Responsible Innovation asks: Where are science, technology and society going? How they might get there? Who will benefit? Who should decide? Work under this rubric seeks to transform policies and institutions, allowing people to build forms of science, technology and innovation that are more sustainable and more democratic than they have been historically.
Responsible innovation builds on longstanding approaches in Science and Technology Studies (STS) and related fields that analyse the place of science in society. Prominent science policy organisations, such as the European Commission, the OECD, the Norwegian Research Council, and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have developed their own approaches to put the ideas behind responsible innovation into practice. In the UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) ‘AREA Framework’ has been particularly prominent. AREA is a procedural framework that asks researchers, research organisations and research funders to:
- Anticipate – Consider the possible known, known unknown, and unknown unknown consequences of a particular scientific development or technological invention.
- Reflect – Critically unpack the forces, motivations, and assumptions driving a given research trajectory and consider alternatives.
- Engage – Open-up these appraisals to a broad range of stakeholders, public groups and experts with knowledge of the context.
- Act – integrate the outcomes of this process into decision making about science, technology and innovation.
Responsible innovation in Edinburgh
In Scotland, The University of Edinburgh is unique in its expertise with responsible innovation and related ideas. Led from the department of Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, our work centres on developing social, political and policy analyses of science, technology and innovation, and collaborating with partners to embed their lessons in practice:
- Our research in the Centre for Systems and Synthetic Biology (SynthSys) and UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology involves interdisciplinary collaborations between natural scientists, social sciences and engineers to explore the philosophical, social and political dimensions of making biology easier to engineer.
- With a consortium of European Research Funders, we are examining the public value of biotechnology and building capacity to support responsible innovation within science administration.
- The university’s Responsible Metrics group draws on lessons in the social sciences to develop indicators and evaluation methods that can foster innovative, inclusive and supportive research cultures.
- Within EPSRC and UKRI Centres for Doctoral Training Programmes, we are developing curricula to encourage and enable junior researchers to reflect on the social and political dimensions of their work and respond to those dimensions as they progress through their careers. This work extends our mature undergraduate and masters level curricula in science, technology and society.