FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What can the observatory be used for?

This document provides a selection of application scenarios for the Observatory. The purpose of the document is to facilitate discussion of required functionalities, testing and evaluation of the system.

There are likely to be many more possible application scenarios. We should probably collect these and then think about which ones we can cater to and which ones we cannot.

ICT researcher working on cloud computing

Dr. C is working on a research proposal to the EU in the area of cloud computing. As part of the proposal he has to fill in an ethical issues table and discuss how he will address the ethical issues.

C is a computer scientist with no formal training in ethics. He is looking for a way to quickly understand which ethical issues may arise in this type of work and what he would need to do in order to address them.

ICT researcher encountering privacy issues in personal data collection

Professor P is a computer scientist who is working on a trustworthy computing project. Part of her role in this project is to develop real-life use cases that are related to a range of applications, including transport, healthcare and cybersecurity applications.

P. has some experience in requirements collection. However, coming from a university where technical projects were not subject to formal ethics review, she is not sure what the requirements might be. She assumes that personal data collection, in particular of sensitive data such as those related to healthcare require some sort of protocol. She is looking for guidance on how to deal with this sort of problem.

Research funder preparing a call

Dr. E from the ESRCP (Estonian Security Research Council Panel) is preparing a call for proposals aimed at the global uncertainties grand challenge. The idea is to develop generic technical tools that can be applied across a range of application areas in order to ensure the security of information infrastructure. Sub-categories of technologies in this area will include biometric authentication devices, autonomous network analysis tools as well as socio-economic analyses of the viability of such tools.

Dr. E realises that much of the research to be undertaken in this area is likely to raise ethical issues. He would like to ensure that the call for proposals itself does not raise ethical problems. In addition he is keen to understand which ethical issues may arise from the technologies under review in order to understand how proposers could address them and to include evaluation criteria for proposals into the call and evaluation instruments.

Professional body investigating a complaint

Dame B., President of the BCS (formerly the Brazilian Computer Society), has received a complaint about the conduct of Professor A., a well-known computer scientist. Professor A. is a leading researcher in the area of quantum encryption. He has managed to develop a marketable device that uses principles of quantum computing to decrypt currently available encryption mechanisms. Because of the power of quantum computing the device promises to be able to decrypt anything that is protected by commercially available mechanisms.
Professor A. has created a spin-off company to market the device and several venture capitalists have invested large amounts of money into the organisation. However, one of the companies providing encryption mechanisms as part of its business has complained to the BCS because Professor A. is using his research to eliminate his competition. The complaint states that Professor A. has infringed his professional duties by making a device available that will leave the Brazilian economy open to terrorism, organised crime and industrial as well as political espionage.

The complaint goes on to say that Professor A. should be sanctioned by the BCS because he failed to consider the ethical consequences of his work, even though they were obvious. Dame B. therefore would like to know what standard of duty of care could be expected from a researcher in Professor A.’s position.

Consultant aiming to promote new ethics analysis tool

Dr. W., a technology consultant with a long history of working on international ICT projects in the areas of security, privacy, and information assurance has developed a software-based tool that will facilitate an ethical impact assessment. He is interested in the Observatory as a source of case studies that he can use in order to demonstrate the validity of his tool. In addition he would like to use the Observatory platform to find potential users and market his new tool, which he sees as core to the solution of any ethical issues.

Policy maker developing the future internet

Dr. P. is a scientific assistant to Mr. B, a conservative Member of the European Parliament. B. is trying to develop a profile as a pro-business MEP who uses European research and development policy to increase the competitiveness of the Member States. B. is particularly interested in pushing further investment in future internet because in his local constituency there are several high profile universities doing research in this area.

B. has asked P. to develop a policy brief that outlines the steps that need to be taken in order for further R&D investment in future internet to have maximum impact. P.’s own background is in chemistry and he knows little about future internet. At the same time he is aware of some of the recent debate about privacy and ownership in ICT, so he is keen to ensure that his policy brief is sensitive to these issues.

Journalist looking for information on robots


The EPSRC project on a Framework for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT (FRRIICT) includes as a central deliverable the Observatory for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT (TORRII). The purpose of the Observatory is to serve as a dynamic community resource to exchange experience and good practice and to provide a basis for developing structures and procedures for the governance of responsible research and innovation in ICT. The Observatory is envisaged to be the legacy of the project. It should be open to new developments and needs. It needs to be community owned and self-sustaining at the end of the project.

The Observatory poses a number of challenges with regards to design and development, as well as community involvement and sustainable business plan. The details of many of these challenges will only become clear during the design and adoption process. It will therefore be important to have a robust system of making decisions concerning the Observatory. The present document sets out the structure and principles of decisions relevant to the Observatory.


