One of the newesttrends in the scientific community and science governance is RRI, responsibleresearch and innovation. RRI is an approach that fosters sustainable and inclusiveresearch and innovation. It is supposed to anticipate societal expectations andimplications of research and innovation and promises to include all societalactors in the research process. 1In the context of the European Union, RRI was first mentioned in theHorizon2020 programme.
All new research projects should work accordingly to theRRI framework. It is a new form of science governance that will either reformthe way science is accepted within society and improve the politicisation ofscience or it will do neither. 1Science, politics,and the publics have relationships that are quite fragile and need to be treatedwith delicacy. Quite a few issues can be provoked if not.
This is why there aremultiple developments arising simultaneously to balance these relationships butthey might be opposing one another. In the lastdecades, depoliticisation has become more and more prominent within thescientific community. According to Peter Burnham depoliticisation is a trendthat supposedly moves the decision making away from the government and placesit in the public sphere, which givesthe whole decision making process another regulatory system that is not ruledby politicians.2 Depoliticisation, in that sense, is defined by theway we view politics. If we think about politics only within the context of politicalparties and governments and we use it as our frame of reference it than definesthat the regulatory systems are removed from politicians’ hands and are placedinto the hands of external actors that are not involved with political partiesor governments. This trend is re-emerging in the scientific community as a possible result ofcurrent political situations. Parts of these situations have been caused by thepublics’ losing their faith in science and scientists. This might not necessarilybe because they lost their trust in science but because they are excluded fromany political and scientificML1 debates.
Only bigger parties and actors are involved in debates anddiscussions, neglecting the possibility that what they are discussing is of anysocial relevance for the public.3 Hence the credibility of science,scientist, and researchers can deteriorate. This loss of faith can be addressed by the depoliticisation movement. It will givethe publics more power and they will be part of the actual science governance systemML2 .Problems that might arise here are that certain sensitive issues will need tobe addressed by politicians such as for example nuclear power. This is an issuethat needs to be governed by experts in both politics and science on thegrounds that those people studied the topic.
Quite frankly not everyone in thepublics has experience with nuclear power and should therefore not have thepower to decide over such risky, maybe even fatal, issues. For less dangerousissues, which are of great societal interest, the publics should be part of theregulatory system. Politicisation onthe other hand could be seen as a tool for manipulation. Politicised science canbe used for the political agendas and it is exactly this trend that leads to thedistrust of scientist and science. Science is politicised when its practicesand institutions are actively and consistently challenged by a larger group ofindividuals.
6 A large group ofindividuals is not necessarily fear inducing for scientist but large group withthe same ideologies that could induce a significant change and politicisescience are.Thus the politicisationML3 of science can evoke considerable complex situations that need tobe treated consciously. Politicians need to anticipate the societal impact of researchand innovation, and if they fail to address these properly it can lead tomultiple problems. Also, if politicians withhold certain information the publicmight take drastic measures to provoke politicians and underline the fact theyhave been kept out of the debate.
3Politicisation has the possibility to be used as a means to include more actorsand a greater diversity of voices and considering the values of all actors andstakeholders. 3 This is where RRIcomes into play. RRI focuses on the benefits research provides for society.Researchers and scientist have the responsibility to adapt to societal needsand pressure. Through RRI societal actors and stakeholders are involved inresearch projects from the beginning.
RRI is designed to expand the democraticinput into the governance of science by involving the publics.4Public actors now are involved from the beginning and are not only given thepolitical output after the project is finished but they can actually have aninfluence from the beginning, and their perceptions and needs are included. Onlybeing exposed to the political output can lead to resistance by the public.4 However the politicised side of science is now included from the start. Thiswill supposedly align science with society. Thus RRI opens the doors foradaptation. Researchers are now able to anticipate and balance societies needsand expectations with their research.
Their engagement and broaderparticipation can also promote creativity.4Another issue researchinstitutions and universities have to deal with is that no proper guidelines havebeen established yet for the implementation of RRI, creating all kinds of hurdles,but also the freedom to design RRI so that it can fit their institution better.5’Responsibleresearch and innovation’ will provide the publics with a sense of security thattheir voices are heard and that they will be included in debates and decisionmaking processes. This moves the politicisation from the output towards theinput, meaning that the publics are not just hit with the finished decisions andregulations, but they have an influence on the whole process and their voiceswill be heard. When done right institutions will open their doors for dialogueand public debate.
3,4Nevertheless, RRI is a project with great potential to connect science, politics,and publics, but current political situations (e.g.: Trump and Brexit) do notallow for such debates and dialogueML4 that are needed to strengthen the relationship of the public with science,which was disintegrated by years of exclusion. An important question, relatedto aligning science with society, that we need to ask ourselves is if we livein a society which values we want to incorporate into our science? Do we reallywant racism, sexism, misogyny, and many more societal flaws reflected in science,research, and innovation?