London, 1st June 2021
I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but you are probably as lost as I was back in 2018 when, for the first time, I read about Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). Let me explain to you my journey and a little bit of who I am.
I’m not a social scientist, in fact, I’m a life cycle assessment (LCA) expert. I have a chemical engineering background and like to create lists and organize work into steps. So when I started to work on BESTER project, and needed to apply an RRI framework to the project’s research activities, I had no clue where to start. In the beginning it was difficult to even understand the concept of RRI. I spent a few weeks searching and reading literature. After a while it got easier to understand concepts and framework, but it was still difficult to see how I could apply those concepts and approaches in my research. I couldn’t find any clear guidance for non-social scientists like myself. In sum: I felt lost.
Does it sound like you? Then keep reading.
After a long process with hits and misses, and in the midst of a pandemic, I decided to apply the RRI framework by integrating a stakeholder engagement process into an LCA. Today, now that the BESTER project has ended, I can finally say that I understand what the goal of the RRI is. In fact, now I can’t imagine doing an LCA without thinking about stakeholder inputs as the process has been enlighten to design the LCA that is more reliable for different stakeholders.
Are you still with me? Ok, here is a list of things I wish I knew back in 2018 and how I would have organized my work.
- In simple words, RRI is about what matters and what is desirable for different stakeholders. It is about considering what a technology or research project would do in the future and what its impacts (positive and negative, intended and unintended) might be.
- The first step: read about other RRI practical applications linked to your own research topic. Look for things like ethical analyses, social evaluations, reports/analysis from NGOs, etc.. This is to have a rough idea of what might matter and what might be desirable from your research/technology. Then, talk with your colleagues who are developing the research/technology to get their views on your initial findings and start understanding what may be feasible within the project.
- If possible, talk to RRI practitioners and experts to evaluate these initial findings and ask them for some further guidance.
- Now it is time to engage with stakeholders. You also want to reflect on their needs, so plan the process properly based on your timeline. Give yourself enough time to address key inputs from them. A rule of thumb could be 50 % of the time for identification and engagement, 40% for incorporation of stakeholders’ inputs and 10% for presentation of results and conclusions.
- To identity, analyse and prioritize who you are going to engage, get your inspiration from stakeholder engagement methodologies and techniques (e.g., stakeholder mapping, snowball sampling, etc). You can also brainstorm with colleagues, use information from RRI experts and conduct scoping interviews with informants. Some good advice I was given is to call and, whoever answers the phone, ask questions and ask for names of relevant people…this is how you get started.
- Once you have a list of your stakeholders, plan the activities to engage with them. Remember, you need to be aware of your resources, time, efforts and expected outputs. Again, you can get your inspiration from stakeholder engagement methodologies to find the best activities (e.g., interviews, workshop, science café, survey, etc). Remember, you’re speaking to a wide variety of people, and they won’t necessarily understand the science, so create a simple story board to help you present things to them. You can stop when the information you are hearing back starts to be repetitive. Oh, and don’t forget to get the other partners in your project involved!
- After you have collected views and opinions from different stakeholders, you need to plan how you’re going to use these inputs according to your resources, time, efforts and expected outputs. (Actually, you should do this first!) Go back to the project partners and decide whether new experimental activities are needed and feasible; quantify as much as possible and create lists of further analyses to be included in later steps.
- Finally, go back to stakeholders and present your results and conclusions. If needed, modify them accordingly, and end the process.
I hope you find this letter useful. It might all seem daunting now, but you’ll get the hang of it. Good luck!
Eva Sevigné-Itoiz is a Research Associate at Imperial College’s Centre for Environmental Policy with experience in the circular bioeconomy and the waste management sector. Her research focuses on the environmental impacts of the circular bioeconomy by developing and performing environmental evaluations of biomass feedstocks and processes (e.g., life cycle analysis, water footprint assessments, land-use change impacts) as well as stakeholder engagement. She is the chair of the Steering Committee of The Imperial College London Network of Excellence in Sustainability through Life Cycle Approaches, before joining Imperial in 2015 she worked in Barcelona as environmental researcher at the Catalan Research Centre (Eurecat) and completed her PhD in Industrial Ecology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). She has more than 12 years of experience in research and consultancy in life cycle assessment and carbon footprint projects and has contacts in private and public organizations around Europe. She’s interested in the application of life cycle thinking approaches and stakeholder engagement to quantify the resource availability and efficiency in the bioeconomy value chains.