures and cultures in research conducting and research funding organisations. JERRI aims to institutionalise practices and attitudes with respect to RRI within the two largest European Research and Technology Organisations. Moreover, the RRI-Tools project, funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme which ended at the close of 2016, has a key implementation objective in its development of a Training and Dissemination Toolkit on RRI for various stakeholders in the research and innovation value chain.

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Shelley-Egan, C., Bowman, D.M. & Robinson, D.K.R. Devices of Responsibility: Over a Decade of Responsible Research and Innovation Initiatives for Nanotechnologies. Sci Eng Ethics 24, 1719–1746 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-017-9978-z

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Keywords

  • Nanoscience and nanotechnology
  • Responsible research and innovation (RRI)
  • Responsibility
  • Governance