Responsible research and innovation as a method

Because research and innovation aim to promote economic growth and solve major societal challenges, research results must contribute to a more sustainable future. At the Research Council, it is therefore important for us that all actors in the research system collaborate well, and that the results of the projects we fund build reliability and benefit society in the best possible way. Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is a method and a good approach to achieving just this.

On this page you can read more about:

RRI at the Research Council

Research, innovation and technologies have the power to transform society. It is easy to recognize that science is not separate from society but is part of it.   With this comes an important social responsibility for funders, researchers and other key groups involved in scientific and technological development and innovation. Everyone involved should think about

  • the direction in which the research is taking us
  • who may benefit from new research and innovation and who may not benefit from it
  • how assessment of potential social, environmental and ethical issues can be assessed throughout the research and innovation process

Responsible research and innovation is not about judging what is "good" or "bad", "positive" or "negative", or "responsible" or "irresponsible". Instead, RRI offers techniques, tools, and frameworks for thinking about issues of social responsibility. The RRI methodology is a tool you can use to embed methods and processes to assess four key dimensions related to research and innovation (AIRR dimensions):

  • Anticipation!
  • Inclusion!
  • Reflection!
  • Responsiveness!

An elaboration of what lies in each of these four dimensions can be found under the heading Examples to inspire the integration of RRI into projects. There are links to two examples of "RRI Guidelines" within two different thematic fields/contexts. Both elaborate on the AIRR dimensions.

Responsible research and innovation are closely linked to other cross-cutting issues such as user involvement, open science, ethics and other important value judgments. Here are some links to these cross-cutting fields:

This page does not describe RRI as a field of study or a field of research, which RRI is.

How you can describe RRI in a project or in an application

How RRI is integrated into grant applications will depend on the context of the individual project. However, the following five points will provide a good foundation on how to develop your approach to RRI in your project:

  1. In general, RRI should be an integral part of the project and involve all project participants.
  2. It is important to develop an overall understanding of the project's RRI approaches as early as possible in a project.
  3. The RRI activities in the project must also be coordinated. They can advantageously be carried out as a separate work package.
  4. Include important resources for the RRI work. You should consider including researchers with a background in the humanities and/or social sciences, as this could be a strength for the project.
  5. For most people, integrating RRI into projects will require you to acquire new knowledge, competencies and skills. In the application, you are welcome to emphasise the needs you envisage, which may include learning related to the RRI work in the project.

Examples to inspire the integration of RRI into projects

Here are some examples of how to integrate RRI into research and innovation projects:

  1. The Network of Research Funders in Materials Research and Innovation, M-ERA.NET, RRI Guidelines (2022) can be used as inspiration when incorporating RRI into material-related projects.
  2. The Partnership in Health, ERA4Health also has RRI Guidelines (2023).
  3. UK Research and Innovation brings together their (R)RI understanding, guidance and tools under the "Good research resource hub".
  4. The Dutch Research Council (NWO) calls its RRI method "Impact plan" and it shows the potential of the methodology for increased impact.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has a lot in common with RRI and here you can read more about this approach to corporate responsibility.

There are several names for this field, but as of now we continue to use Responsible Research and Innovation/RRI at the Research Council, and as the RRI method is presented here, it is just as relevant for research organisations as for industry. 

How we request RRI in our calls for proposals

For more than ten years, we have requested RRI in our calls for proposals, both nationally and in international calls for proposals. The way we have done this has varied based on the thematic area of the call and has evolved over the years. This is in the nature of RRI.

The RRI methodology has been most in demand within enabling technologies (e.g. ICT, biotechnology and nanotechnology), but also within food, health and other topics. The Research Council's own calls for proposals, the Horizon Europe programme and joint international calls for proposals in the Nordic countries and Europe all request RRI methodology.

Here are examples of how we are doing at the Research Council as of now:

RRI in calls for proposals

In technology convergence and in nanotechnology, microtechnology and advanced materials in 2024:

"The research methods, technology development, and solutions in the application must implement Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). In the application, you must describe the activities, processes and governance structure for this. We expect you to include relevant measures and involve community actors in the discussions.  Based on the application content, RRI measures are relevant to varying degrees.

