Science and technology are transformative forces that have granted humans the capacity to alter ecosystems, the Earth’s climate, and even the building blocks of matter and life itself. Research and innovations (R&I) have improved our world and our lives in many ways, and will most likely continue to do so. However, parallel to the large positive impact on human welfare and well-being, science and technology sometimes create new risks and ethical dilemmas, fail in solving the problems they are meant to, and spur controversy.
Over the last decades, many efforts have tried to reduce the distance between science and society, leading to a European-wide approach in Horizon 2020 called Responsible Research and Innovation. RRI seeks to bring issues related to research and innovation into the open, to anticipate their consequences, and to involve society in discussing how science and technology can help create the kind of world and society we want for generations to come.
Innovation and RRI
There are three relevant and broad issues concerning technological innovation and Responsible Research and Innovation:
1. Structural and economic aspects to facilitate networking and connection of stakeholders along the R&I value chain, and to bridge the gap from research to market.
Technological innovation is crucial to exploit research ideas and transform them in real products. However, there is a lack of cooperation and sharing of information amongst different actors along the R&I value chain, hindering the exploitation of research results. There is a strong need to make research outcomes available to industry and industry networks, in particular for SMEs:
“[…] small and medium enterprises need new instruments in order to get in contact and connect in a smart way with value chains relevant for their business. This is a structural and economical issue, more than a technological one” [Industry].
This suggests that structural gaps within the R&I value chain could be overcome by fostering the transition to a “connection” economy, using ICT solutions to improve networking and matchmaking of interests of R&I actors and their supply chains.
2. Circular economy
Environmental sustainability, including a responsible use of resources, is an essential aspect of responsible innovation, in particular in the food and energy sectors. Issues related to circular economy refer to three main aspects:
- Assessment of the entire Life cycle of new nanomaterials and in particular the End of Life, preventing and managing recycling problems. Favor cooperation between researchers, producers and recycling organizations.
- Substitution of hazardous materials with new materials (such as nanomaterials) ensuring similar or improved properties, both in products and along the production processes
- Development of regulation stimulating a sustainable innovation all along the supply chain
“An example of the past has been the banning asbestos, CFC, Halons that led to the important innovation on advanced materials to substitute the impacting ones” [R&I network]
3. Responsible Research and Innovation as an ecosystem approach
RRI cannot be implemented effectively by single stakeholders, it needs a common effort by diverse actors along the whole R&I value chain.
“Responsible research cannot be effectively implemented just within one research group or even one institute, as at this level there is not the capacity to look at all aspects. It must be viewed and implemented at ecosystem level.” [Public research]
A Brief introduction to RRI