Eurada News nº387 - April 2019

Responsible Research & Innovation and RDAs

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is an umbrella term which should be understood by development agencies and their practitioners. For almost a decade, the RRI approach to research and innovation policy has gathered traction and it is now a cross cutting issue in the European Union’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation in the European Research Area (Horizon 2020) as well as a part of Science with and for Society Work Programme (SWAFS). RRI and its approach seeks to focus research and the products of innovation to achieve benefits in the social and environmental realms.


Responsible Research and Innovation considers how research and innovation policies intertwine with society – the effects of these policies and how those effects affect society. RRI aims for a Europe where research and innovation policy is inclusive and sustainable. Bringing together and bridging actors involved in research and innovation policy sits at the core of what RRI is about and this approach is based on the need to better align research and innovation processes and results with society’s values, needs and expectations. It is such an alignment between R&I process and outcome.

To undertake such a policy change in the pursuit of greater inclusivity and suitability, RRI has key elements as guiding themes through which RRI principles can be advanced: public engagement, open access, gender, ethics, science education. Inherent in the concept of RRI is its undetermined nature which allow it to express the increase in interconnectedness between multiple research and innovation sectors  (science, industry, economy, politics).

The undetermined nature of RRI is widely understood to be a break of the adoption and translation of the approach to research and innovation policy. Some research has pointed to the fact that RRI adoption and its  social benefits ought to be clearly outlined. There is also the question regarding a lack of clear ownership of RRI’s adoption as it is a top-down promoted approach (by the European Commission) while at the same time relying wholly on bottom-up thinking.  Additionally, implementation of RRI with clear guidelines and adequate institutional structures have also been identified as a break on adoption. Perhaps, the greatest obstacle to the transfusion of RRI into policy is the scepticism of key stakeholders towards RRI as an approach and its practice because industry remains the focal point of research and innovation policy.


RRI’s important and relevance is found in its attempt to make all actors involved in Research and Innovation Policy face up to the ‘grand/global challenges’ our world is facing. Within the academic communities focused on RRI, it is widely acknowledged that risk management and proactive governance are two of the principal motivating factors behind RRI development. RRI seeks to prevent  and managed risk of Research and Innovation such as those posed by technological development on environment and society. STEM risks are not the sole consideration of RRI and aligning governance with innovation processes and society’s expectations are also important.

Development Agencies are actors engaged in the driving of economic growth and territorial development. They  have a strong link to research and innovation both in policy design at regional, national and EU level and in policy implementation in the territories they develop. 

Be it from the implementation of European Structural Funds for Research and Innovation activities as a Managing Authority or be it through providing soft support in the form of business coaching, RRI as a concept is highly malleable and thus present at all points of development agencies’ activities. Therefore RRI as a concept ought and how issues of RRI affect territorial development ought to be considered by regional development practitioners.

RRI has practical application and implications for development agencies in its direct and indirect affects on the different stakeholders involved in Research and Innovation Policy. From the perspective of traditional concepts regarding the role of business, RRI first and foremost ensures that the relationship between the consumer and business is well maintained with products matching expectations. Additionally, RRI’s broad stakeholder engagement can be a source of inspiration and creativity as it comes from outside the established business paradigm. Within the regulated environment in which business operate, RRI can be an early warning mechanism that ensures that business remains aware of the upcoming  regulatory change related to societal and environmental concerns. RRI with its focus on grand challenges takes business beyond its narrow focus on short-term profit allowing business to adopt and adapt to a long term strategy. RRI feeds directly into the corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship.

Indeed, EURADA is currently carrying out one Horizon 2020 project in the field of RRI – TeRRItoria. TeRRItoria seeks to make policy recommendations to support the territorialisation of RRI keys in Smart Specialisation Strategies (RIS3). The project will map five territories to undertake one territorial experiments per five territories to explore areas of potential synergy between their RIS3s and RRI keys (public engagement, gender, ethics, governance, science education, open access). For example, the region of Nord-Est Romania ( a project partner and experiment region) will concentrate on public engagement and governance  keys. The experiment aims to promote agri-food to address social and economic disadvantage by undertaking two principal actions. The first action will seek to develop a consultative instrument to understand the needs of innovation in communities. The second action will develop a platform for innovation brokerage between local people and external innovation experts. For the two actions, agro-food and safe-food production are included in the region’s RIS3 intervention area.


RRI in 2019 may be highlighted for its buzz-word and topical nature, however, its emergence took place as early 2000s with the 5th and 6th Framework Programmes (EU’s Research and Innovation funding programmes).  Indeed, RRI can be traced back to related terms such as ‘responsible development’ and ‘research integrity. Beyond it’s long and inter-connected history, RRI emerged in 2011 in article by Rene Von Schomber on RRI and ICT and was reflected in European Commission communications in the same year where there was a call for policy recommendations on how to integrate RRI into the European Research Area.

RRI has started from the standpoint that science should be more connected to society in order to be more impactful for science and society  for their mutual advancement. Now, RRI is an established approach as a key action of the ‘Science with and for Society’ of the Horizon 2020 programme. Today, RRI represents a cross-cutting issue in Horizon 2020 funding programme for Research and Innovation as well as a policy orientation in the form of the ‘three O’s’ (Open Innovation, Open Science, and Open to the World) that frame Research and Innovation policy