projet responsability Deliverable 2.1: Network of Networks

John Pearson, Philippe Goujon

Research output: Book/Report/JournalCommissioned report


This deliverable examines RRI networks by examining five main features of such networks: the main actors, the theoretical structures, the funding sources, the dissemination structures, and the possibility of expanding RRI beyond the European context.
RRI Actors: In order to structure the analysis from the outset, it is worth distinguishing six main actor groups in RRI networks: national governments; regional governments; international governmental organisations; civil society actors; businesses, scientific research projects (those carrying out research relevant to RRI, regardless of whether they are aware of RRI), and policy researchers (those researching RRI as a policy tool, or those with an interest in similar concepts). This set of groups is not intended to be exhaustive, and neither is it intended to exclude the possibility of making further distinctions within the main categories. It is merely intended to organize the discussion at this stage, and hopefully to prompt further reflection on the categories of actors to be included in the Forum and Observatory.
Two main issues emerged from the analysis: first, awareness of RRI among civil society actors seems low on the basis of the research so far; business actors also have a low level of awareness: some businesses use terms such as Responsible Research and Innovation and related terms such as Responsible Innovation. However, the usage of these terms seems much less widespread than influential concepts such as corporate social responsibility. The most prominent actors are thus still national and regional governments and policy and scientific researchers. Inclusion beyond the core group of actors is therefore a priority if we want to avoid RRI becoming a specialised research area rather than an approach with a wide influence. A further urgent problem is the need to distinguish RRI from similar concepts such as Corporate Social Responsibility, not least because we need to show that it is worthwhile researching what extra value a new concept such as RRI can bring to research ethics and governance..
RRI Theories: Although RRI has emerged recently as a theoretical approach, the number of definitions of the concept has proliferated quite rapidly – as is shown in the discussion of RRI theories later in this deliverable. In terms of constructing a network, this raises something of a dilemma. We want RRI as a concept to remain flexible enough to deal with a range of cases and address unforeseen issues, yet coherent enough to form a focal point for debate. This problem might be addressed by stressing the fact that RRI theory consists of procedural, substantive and practical elements: debate could be focused on these elements while leaving their precise content quite open at this early stage. It is argued that at present RRI theories neglect practical concerns such as the construction of norms in specific contexts and the incentives of actors to engage in constructing norms. Such practical concerns are of course complex in themselves, and may intensify the dilemma between ‘flexible’ and ‘coherent’ conceptions of RRI: if we focus on solving one of the problems mentioned in a specific context, we may lose some of the broader focus and flexibility of our approach.
Funding Sources: At present, the main sources of funding for RRI networks and projects have been regional (i.e. EU) and national government funding bodies with some extra support from independent research bodies and foundations. Some RRI projects have succeeded in obtaining funding from businesses and private sources – obtaining such funding seems vital for the long term sustainability of the Forum and Observatory. If the Forum and Observatory are to be sustainable beyond the duration of the current funding, they will presumably need to secure funding from outside sources, including funding from private enterprise. However, business based funding raises a dilemma between sustainability and credibility: relying too heavily on businesses may undermine the credibility of the forum and observatory in particular. As an example of a similar problem at the UN level, many civil society groups are openly hostile or critical of private enterprise: linking the Forum or Observatory to particular private enterprises via funding sources may alienate such groups if they feel they are risk of being co-opted to the interests of the enterprise in question (Willetts, 2006). In general, over-reliance on private funding can potentially hurt both the image of the project (the perception that the Forum and Observatory are vulnerable to co-option, which may discourage some participants), and the actual running of the project (dependency on private funding may lead to actual cases of undue influence and unfair access if funders use their position to exert influence). Some projects seem to have addressed this dilemma by relying on a range of different sources of funding and by being very open about their funding sources (Debating Innovation, 2012). The first strategy helps reduce reliance on a single source of funding, and thus reduces the chance that dependency could lead to undue influence. The second strategy increases the transparency of the Forum and Observatory. It may also create incentives to enhance credibility: private enterprises may not want to be openly associated with a Forum and Observatory that are perceived as lacking credibility.
Dissemination Structures: Existing dissemination structures for RRI are the funding streams for RRI, online sources such as blogs and forums, and conferences. It is argued that such structures are potentially effective but need more co-ordination and a focus in an overarching structure to avoid fragmentation. One concrete suggestion is to develop ‘dynamic coalitions’ on the model of the Internet Governance Forum as a tool to strengthen the RRI Forum or Observatory.
Alternative dissemination channels could include an RRI journal (although a publication strategy for RRI articles might be more effective), procedures such as public procurement processes (into which RRI requirements could be inserted, as van den Hoven proposes (van den Hoven, et al., 2013)), and mainstream media. Of these latter three channels, mainstream media seems most important in order to raise the public profile of RRI. If we want members of the public to visit and use the Forum and Observatory, we will need to raise awareness of the concept and its potential. Mainstream media may be a useful way of reaching a wider audience who are not yet aware of RRI, and thus could not be expected to actively search for it. An example of a mainstream media outlet to raise awareness of RRI is the BBC Future website, which focuses on new technologies and on emerging problems and their solutions, including sometimes addressing ethical issues (BBC, 2013).
RRI Beyond Europe: Increasing attention is being paid to the possibility of expanding RRI beyond the European context – for example, through governance structures at the global level in the Progress project. Given that RRI is still an emergent concept and is not clearly defined (Sutcliffe, 2011) there is currently room to address a range of different conceptions from both within and beyond the European context – this is something that may need to be taken into account in the design of the forum. This aspiration is in fact included in the aims of this project. There are three main considerations here. First, it is worth examining whether similar dissemination channels to those that exist in Europe can be found in other contexts – channels are mainly understood here as institutional structures (again, the clearest examples are the various funding and research councils existing in different countries, but others would be universities themselves and businesses carrying out research and development) through which RRI might be disseminated or at least discussed. It is nowhere supposed that such channels are free of resistance and dispute – we will have to take account of the possibility of differences of interpretation and motivation. Nevertheless, we have to be aware of the institutional possibilities for spreading RRI, or at least debate about RRI – RRI as a governance concept cannot exist in an institutional vacuum. Some channels are identified by examining the Malaysian context. However, this leads to three further issues. First, RRI has not yet been disseminated through these channels so it is necessary to consider possible competing networks and concepts – this again raises the issue of distinguishing RRI form other concepts. Second, in very poor countries, the channels referred to may not exist at all. Disseminating RRI through existing channels may only further isolate such very poor countries. Three strategies to address this problem could be developed. First, we could take a creative approach to tailoring RRI to whatever dissemination channels exist in the countries in question, including looking for parallel dissemination channels that have worked for other issues. Second,, RRI could be mainstreamed in development discourse, so that, for example, spreading research and innovation to developing countries becomes a part of corporate social responsibility. A third strategy is to focus on how to integrate RRI concerns into the construction of research and innovation infrastructure (once again, where infrastructure is taken to mean a broad range institutional structures dealing with research, from universities and research councils to private organisations and businesses carrying out research and design) in places where such infrastructure does not yet exist.

Original languageEnglish
PublisherCommission of European Communities
Number of pages50
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2013


  • network
  • responsible innovation
  • forum
  • stakeholders
  • civil society
  • transnational governance
  • multi stakholders


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