Transforming institutions to foster responsible research
An EU-funded project is promoting responsible research and innovation in bioscience, using action plans, a sustainable model and guidelines that aim to make research more relevant, inclusive and effective for citizens and businesses.
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When scientific research and innovation becomes misaligned with society, it can fail to adequately address societys problems or meet its full commercial potential. It also risks becoming socially isolated or ethically contested, thereby losing support from citizens, public authorities and business. The responsible research and innovation (RRI) approach is one way to reorient scientific research to make it more relevant and effective in societal and economic terms.
Bioscience is probably the scientific area where the challenges are greatest, due to rapid developments and emerging social and ethical issues. The EU-funded STARBIOS2 project is promoting RRI through structural or institutional change in biosciences research organisations. Action plans are being implemented and the feedback from these is helping to elaborate a sustainable model and guidelines to foster the implementation of RRI in other research institutions.
Within this framework, STARBIOS2 contributes to the advancement of the RRI strategy underpinning Horizon 2020, says Daniele Mezzana of the projects coordination team at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy. This will better connect research and innovation with the needs and values of European society.
Several structural or institutional changes have been implemented or are ongoing. These include integrating social responsibility modules into educational programmes, societal engagement around emerging research and ethical or social issues, codes of conduct and ethical guidelines, greater use of open access publication, and promoting gender equality.
The project team has designed, implemented and evaluated RRI action plans in six European bioscience institutions and university departments, in Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and the UK. Others have also been developed and implemented in the final phase of the project, by international partners in Brazil, South Africa and the USA.
Action plans have been used to develop a mutual learning process. This has revealed barriers to implementing RRI approaches, and the key factors favouring RRI. They are also helping researchers to formulate strategic options and RRI-oriented tools, as well as the sustainable model for RRI in bioscience. All the action plans have led to greater involvement of stakeholders at all levels of the research and innovation process.
Structural change is activated through the action plans based on an iterative model adapted from another EU-funded project, STAGES. Bioscience is characterised by high levels of uncertainty, innovation and social complexity, Mezzana explains. The model enables the projects implementation phase to incorporate proactivity, flexibility and the capacity to react rapidly to unexpected situations.
Triggering structural change
Bringing all its findings together, including lessons from the implementation of the action plans, the project team has published guidelines on RRI implementation for biosciences organisations. These aim to help formalise and trigger structural change through the introduction of RRI-related practices that are appropriate for given organisations. The project team also offers the biosciences sector introductory training on RRI and how to achieve structural change.
The guidelines are not a series of prescriptions but an itinerary of reflection and self-interpretation addressed to different actors within the biosciences, such as researchers, research managers, technical staff, students and others. This could be useful to science policymakers as well, says Mezzana.
To support this itinerary, the document provides a description of a general RRI model for research organisations, including ideas, premises and principles of action; practical guidance for designing interventions to put the RRI model into practice; and a set of useful practices for implementing the structural change process.
Finally, the project provides a good example of how to implement RRI in research institutions in other fields.