The Observatory will need to be open to users across the EPSRC ICT portfolio. It seems likely that its content will attract interest of others from other disciplines or geographical locations. The Observatory will only be successful if it can solicit the contributions of members of this community. Its design and decision structures therefore need to be:

  • Open to the community
  • Transparent
  • In the demonstrable interest of the community


The following steps will ensure that the principles will be adhered to:

  1. Whenever an important question concerning the Observatory arises, a problem statement will be written that summarises the question / problem and the reason why it is relevant to the Observatory. Problem statements can be written by any member of the FRRIICT project office, either on their own initiative or because they were pointed to it by someone with an interest in the project.
  2. Choices, alternatives and options will be explored and written up as a discussion document.
  3. On the basis of the discussion document, the members of the project office will choose an option.
  4. Where relevant, the project office may request other FRRIICT bodies (e.g. core network, Advisory Board) to comment on both the problem statement and the discussion document.
  5. The decision will be documented as an addition to the discussion document.
  6. All problem statements and discussion documents will be made public in an appropriate form (e.g. a faq page) on the Observatory.

The Observatory was developed by the Framework for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT project, a project funded by the UK EPSRC.

EPSRC does not claim intellectual property (IP) rights to the results of projects they fund. This means that the IP for the Observatory rests in the first instance with the project and the contributors.

However, the purpose of the project is to provide a resource for the ICT community that all community members can access and many will contribute to. It is unlikely that the ICT community will contribute if there is a possibility that the system will be used for specific purposes beyond being a community resource.

The project team therefore commits itself to handing over the ownership of the Observatory to an appropriate entity that will ensure that the system and its content will be maintained and remain open to the use of the ICT community.

The exact form of this handing over and the eventual holder of the ownership in the Observatory are not yet decided. They involve a number of complex legal questions. Many of these questions can only be answered once the Observatory is developed and it becomes clearer how exactly it will be used. The different options with regards to future ownership are discussed in the document on the business model of the system.

Ownership of the Observatory itself is independent of the ownership of the content of the system, which is discussed in a separate document.

The FRRIICT project Observatory is an online resource for the ICT research and innovation community. The aim is to host content that relates to ethical and responsibility issues of ICT. Examples of such content include case studies, description of particular technologies, specific ethical issues or solutions to such issues. The purpose of this collection of content is to allow others who work in similar areas or encounter similar problems to quickly find solutions to these issues. The Observatory is a focal point for the development of a community of scholars interested in Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in ICT.

The online resource is predicated upon the principle that community members are willing to share their knowledge and experience and allow others to benefit from this. Content in the Observatory will be a community resource that its authors (copyright holders) have made available to the community. Authors should trust that their efforts will not be misused for purposes they are not happy with.

In order to share content, the intellectual property owners (in most cases this will be the authors) will have to indicate their willingness to share it. For this purpose the Observatory will use a creative commons licence where all contributors will agree to share their work under this creative commons licence. Without such a licence, all content would remain with the copyright holder and others would not be able to use the content.

Creative Commons licence options.

Creative Commons (cc) “develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.” Its aim is to develop the mechanisms of intellectual property in a usable way that is appropriate for modern technologies. Very briefly, it provides a standardised and legally viable way of sharing work. It is important to note that the copyright holders retain copyright but allow others to copy, distribute and repurpose their work. This means that in all cases, the copyright holder must be attributed when cc work is being used.

When choosing a creative commons licence, there are three options (commercial, derivatives, and ShareAlike) explained below.

1. Commercial use

CC licences can rule out commercial use of the licensed content. This may appear appropriate for the Observatory because it is primarily aimed at the UK EPSRC ICT research community, which is largely university-based and thus not considered profit-oriented organisations.

However, there are numerous ICT research community members that are based in private organisations who may want to use aspects of Observatory for profit-oriented work, which might be complicated if commercial use was ruled out.

In addition, the Observatory may provide the possibility for users or other organisations to build commercial services, e.g. consulting on ethical issues in ICT. It may well be desirable for such services to come into existence because they may help promote responsible research and innovation in ICT.

The CC licence for the Observatory should therefore allow commercial use.

2. Derivatives

A second option in CC licences is whether the use of derivative work is permitted. Ruling out the use of derivative work requires all work to be passed along unchanged and in whole with credit to the author.

Derivative work may be relevant with regards to Observatory content in several ways. Similar technologies may have similar but slightly different implications that could be captured by slight modification of content. Some input, such as teaching material, may consist of a combination of individual entities (e.g. a description of a technology, an ethical issue, several solutions) which would benefit from modification of content of contributions.

It is therefore recommended to allow the use of derivatives. 

3. ShareAlike

A ShareAlike licence is similar to copyleft in that it requires all new work based on the original contribution to be licensed under the same terms. This will ensure that all work remains open to the public and the community. It does not interfere with commercial work, so it should promote the purposes of the Observatory.