For inspiration on how a good project with RRI methodology can be planned, read about RRI on our website Responsible Research and Innovation at the Research Council. Several of the elements of responsible research and innovation are also considered in the subsections of the assessment criteria."

In industrial biotechnology:

"There is a lot of uncertainty associated with the effects of technology development and innovation. In addition to solving societal challenges, the use of new technology can also contribute to creating or reinforcing them. In the application, you must describe how the project will deal with intended and unintended applications and effects of the technology you are developing. You must facilitate real co-production by having the actors in the project work together to develop good solutions.

Research on ethical, societal and political dimensions of technological development may be included in the projects, but this is not required."

In the ERA4Health 2024 partnership:

"Proposals should follow the principles of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). All consortia should demonstrate a commitment to investigating and addressing social, ethical, political, environmental or cultural dimensions of the proposed research. The proposal template further elaborates on this and how RRI dimensions can be approached (see our guidelines)."

RRI in our evaluation criteria

We believe that an RRI approach improves the quality and usefulness of research and innovation, and could raise a project application on all three assessment criteria. The exact integration of RRI into grant applications will depend on the context of the individual project, but an RRI approach in a project will primarily be assessed under the evaluation criterion "Excellence – quality in R&D activities".

An active contributor to the development of RRI

The Research Council is a key player in Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) because RRI is aware of RRI when we give advice or fund projects. One of the Research Council's four core values is to be responsible. Contributing to research and innovation within RRI methodology is a natural part of such accountability. We have been a very active player since RRI became a concept over 10 years ago, and in related methodology before that. As early as 2015, the Research Council established a framework for responsible research and innovation based on the four AIRR dimensions: Anticipation, Inclusion, Reflection and Responsiveness. RRI represents development and learning ambitions for the research and innovation system that are so broadly understood that it encompasses the Research Council level.

This article from 2016 has a comprehensive look back at RRI at the Research Council (in Norwegian): Responsible Research and Innovation in the Research Council of Norway | Research policy | Research Policy (fpol.no).

Nationally

The Research Council's focus on ethical, legal and social aspects of technology research from 2008 was part of the international RRI development. The initiative was continued with a focus on the development of research on – and research as – socially responsible innovation.

The work has always been linked to the enabling technologies biotechnology, nanotechnology and ICT, and has matured considerably in recent years. When the Research Council of Norway was to establish a focus on technology convergence and radical innovation in 2021, it was natural to include RRI already in the planning phase.

One of the elements is a learning arena for the projects in the initiative, which will start in 2024. There, the research communities and the Research Council can share experiences and knowledge about RRI-work in and across the projects and gain insight into

  • challenges related to working with transdisciplinary approaches, open research and socially responsible research and innovation
  • particular challenges related to research on technological convergence for radical technological development
  • challenges arising from linking research and radical innovation

The Research Council of Norway has contributed to the establishment of the national collaboration platform Centre for Digital Life Norway (DLN), which has been a pilot for transdisciplinary cooperation and RRI since its inception in 2016. DLN's website contains useful advice on how to describe RRI in the context of biotechnology and RRI activities they have in the network.

The project Responsible Research and Innovation Norway (AFINO) started in 2019 and is a network and learning centre for responsible innovation and corporate social responsibility in Norway, funded by the Research Council of Norway. The goal is to develop expertise and new methods to ensure that innovation is responsible, sustainable and fair. Read more about AFINO at NTNU.

The government's billion-NOK investment in artificial intelligence (AI), which starts in 2024, has three tracks: 

  1. Societal effects
  2. Technology
  3. Innovation

RRI is relevant to research in all its tracks and especially on societal effects. Read more about the initiative (both in Norwegian):

Internationally

The Transforming Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) was established in 2016, and brings together organizations with tasks related to research and innovation policy with the aim of increasing learning in their own organization related to major societal challenges. The Research Council participated in the consortium 2016–2022.

The Research Council of Norway has contributed to the work of developing the RRI guidelines for several European ERA networks and now partnerships since 2016. Experience has shown that it is important that the RRI mindset is integrated already when the applications to establish the partnerships are being formulated. 

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