Responsible Research & Innovation or Open Science - does the label matter?

Responsible Research & Innovation or Open Science - does the label matter?

Here, we assert that Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and Open Science (OS) can be meaningfully compared as transformative change agendas for R&I. We propose looking for differences in terms of what motivates a transformative agenda, i.e. why do we need to open up the R&I system?

RRI & OS: two co-existing sets of ambitions

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and Open Science (OS) are two co-existing sets of ambitions concerning systemic change in the research and innovation (R&I) system. Initially, RRI and OS may appear to align well. RRI aims to facilitate solutions to the grand challenges faced by society by bringing together a range of societal actors in an interactive, transparent, and responsive process. OS emphasises the role of information technology in enabling collaboration across disciplines and sectors needed to solve grand challenges. However, it is unclear whether RRI and OS are mutually supportive of the same ends. This has become a pressing issue for us as scholars engaged in RRI and OS projects. What does the co-existence of RRI and OS initiatives mean for those of us who study, offer advice on, and aim to be a key part of science-society dynamics? This is a difficult question to address. Both RRI and OS take different forms (e.g. research topics, policy frameworks, visions), implying that their precise meaning and rationales differ. However, we assert that RRI and OS can be meaningfully compared as transformative change agendas for R&I. We propose looking for differences in terms of what motivates a transformative agenda, i.e. why do we need to open up the R&I system?

Two storylines

In order to explore this question, we offer two storylines that account for the specific contexts and dynamics of RRI and OS. RRI emerged as a policy concept in 2011 with firm roots in various traditions that seek to enhance the integration of science and society, e.g. Technology Assessment, Ethical, Legal and Societal Aspects (ELSA), and anticipatory governance. RRI became an important innovation policy issue for a variety of R&I actors for myriad reasons: the need to orient new technologies toward societal challenges; the need to prevent adverse effects; and to establish public trust and confidence in the governance of R&I. RRI can be seen as a movement that emphasises normative aspects of the R&I system. OS is gaining increasing prominence at national and supranational levels, as seen, for example in the three strategic research priorities underlying current European Union R&I policy, namely Open Innovation, Open Science, and Open to the World (‘the 3 Os’). Open inquiry has long been at the heart of the scientific endeavour. Open Science calls for a further ‘opening up’ of the research process by extending the principle of openness to all aspects of the research process. OS is concerned with epistemic deficiencies and aims to develop new ICT platforms to ensure scientific capacity for societal needs.

Comparing prescriptive actions for transformation

At first glance, the transformative agendas of RRI and OS align in key areas, as seen, for instance in the emphasis on responsible conduct of research. RRI concerns opening up R&I processes to various stakeholders in transparent, open, and responsive dialogue about trajectories and priorities of development. OS can strengthen research integrity by diffusing knowledge at an earlier stage of the research process. Both RRI and OS have relevance for grand challenges also, although there are differences in emphasis. For RRI, the alignment with grand challenges is far more integral to its core logic and claims to relevance. OS, on the other hand, demonstrates relevance in its more general efforts to improve capacities in scientific activity.

Engagement with publics and stakeholders

Differences in prescriptions for ‘opening up’ become especially clear when examined in relation to topics that are of central importance to both. For instance, as regards engagement with publics and stakeholders, the emphasis in Open Science is on doability and the internal processes and structures of doing R&I. OS is researcher-driven, with the peer community the most important audience. OS is also driven by a more outward-looking focus, which can be expressed as an ambition to democratise research. RRI’s approach to opening up is broader, extending an invitation to publics to co-produce the aims and means of technical processes for greater alignment with public values. RRI reflects a view of societal voices and citizens as legitimate partners and beneficiaries of technology and knowledge, while one sees less of a symmetrical relationship between technical and experts and societal voices in OS. Thus, we see normative and pragmatic motivations for RRI and OS, respectively.

Approaches to interdisciplinarity

There are also differences with respect to approaches to interdisciplinarity prescribed by RRI and OS. RRI emphasises explorative methods and the inclusion of value judgements alongside epistemic and technical issues. In addition, the inclusion of non-experts is underpinned by normative justifications. Different Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) disciplines and societal stakeholders are invited into the research process for different reasons. Thus, there is a clearly articulated role for SSH grounded in their specific areas of expertise. OS, on the other hand, promotes an agenda of digital research infrastructure that implies a call for a fundamental transformation of existing R&I systems. The focus here is on pragmatic questions regarding the construction of functional infrastructure. The emphasis is on reducing incommensurability between disciplines and data sets – in this sense, SSH’s critical capacities and explorative methodologies do not fit. Here again, we see a distinction between normative and pragmatic motivations, or desirability and doability.

Where to next?

Our comparison suggests that publics will, to a lesser degree, be invited to reflect systematically on the structural and long-term implications of R&I, under an OS focused research policy regime. Future efforts in OS, particularly in the area of citizen science, may benefit from building on RRI’s achievements in institutionalising participatory approaches to R&I, rather than abandoning them altogether. One could speculate that the instrumental focus of OS might allow the movement to converge more easily with political and institutional goals to attract investment and sustain its momentum as a policy tool than has been the case for RRI. But the question is: at what cost? What are the implications for 1) engagement (with respect to the kind of work SSH are being asked to do) and for 2) interdisciplinarity, i.e. for the terms and conditions of our participation?

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