Session 9: The future of RRI – Policy and RRI in times of political turbulence

Organiser: Erich Griessler
Speakers: Stephanie DaimerJack SpaapenRoger StrandMichalis Tzatzanis
Moderator: Susanne Meissner-Dragosits

Jack SpaapenRoger Strand: “The Times, Are They a-Changin’?” 

Spirits rise with new opportunities and funding programmes, and hearts sink as they fade away. For friends of RRI, such as ourselves, there are always tempests in the teapot: post-ELSI manifestos, RRI funerals and the scare of SwafS disappearing, to mention a few. At the same time, there is an ever-growing need to address major societal challenges responsibly and together as researchers and stakeholders. Covid-19 presents the perfect example. More than a health issue, it is a societal issue. Notwithstanding vaccines and other technical fixes, we need to organize society in a more responsible way. In this dialogue we optimistically argue that the larger waters have grown, and those who don’t start swimming will sink like a stone. There are many signs that a deeper change in research and innovation culture is unfolding. Interestingly enough, (female) economists are among those who seem to lead the way towards a more responsible, inclusive and sustainable society.
We believe the pendulum already swings away from academic monocultures and socially irresponsible ivory towers. At the same time, researchers and their funders are beginning to disbelieve and perhaps abandon dysfunctional governance and assessment practices. 

Michalis Tzatzanis: “The future of RRI within Horizon Europe” 

The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation has, in the past, not only introduced the concept of responsible research and innovation (RRI) at the European level, but also invested considerable funds in further research, innovation and implementation of RRI since 2011. So, for the eager reader of the now available official documents of Horizon Europe, it will come as a surprise that the term “responsible research and innovation” is mentioned a single time in the whole Horizon Europe Regulation. Has it fallen from grace? Should we all pack our bags, stay calm and carry on?  

Even if the term itself seems to have been weeded out of the official documents, both the six Keys that made up the concept of RRI according to the Commission, as well as the four Principles of Anticipation, Reflexivity, Inclusion and Responsiveness that defined it for the research community, are strengthened in Horizon Europe. From Gender Equality Plans as an eligibility criterion for Universities, to Open Science as the default modus operandi for Horizon Europe projects, to the introduction of the “do-no-significant-harm principle” for the evaluation, to the stronger engagement of citizens and stakeholders, all signs point to a reinforced – although nuanced – role for RRI in Horizon Europe. 

Stephanie Daimer: “Zooming out to the framework conditions of RRI: A scenario exercise” 

Participants of NewHoRRIzon’s Social Lab for “SwafS” have developed four scenarios for society, research, and innovation in the European Union in the year 2038 as a “thinkpiece” for todays’ discussions about the future of RRI. The scenarios put the emphasis on the framework conditions, as opposed to focussing on RRI principles and instruments. They alert us to the fact that we cannot take for granted that European societies will remain open, tolerant towards different opinions and inclusive – which is a prerequisite for RRI. In the Kingdom of RRI scenario citizens participate directly in decision-making processes; the Fortress Europe scenario depicts a libertarian system; the Failed Democracy scenario is a populist regime; while the Benevolent Green Eurocrats scenario describes a technocratically coordinated strong state. The RRI concept is ignored, manipulated or rather selectively applied in the latter three scenarios. So, the scenarios open up the questions, “what we as individuals (researchers and citizens) can do?” and “what role todays’ policy choices and policy approaches can play in support of a healthy development of our democratic, liberal culture and societal cohesion?” While the scenarios paint black and white, we also posit that there is room for safeguarding meaningful interactions between the societal and professional actors in an innovation system even in the harshest framework conditions. 

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