Last week a major milestone in the RRI-Practice project was achieved when representatives of research conducting and research funding/policy organisations from 14 countries within and outside Europe, as well as project researchers, met at the beautiful premises of the Helmholtz Foundation in Berlin to share experiences in implementing RRI in practice.
Two workshops were held in parallel; workshops for research conducting organisations (mostly universities) and funding/policy organisations were held separately in order to enhance the relevance of the experiences for fellow workshop participants. However, some plenary sessions were held in order to facilitate learning across the groups. While the discussions have yet to be analysed, my impression was that the participants appreciated the opportunity for discussion with colleagues from around the world. There are, no doubt, differences in national research and innovation systems, but there seemed to be a shared enthusiasm among most of the participants related to RRI; not necessarily because the RRI concept is the best concept for all countries, but because the substantial content of what was discussed as “RRI” was regarded as important by all participants. This could be related to gender equality or public engagement, or it could be related to the importance of anticipating effects of science and innovation or addressing societal challenges. Diversity in the understanding of RRI is unavoidable in a project like RRI-Practice, and not necessarily something to be avoided. However, the workshops were – I believe – an important arena for calibrating RRI understandings and hopefully inspiring new reflections on what RRI – and responsibility in research and innovation more generally – can and should be.
Following the workshops, we had the pleasure of meeting most of the project’s Advisory Board. The Advisory Board was generally enthusiastic about the project, but gave us some clear feedback for consideration. Most fundamentally, some members of the Board encouraged us to consider the relation between incremental changes in organisations and the need for a fundamental transformation of science and innovation systems. We were reminded that organisations are important, but policy agendas are crucial drivers in the implementation of RRI in organisations. We were challenged to formulate in clearer terms the types of problem(s) RRI aims to address in order to create legitimacy for the RRI agenda. Moreover, we were advised that RRI must make sense to key actors in the organisations. The Advisory Board encouraged us to be concrete and understandable, and to avoid too much theorising and abstract recommendations.
In the subsequent consortium meeting, we agreed on a process of Skype meetings to reflect on how to incorporate the lessons from the workshops and the advice from the Advisory Board. We are grateful for all the time and effort our workshop participants and Advisory Board members devoted to us. Now is the time for integration of the lessons in the project; a challenging, but inspiring task!