Research and Innovation are a key pillar in the strategy of the European Union to create sustainable, inclusive growth and prosperity and address the societal challenges of Europe and the world. The need to gear the innovation process to societal needs is reflected in many high-level policy, strategy and programming documents, such as the Europe 2020 strategy (2010) and the Horizon 2020 framework programme proposal (2011). Furthermore, for example the Lund Declaration (2009) underlines the importance of addressing societal needs and ethical questions in research and development, as well as the Council conclusions on the Social Dimension of the European Research Area (2010).
To achieve better alignment of research an and innovation with societal needs a number of initiatives have been undertaken by EU Member States and the European Commission.
These initiatives have shown that there is a need for a comprehensive approach to achieve such an improved alignment.
Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) refers to the comprehensive approach of proceeding in research and innovation in ways that allow all stakeholders that are involved in the processes of research and innovation at an early stage (A) to obtain relevant knowledge on the consequences of the outcomes of their actions and on the range of options open to them and (B) to effectively evaluate both outcomes and options in terms of societal needs and moral values and (C) to use these considerations (under A and B) as functional requirements for design and development of new research, products and services. The RRI approach has to be a key part of the research and innovation process and should be established as a collective, inclusive and system-wide approach.
This expert group report identifies policy options for strengthening Responsible Research and Innovation. In chapter 1, the needs for action, and in particular European action is demonstrated. This chapter shows that there are many examples in which the outcomes of research has been contested in society, because societal impacts and ethical aspects have not adequately been taken into consideration in the development of innovation. In many cases, the related research funding was wasted. On the other hand, there are many cases in which the successful and early consideration of societal needs has brought up innovation which were particular successful also in economic terms. Hence, the early consideration of RRI aspects can contribute to developing lead markets for innovation serving societal needs. Furthermore, the chapter describes examples of unattended fields: these are fields of innovation which have a high economic and societal potential, but market forces in itself are insufficient to provide the necessary incentives for investment in these fields. Finally, the chapter identifies many different approaches among European and national actors in research and innovation policies to overcome the situation. Many different concepts and policies are in development to overcome the situation. There is a need to better coordinate these efforts in order to avoid failed investments in research and innovation, and in order to better exploit the potential of considering societal needs in innovation. This is very much in line with the aforementioned Europe 2020 strategy and the need for better alignment of research and innovation with societal challenges.
In chapter 2, policy objectives for RRI are defined, with a view to the achievement of the Europe 2020 objectives, and in particular those of the Innovation Union and the European Research Area. The key objective of EU action should be to develop a coherent approach among the EU Member States that defines processes, instruments and criteria for RRI that on the one hand encourage researchers and innovative firms to consider ethical concerns and address societal needs. A framework for the operationalization of RRI entails (a) defining criteria for RRI, (b) defining processes for a successful application of RRI, and (c) Defining instruments to encourage RRI.
In chapter 3, four main policy scenarios are presented. Option 1, ‘business as usual’ implies that the existing approaches to address RRI in EU funding programmes would continue to be the main tools to promote RRI at the EU level. There would neither be any additional efforts to address RRI in the upcoming funding programmes like Horizon 2020 nor any new funding opportunities to address RRI. Furthermore, actions on RRI in EU Member States and potentially also private businesses would continue but there would neither be any attempts to coordinate the different approaches towards RRI, nor to initiate a process for the development of a common European understanding of RRI. The standards for RRI would remain scattered.
Option 2 is an ‘improved business as usual’, with specific funding for RRI. This would entail several actions. One action would be to ‘mainstream’ RRI in the existing funding programmes.
In this case no new funding opportunities on RRI would be allocated, but criteria for RRI would have to be applied across all EU funding programmes. This would not only raise awareness for RRI but also create greater transparency with regard to the provisions
for taking into account societal needs and ethical aspects in the proposed research. A second action under option 2 would be an increased share of funding for inter- and transdisciplinary research, including funding options for stakeholder participation in the research process, so as to further encourage research that more directly takes societal needs into account. A third action would be a specific funding line for research on RRI. There is still a need for more information on the interactions of science, innovation and society, which needs further development of the theoretical approaches and the study of conditions for a successful application of RRI in practice.
