Societal Readiness Level Thinking Tool

Scientists and policy makers increasingly recognize RRI as a key priority in European research and innovation. While there has been a considerable degree of conceptual development, researchers still lack practical methods for implementation and assessment of RRI in concrete research and innovation projects. How can procedural RRI-dimensions such as anticipation, reflexivity, inclusion and responsiveness be meaningfully translated into research and innovation practices? How can researchers reflect upon public engagement, open access, science education, gender and ethics in their research and innovation projects? By adopting a stage-gating inspired processual focus, the Societal Readiness Level (SRL) Thinking Tool offers practical guidance for researchers on how to reflect and mature the degree of responsibility in their research and innovation projects.

Stage-gating is widely used in business-based product development. It divides the development process into discrete stages punctuated by decision gates. The SRL Thinking Tool distinguishes four discrete phases common to most research-driven projects:

  • Phase 1 captures the ideation process, where new ideas for discovery are conceptualized, research problems are formulated and appropriate procedures for data collection and experimentation are planned.
  • Phase 2 covers activities related to implementation, data collection and experimental testing.
  • Phase 3 encompasses data analysis, evaluation and interpretation of results.
  • Phase 4 covers the launching of project outcomes (primarily in technology-focused projects) and the dissemination of results to relevant stakeholders, researchers and public audiences.

The stage-gating-methodology subjects product development processes to certain assessment criteria they must fulfill to continue development. Typically, these assessment criteria have been based on technical considerations. For example, an innovation in the making must demonstrate a sufficiently high Technological Readiness Level (TRL) to progress to the next developmental stage. In the SRL Thinking Tool, the assessment criteria are instead based on societal considerations. At each gate, the Thinking Tool offers generic questions related to the 5 RRI pillars (public engagement, open access, science education, gender and ethics), along with the 4 RRI conditions (anticipation, reflection, inclusion, and responsiveness). For example, to proceed from phase 1 to phase 2, project participants should consider how different stakeholders will benefit from their project and what actions will be taken to ensure diverse perspectives on the potential ethical issues arising in their project.

Reflecting upon the degree of societal appropriateness in research and innovation is one thing; actually doing societally appropriate research and innovation is another. In order to facilitate the latter, the Thinking Tool offers introductions to methods and resources for ensuring the societal readiness of research-driven projects along with suggestions for further readings and case-examples of applications. Examples of methods and resources include Value Sensitive Design and the Gendered Innovations project.

A website hosting the prototype of the Thinking Tool is currently being developed. During 2019, the Thinking Tool will be tested and further developed in collaboration with participants of the NewHoRRIzon Social Labs.

By Emil Alnor