Building alternative practices for RRI in Japan and the UK

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As governments turn to science, technology, and medicine to deliver economic growth in times of uncertainty, they also turn to the humanities and social sciences to facilitate societal engagement and acceptance. This is a limited way of understanding the possible contributions of these disciplines to the development of science, technology and society.

With funding from the ESRC, we are working together to create a more expansive and critical agenda for Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in emergent scientific and technological fields, in a manner that is sensitive to national differences and promotes renewed reflexivity in both contexts. The project’s main activities centre around two workshops: the first in the United Kingdom and the second in Japan.

Workshop 1 - Exploring Responsible Innovation

Edinburgh, March 2019

Our first workshop examined the development of responsible innovation in the United Kingdom and Japan. Participants drew on a series of case studies to demonstrate how different kinds of responsibility are enacted by scientists, social scientists and policy makers. 

We also explored how practices and policies travel, becoming nested within broader structures. For instance, there is a tendency for RRI to over-emphasise the actions of scientists and under-emphasise the broader economic forces that drive scientific research. Finally we explored what was missing in RRI, including attention to alternative forms of innovation (social, frugal, grassroots), which may not feature in the analysis of novel technological developments.


Our case studies illustrated that the emergence of the concept of responsible innovation has been followed by calls for frameworks, guidance and examples of best practice. While protocols and guidelines are important, our concern is that such calls may assume that practices can be easily lifted from one setting to another to ‘take care of RRI’. This assumption overlooks the important underlying discussion that is required to understand the mutual trajectories of science, innovation and society in different national contexts.

By exploring different technologies, methodologies and engagements, workshop participants developed a shared working definition of responsible innovation as a space to imagine and create more diverse social relationships between technology and society than is currently the norm. Drawing attention to the spatial dimensions of RRI emphasises that the cultures, practices and values that drive research and innovation vary in different settings. At the same time, this spatial metaphor draws attention to the institutional structures that constrain and produce particular forms of innovation.

Edinburgh RRI Workshop Lunch

Drawing on case studies at the intersections of biology, engineering, medicine and computer science the group plans to explore this more expansive understanding of responsible innovation in our next workshop with particular attention to the following topics:

  • Discourses and metaphors. What discursive tools shape or participate in what responsibility/RRI means in a particular context?  
  • Temporalities & Histories. What are the key moments that shape how responsibility/RRI develops in a given context? What social and political dynamics are at play in these moments? 
  • Responsibilities. What are the dominant forms of responsibility and accountability in a given setting? How are they enacted and distributed amongst actors? What are the social and political conditions that produce this situation? 
  • Alternatives & Interventions. What are possibilities for challenging hegemonic framings of RRI in each setting? 
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