Option 3 entails ‘Improved coordination with the EU Member States without a legally binding initiative’. This option goes beyond strengthening RRI in the existing funding programmes of the EU. It includes directly addressing the Member States as well as business enterprises, research institutions and public and private research funders. However, option 3 and option 2 are not mutually exclusive, but can be used as complementary tools to promote RRI.
Option 3 is process-oriented, aiming at fostering the dialogue on RRI enhancement and improving the transparency with regard to RRI activities in the Member States. It creates a framework enabling policy makers, researchers and business enterprises to put a stronger emphasis on RRI by raising awareness for the issue, but also by changing education and setting incentives for applying RRI in both research and innovation. This option would have several action lines, one being to establish a framework for enhancing cooperation on RRI activities. This framework can be accompanied with a reporting scheme on RRI activities.
The framework would involve for example trainings on RRI for researchers, and funding schemes for RRI within existing Member States funding programmes. The latter could also be linked to EU initiatives such as Joint Programming Initiatives (JPIs) and European Innovation Partnerships (EIP). The framework could also use public procurement as a policy instrument, to set incentives for business enterprises. Member States can thus stimulate RRI in innovation processes by using public procurement to start pre-commercial projects and to purchase innovative and sustainable products. Another action line would be to establish
Codes of Conduct for RRI activities. Codes of conduct are a method of self-governance by which researchers and innovators can agree on norms or standards. A third action line would furthermore be to establish Standards on RRI that can be adopted voluntarily. This would imply the development of a common framework for RRI that is applicable to the design of research processes that can the shape of European standards and establish a benchmarking process for RRI. This process can be organised in a similar way as the formulation of the ISO norm 26000, which provides guidance on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practice in business enterprises and other organisations.
A 4th option can also be identified, which is ‘Improved oordination with the Member States with a legally binding initiative’. This option is similar to option 3, but follows a more topdown approach in which mandatory guidelines would be implemented via European Regulations or Directives.
Chapter 4 presents an analysis of the impacts of the various policy options. Assessing the impacts is difficult as some of the options are designed to initiate or enhance development processes for RRI activities rather than suggesting concrete measures. Furthermore, at this early stage costs will be easier to measure than benefits and the latter have to be measured more implicitly.
The impacts of the first option, “business as usual” have been described in the first chapter: currently, there is a lack of incentives for considering RRI aspects in R&D processes, as well as a lack of awareness about RRI. This option does not entail direct additional cost, but it would imply that the potential of research funding is still not fully exploited. Indirectly, this leads to costs for business enterprises and research institutions that could have developed more successful products, for research funders who could have spent their funding more efficiently and for consumers who do not necessarily receive products that serve their interests in the best possible way. Furthermore, without any initiative to coordinate current RRI initiatives in some of the Member States, the European landscape on RRI will be fragmented, which in turn can be counterproductive for the Innovation Union and the Single Market.
Option 2, ‘improved business as usual’ with specific funding for RRI, directly affects the EU as research funding body and all public and private research institutions that apply for funding from these funding programmes. Impacts can be identified for the respective actions under this option. The first action under this option, to ‘mainstream’ RRI in the existing
funding programmes will ask researchers to reflect on ethical questions and questions of social needs , and therefore likely prompt more nuanced research proposals and lead to new disciplinary connections. The administrative burden resulting from this action is regarded as rather low for the researchers applying for funding as well as for review process of the proposals. At the same time, the capacities for achieving major progress in better aligning EU innovation with societal needs, and harmonization in EU innovation policy generally, remain limited. The second action under option 2, to increase the share of funding for inter and transdisciplinary research, would also amount to only low administrative costs. On the other hand, more inter- and trans-disciplinary research should nurture greater innovation and creativity, and make it more likely that research and innovation are directly targeted at solving societal challenges. This option can also lead to ‘second order impacts’ such as increasing trust in research and innovation and changing mind-sets. However, the harmonization capacity of this option is very low as it is limited to a small amount of EU funding only. The third action, to include a specific funding line for research on RRI, would amount to only low administrative costs as it would entail not much more than the budget dedicated to this funding line. The major impacts of this option will be visible in long-term developments, such as changed science and innovation policy and funding schemes and in second order impacts, rather than in directly connected short term outcomes.
