The NewHoRRIzon project started its 19 Social Labs on the Program Lines of Horizon 2020, with the aim of promoting the uptake of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in H2020 and beyond.
What are Social Labs?
Social Labs form the heart of the NewHoRRIzon project. They provide an interactive space for stakeholders from science, research funding, policy making, business, and civil society organizations involved in research and innovation to discuss RRI and possible ways to make it operational within a specific H2020 Program Line. Stakeholders come together in a cycle of three Workshops, and engage with one another via teleconferences and email in between these, to diagnose the state of affairs of RRI within their Horizon2020 Program Line, to generate visions of what RRI in their context might entail, and to design, test and implement dedicated activities (so-called Pilot Actions, see below) that help promote the uptake of RRI.
What are Pilot Actions?
Pilot Actions are efforts dedicated at implementing RRI. They should address the vision and challenges stakeholders identify in the Social Lab Workshops in regard to the implementation of RRI in their daily work. Rather than operationalizing RRI as a mere ‘add-on’ to their business as usual, Pilot Actions seek to reorient the daily practise of stakeholders towards RRI. Social Lab participants will advance and develop the activities in between the workshops and will assess and re-design them in the months to come.
First Series of Workshops
In spring 2018, NewHoRRIzon organized the first series of Social Lab Workshops in its 19 Social Labs. Social Labs of the 1st round had altogether 301 participants from across Europe (Figure 1 & 2) and each involved between 9 and 25 participants.
Participants came from various organizations (Figure 3). The largest group was from research and innovation (155 participants), followed by policy making and public administration (38), innovation, business and industry (37), civil society organizations (23), education (22), funding (10) and others (16). With 152 male and 149 female participants, men and women were almost equally represented in the Social Labs (Figure 4).
Some interim results
Social Labs participants generated altogether 67 Pilot Actions.
- 28 of them addressed the need to raise awareness and to build capacities for RRI. Suggested pilot ideas included RRI trainings for different stakeholders: (early career) researchers, research funders, policy makers, entrepreneurs, users of technologies, and teacher; an RRI “manifesto”; workshops and awards.
- 16 pilot activities were concerned with ideas how to increase public engagement in research. These ideas included the creation of a website dedicated to RRI for an existing research project, a so-called “Research Kiosk” for facilitating face-to-face interactions between researchers and members of the public, a Social Lab in a science museum, involvement of civil society organizations, patient involvement, co-creation exercises, consensus conferences, involvement of researchers in everyday situation together with laypeople.
- 15 pilot activities dealt with the question of how to improve governance of RRI. These ideas comprised ideas to include RRI in e.g. funding calls, instruments and organizations, systems for career assessment of researchers, and evaluation criteria of projects as well as self-assessment tools.
- 8 ideas addressed issues of gender equality and open access. These ideas included measures to improve the balance between personal / family live, and professional live.
The work in the Social Labs was very encouraging and successful so far. However, it also showed challenges ahead.
- First, stakeholder involvement is not a given. Engaging participants and keeping them engaged, identifying and including relevant ‘new’ actors, and ensuring diversity in the Social Lab is a continuing and challenging task in the organization of a Social Lab.
- Second, project management has to deal with a number of limiting conditions. Participants are usually very busy in their everyday work and have little time for pilot activity development. Furthermore, they have limited resources and often lack the discretionary power to decide on the course of action needed to further develop a Pilot Action that was designed during the Workshops.
- Third, in the ever-changing political landscape of European research policy, it is challenging to create clarity about the concept of RRI and its alignment with future European funding. The Social Lab manager must strike a balance between explaining, on the one hand, what scholars and policy-makers mean with ‘RRI’ (and how both its content and labels change over time), and embracing responsively, on the other hand, participants’ ideas on and perceptions of RRI. Responsiveness to the latter is indispensable in developing Pilot Actions that are sufficiently context-specific to inspire concrete action in a specific situation, and to motivate Social Lab participants to carry out a pilot activity.
- In addition, the feasibility of Pilot Actions is challenging. Participants have to reflect their own ability to further RRI. Together with the Social Lab Manager, they have to address the factors that may hamper the uptake of RRI in their organization. Social Lab managers have an explicit role in enhancing their sense of agency in these respects. The Social Lab also has to deal with frictions in the piloting process: dealing with group dynamics, helping to focus efforts and bridging diverse perceptions of what a Pilot Action is, etc.
The second round of Social Lab Workshops started in November 2018 and will be finished in summer 2019.
By Joshua Cohen, Erich Griessler, Anne Loeber