ShareAlike is an option that is relevant to derivative work. Having argued that derivatives of work in the Observatory should be allowed, the use of the ShareAlike option ensures that all work produced for the Observatory and derivative work will remain open and accessible. This supports the overall aim of the Observatory to broaden the discussion of responsible research and innovation in ICT and beyond.

It is therefore recommended to allow the ShareAlike. 

Implementation in the Observatory

The above discussion indicates that a CC licence of Attribution – ShareAlike  is the best solution. The use of this licence is indicated by the following symbol:

This licence is default licence for all work included in the Observatory, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Authors who prefer a different licence should contact the Observatory team prior to uploading content.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Format of Submission
Case Study
Case studies are examples of good practice across the entire field of ICT research and innovation and should cover a problem or issue that required critical reflection of ICT research outcomes, a description of how this was identified and what was done about it. Case studies should contain a detailed section on the lessons learned and how the study might assist others who may encounter similar situations.
Examples of case studies include data-mining of publicly available data for marketing purposes, automated surveillance technologies or anonymising technologies and their different uses.
Item Indicative Length
Title of case study
Abstract 50 words
Field of ICT research and innovation 200 words
Who or what was responsible? (stakeholder) 300 words
What were they responsible for? (problem area) 300 words
How was the object of responsibility identified? 200 words
How was responsibility discharged, what did they do? 400 words
What are the lessons learned? 400 words
Attribution 200 words
References No word limit
Additional documentation (separate documents, audio or video files) No word limit
NB: the headings in the table above are to be used as a guide only. Authors are not expected to use these headings in their submission. Rather, each section should address the questions poised within it.
Technologies can be novel artefacts including hardware or software. They can also include broader socio-technical systems containing a number of artefacts or components. Of particular interest are those technologies that are likely to become widely used or that have the potential to have disruptive consequences both positive and negative. The entry should clearly define the technology, explain history and give examples. The focus of the entry should be on current or potential controversies and specific foreseeable ethical issues or other responsibility-related aspects.
Examples of relevant technologies include affective computing, brain-computer interfaces, autonomous weaponry or ambient intelligence.
Item Indicative Length
Abstract 50 words
Definition of the technology 300 words
History of the technology 300 words
Examples 400 words
Controversies / criticism 500 words
Specific ethical issues raised by the technology 500 words
Attribution 200 words
References No word limit
Additional documentation (separate documents, audio or video files) No word limit
NB: the headings in the table above are to be used as a guide only. Authors are not expected to use these headings in their submission. Rather, each section should address the questions poised within it.
Ethical Issue
Ethical issues are those concepts that affect perceptions of right and wrongs, individual or collective rights or obligations. They should have a clear link to ICT even though they may exist independent of technology.
Examples of ethical issues include privacy, human or machine autonomy
Item Indicative Length
Ethical issue title
Abstract 50 words
Definition of the ethical issue 300 words
History of the ethical issue 300 words
Examples 500 words
Controversies / criticism 300 words
Link with specific technologies (if applicable) 500 words
Attribution 200 words
References No word limit
Additional documentation (separate documents, audio or video files) No word limit
NB: the headings in the table above are to be used as a guide only. Authors are not expected to use these headings in their submission. Rather, each section should address the questions poised within it.
There are a number of attempts to address ethical issues and find solutions to responsibility issues that are applicable to more than one technology. These can include successful practical solutions to particular problems or they can be methodologies that aid the resolution of more general classes of issues.
Examples of solutions include ethics impact assessments, technology assessment or value-sensitive design.
Item Indicative Length
Name of technology
Abstract 50 words
Description of the solution 300 words
History and related approaches 300 words
Examples 500 words
Controversies / criticism 300 words
Link with specific technologies (if applicable) 500 words
Attribution 200 words
References No word limit
Additional documentation (separate documents, audio or video files) No word limit
NB: the headings in the table above are to be used as a guide only. Authors are not expected to use these headings in their submission. Rather, each section should address the questions poised within it.
The online resource we are creating includes the category of “concepts” to allow an exchange of fundamental ideas that are not always linked to particular issues or items but that are important to understand in the context of ‘responsible research and innovation’.
Examples of relevant concepts include the term “responsible research and innovation” itself, but also particular ethical positions, such as deontology, teleology or virtue ethics or relevant theoretical positions such as critical theory or design sciences.
Item Indicative Length
Abstract 50 words
Definition of the concept 300 words
History of the concept 300 words
Application and relevance to RRI in ICT 500 words
Controversies / criticism 300 words
Link with specific ethical issues, technologies or concepts 500 words
Attribution 200 words
References No word limit
Additional documentation (separate documents, audio or video files) No word limit
NB: the headings in the table above are to be used as a guide only. Authors are not expected to use these headings in their submission. Rather, each section should address the questions poised within it.