Option 3, ‘Improved coordination with the EU Member States without a legally binding initiative’, covers a wider range of actors and will affect a larger amount of funding than option 1 and 2. It is very difficult to measure the exact impacts of the actions of option 3 but it can be expected that the economic impacts will be positive in terms of a reduced risk of innovations failing after market introduction and consequently higher efficiency of public and private research funding. The actions furthermore have positive social impacts, e.g. more socially and environmentally sustainable products, increased awareness for gender issues in R&D, etc. Because option 3 is directed to all involved actors, the capacity to lead to ‘second order impacts’ (trust, changing mind-sets) is high. The harmonization capacity generally of this option is also higher. At the same time, this option offers a high degree of flexibility as the adoption of the proposed standards and norms are voluntary and can be contextualised according to Member States’ needs.
The first set of actions under option 3, aimed at improved coordination of RRI activities in the Member States, naturally has a very high harmonization capacity and addresses all actors involved in research and innovation processes. However, the costs for implementing this set of actions, especially the reporting scheme, can be regarded as high compared to the other actions. Setting incentives for RRI, in particular via public procurement of goods and services, would have significant positive impacts, while the administrative costs for implementing such incentives would be low.
The impacts of the second set of actions under option 3, involving Codes of Conduct for RRI, are difficult to assess and the associated costs depend on various factors. Generally however, they can lead to an improved efficiency of research funding and the administrative costs would be rather low.
The impacts of the third set of actions under option 3, standards on RRI, are mostly indirect as the adoption of such standards would be voluntary. Nevertheless, an RRI ‘ISO standard’ would directly address business enterprises and of relevance to all actors in the innovation system. The costs for introducing such a standard would be low.
Option 4, ‘Improved coordination with the MS with a legally binding would reach the highest possible level of cohesion. On the other hand, there are several reasons why a binding initiative can be counterproductive in the short run. There would be administrative costs and a legally binding regulation would also result in costs for business enterprises and research institutions, which would have to adapt their research and innovation processes accordingly.
Also, a legally binding initiative would be less flexible and would be able to take into account, or benefit from, the diversity of action of the Member States at the beginning of a process of harmonisation and convergence. Finally, it can be questioned whether a legally binding initiative would be supported by the Member States and is in accordance with the European Union’s competences in this area.
Chapter 5 gives a short comparison of the options. The analysis in chapter 4 shows that option 2 to 4 all offer the opportunity to improve the efficiency of research funding by enhancing the consideration of societal needs and ethical aspects in research and innovation processes. A concrete quantitatively assessment is not possible at this point as the options suggested here are mainly about initializing processes to develop new funding programs, standards and norms for RRI. Their impacts will depend on policy initiatives on the national and EU level. However, the options that address a wider range of actors and a larger amount of research funding will have greater impacts on the efficiency of research funding. In this light, policy option 3 is preferable. It offers enough flexibility and can be adapted to the respective contexts, while still providing the opportunity to harmonize approaches in the EU and to further develop them in the same direction. The actions suggested in option 2 should also be considered, because they complement the actions in option 3 on the EU level instead of them being mutually exclusive.
Chapter 6 briefly lays out the options for policy monitoring and evaluation. This should encompass both the policy measures taken and outcomes of these efforts. Progress report should be produced that include a review of the implementation efforts of the Commission’s recommendations and voluntary codes, the take-up of funding for RRI activities provided by the EU’s and national funding schemes, and the improvements in the cooperation among the Member States. It should also include an evaluation of the effects on the different actor groups and the impacts on the underlying causes that have been identified in chapter one. This evaluation scheme can also be benchmarked with other available frameworks, methodologies and indicators. Especially, the complexity and the long term character of the impacts should be taken into account, as well as the interrelation between the Member States levels, the European and even the international level.
Finally,Annex I presents an extended definition of RRI, while Annex II, II and IV give examples of contested innovations, successful innovations and unattended field of innovation respectively.