ORBIT stands for the Observatory for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT.
Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) aims to ensure the sustainability, acceptability and desirability of research processes and outputs. The ORBIT project is funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Its purpose is to provide services to promote RRI across the UK ICT research community. It aims to move beyond ICT and the UK and will provide RRI services and knowledge to all interested parties.
Information and communication technology (ICT) creates huge benefits and has numerous uses. It pervades our personal and professional lives. Despite the many advantages of ICT, there are numerous examples of problems and downsides. ICT can lead to new privacy issues, raises security concerns, can deskill labour or support surveillance. Researchers and innovators in the area of ICT as well as other stakeholders in innovation processes have the opportunity and maybe the duty to consider their role and influence on the desired and undesired consequences of ICT.
Responsible research and innovation (RRI) is a aims to align Research & Innovation (R&I) policy with societal goals. The probably most widely used definition of the term was suggested by von Schomberg (2011, p. 9) who sees it as
“a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view on the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products( in order to allow a proper embedding of scientific and technological advances in our society)”.
It is important to underline that the emphasis that this definition places on acceptability and desirability of R&I processes and products can be seen as equivalent to addressing the grand challenges.
Novelty of RRI
Despite the relative novelty of the term itself, it is important to note that RRI can draw on a long history of activities. These include an array of options and methods that aim to clarify possible consequences of R&I activities, such as risk assessment (Kastenhofer, 2011), technology assessment (Grunwald, 2009) or other types of ethics or impact assessments (Wright, Gellert, Gutwirth, & Friedewald, 2011). Attempts to come to a better understanding of possible futures that inform the different types of assessment can be found in technology foresight (Georghiou, Harper, Keenan, Miles, & