Pathways to Transformation conference took place in Brussels on June 20-21, 2019

The joint conference by the two EU-funded projects NUCLEUS and RRI-Practice took place in Brussels on June 20-21, 2019.

Thursday, 20 June – Practical Pathways

The event started with an introductory session, during which the coordinators of both projects, Prof. Alexander Gerber from Rhine-Waal University (NUCLEUS) and Dr. Ellen-Marie Forsberg, Østfoldforskning (RRI-Practice) briefly presented the work accomplished by NUCLEUS and RRI-Practice and summarised the main outcomes.

Next on the podium was Dr. Morten Irgens, Pro-rector for Research at Oslo Metropolitan University. In his very interesting talk, entitled ‘RRI at Oslo Metropolitan University: What We Have Done and Why It’s Important,’ Dr. Irgens raised a crucial question: What is universities’ purpose? One of the possible answers is the following: “The purpose of a university is to build a better future for the next generations, and engagement – apart from education and research – is one of the most important tools we have to do that.” Universities should be finding solutions to today’s problems, anticipating the upcoming ones and preventing the ones of the future.

Dr. Vinciane Gaillard, Deputy Director for Research and Innovation, European University Association (EUA) was next with a talk on “RRI in the Landscape of European Universities.” One of the points from her lecture was that “in the current system researchers are not valued to reflect open science in their practice.” Regarding the role of universities, she added that universities, as research and innovations actors, need to anticipate and respond to expectations and concerns from citizens, policy, industry and other stakeholders.

In his commentary, Dr. Jan Staman, former Director of Rathenau Institute and member of the Horizon 2020 expert group on Strategic Foresight for R&I Policy, said that “the added value of universities are the people they deliver to society and industry.” He added that universities are self-referential systems, which is a reason why it is sometimes difficult for RRI to get into the universities. Dr. Staman declared that “RRI is political” – it gives hope for change!  

Dr. Paul Manners, Director of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), stressed that we need to think of accountability, trust and transparency, relevance, and social responsibility as drivers if we really want to make a change. He also underlined the need to develop excellence and professional quality in RRI practice, and in particular in public engagement within institutions. Dr. Manners also warned against fetishizing the term RRI – we should instead find a framing that works within the local culture.

The session concluded with a Panel Discussion “Opportunities and Challenges in De Facto Practice” with participation of all six presenters.

After the lunch break, the conference participants split into two groups to attend Parallel Sessions.

In the NUCLEUS session, Minea Gartzlaff from Bielefeld University and Dr. Anne Dijkstra from University of Twente talked about “Obstacles to RRI: Interview Studies and Field Trips,” Dr. Pádraig Murphy from Dublin City University made a presentation “Testbeds: Self-Assessment, Mentoring, Monitoring” and Dr. Kenneth Skeldon from Wellcome Genome Campus concluded the session with a talk “Beyond the RRI Keys: Context-Specific Solutions,” during which he presented the 10 embedded Nuclei and their geographical, cultural and funding contexts.

Meanwhile, in the RRI-Practice session, Prof. Phil Macnaghten from Wageningen University spoke about the challenges of “Doing RRI in Multi-Partner Research Projects,” Christian Wittrock of Oslo Metropolitan University presented the “RRI Handbook for Organisations,” and Dr. Miltos Ladikas, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, wrapped up the session with a talk “The RRI Keys: Good Practice Examples.”

During the discussions which followed the three presentations in the RRI-Practice session, the audience raised numerous interesting issues, provoking a lively discussion. The key points can be summarised as follows:

  • There seem to be two dominant interpretations of RRI (European Commission with its five keys and the European Parliament, which focuses on the process of implementation of the RRI concept), which can result in a potential struggle.
  • The Handbook represents a good overview of good practices and shares lessons about implementing RRI in organisations. But this is only the start of the process – it would be very useful to learn how research organisations have acted upon the RRI concept. It is also important to know how to evaluate the uptake of RRI and what the incentives are for implementing RRI.
  • RRI champions can be very effective in pushing the RRI agenda in the institutions, but on the other hand, the championship might be overexploited – there seem to be champions for everything, and all the rest prefer to hide in their shade. Championship may also be too dependent on personal commitment and passion.
  • One of the main criteria for selection of good practices for the Handbook was their transferability. They are relevant and can be applied in a wide variety of organisations.
  • Both projects have come up with similar findings and identified elements that are widespread and applicable on the global scale.

The last session of the first day represented a Global Panel – Institutional Change in Research Organisations across the World: Learning from One Another. Panellists were Dr. Đorđe Baralić, Mathematical Institute of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (Serbia), Prof. Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (India), Prof. David Guston, Director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University (USA), Penny Haworth, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (South Africa), Prof. Sérgio Queiroz, The São Paolo Research Foundation (Brazil), and Dr. John Rumbold, Nottingham Trent University (UK).

Friday 21 June – Policy Pathways

The morning session of the second day was dedicated to Project Recommendations. Recommendations from both projects were presented and discussed. Dr. Paul Manners (NCCPE) was speaker for NUCLEUS, and Prof. Richard Owen (University of Bristol) presented the position of RRI-Practice.

Dr. Manners reflected on #LivingRRI as explored by NUCLEUS – testing ways to create better connections between research and society. He called the audience to focus on helping people to make change happen, but keeping this process as simple as possible.

Prof. Owen said that we need to understand the social, political and ethical entanglements of research and innovation. This is especially crucial in the age of rapid technological change, as research needs to find a new approach to responsibility. The central question is what kind of future we want and how we can collectively take responsibility for this future? He further explained that even though RRI is still unclear, it serves an important service around the research and innovation system. He also warned that there are insufficient incentives for individuals to engage with RRI, while trade-offs and risks are significant. Capacity and culture for RRI can only be built through training and resourcing, but have we got the right leaders to achieve this? At the moment we are really only just beginning with the long-term process of culture change, and therefore we should not give up. Prof. Owen also noted that there is a need to broaden/reframe definitions of research quality and research excellence.

Two representatives of European Commission and Parliament commented on the recommendations. Linden Farrer, Policy Officer, European Commission (DG Research & Innovation, Open Science & RRI), said that RRI-Practice and NUCLEUS recommendations were very important and timely, and fitted very well into the Open Science Agenda. He underlined that Horizon Europe will have a strong narrative about co-design and co-creation, and there will be a much stronger focus on public engagement.

Theodoros Karapiperis, Head of Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) of the European Parliament, called for linking participatory processes to a formal agenda, and making it clear how to integrate the outputs of the projects into the policy process. In other words, instead of recommendations policy-makers should be given options for choice: realistic, concrete and embedded in policy frameworks. He also called upon participants not to take RRI for granted, but to take a good look back and see what the cost-benefit analysis of the entire process is.

The session concluded with a Panel Discussion with participation of Dr. Clare Shelley-Egan (Oslo Metropolitan University), Dr. Paul Manners, Linden Farrer and Theodoros Karapiperis.

After a coffee break, Declaration and Petition on RRI was presented.

The Pathways Declaration – “The Future of RRI in Horizon Europe,” was introduced by Dr. Stephanie Daimer, Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research. The Declaration was developed by members of both projects in cooperation with other international RRI projects and initiatives. It can be read and signed on this link:

Presentation of the Declaration was followed by comments from two speakers. The first was Dr. René von Schomberg, European Commission. He noted that science and technology policy was the only EU policy area not driven by values, which is something that should change. We should all make innovation more value-driven, and thus more controversial. He raised a question could the Pathways Declaration be the bridge for RRI action, and if yes – what is the most critical next step. Dr. von Schomberg added that the idea of RRI was to compensate market deficits by building partnerships to overcome these deficits, however the SwafS projects did not deliver on correcting market mechanisms. In a thought-provoking statement about the role of universities discussed on the previous day, he compared universities to graveyards, because the incentive and reward system there is not working well and people who try to change the culture receive very little support. By putting the pressure on the individual researcher, the system of science collapses and the entire system underperforms.

Nick Cook, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), talked about EPSRC’s journey with embedding Responsible Research and Innovation in the research and skills they fund. EPSRC’s experience provided an excellent overview of how to implement RRI as a research funding organisation.

During the Closing Session, Prof. Alexander Gerber and Dr. Ellen-Marie Forsberg summarised the challenges and outcomes of both projects, spoke about the lessons learned, and told the audience about the next steps – not just for NUCLEUS and RRI-Practice projects, but for the RRI community as well.

A large photo album from the conference can be accessed here.

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