As policy interest in Responsible Research and Innovation grows, those who are new to the discussion rightly ask what it might mean in practice. How do we know it when we see it? What does irresponsible research and innovation look like? My response is perhaps a bit unsatisfying. RRI is a work-in-progress, as are science, politics and society more broadly. This means that RRI is necessarily experimental and open-ended. Responsible science and responsible technologies will not just show themselves. But we can look at experiments that are taking place at various levels in various places, to see how the rules of research and innovation may be rewritten in more responsible ways. Here is my starting list of 13 RRI things I have found interesting. This is not to say that all of these things are unequivocally good. An important part of RRI is the surfacing of differences and political clashes around all of these things. But they seem to me to be interesting developments.
- CAMBIA – Open source biotechnology
- The Bermuda Principles of the Human Genome Project
- Jonas Salk refusing to patent the Polio Vaccine
- Joseph Rotblat leaving the Manhattan Project and starting Pugwash
- The MHRA’s Yellow Card Scheme – now opened up to members of the public as what Sheila Jasanoff would call a ‘technology of humility’
- Berkeley Earth – an attempt to address issues in climate science
- The Biobank UK Ethics and governance council – http://www.egcukbiobank.org.uk/
- The Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre – running public dialogue for the UK Government
- CSynBi and Flowers – multidisciplinary Synthetic Biology Research
- EPSRC’s framework for responsible innovation
- GSK’s involvement in Patent Pools for neglected diseases and open innovation
- The Alzheimers Society QRD network – involving carers and patients in research funding and management
- The SPICE project – an early set of technical and social experiments in the world of geoengineering research (see my, ahem, book)
This list is inspired by a project in which I and colleagues at UCL are involved, called RRI TOOLS. It aims to develop a toolkit for responsible research and innovation that can be taken up by scientists, policymakers, companies and others. The inevitable imperfection with such a project is that it will tend to emphasise processes rather than outcomes. This is why, as with the SPICE project, the Polio Vaccine, Pugwash and the Bermuda Principles, we should also pay attention to situations in which people have responsibility thrust upon them. Systems of research and innovation are as likely to be responsibly shaped by accidents as by intentional efforts to increase public engagement and force disciplines to work together.
If you are reading this and have suggestions for more, please add them. I hope this unscientific sample also prompts questions about the criteria for selection, beyond my main one, which is ‘interestingness’.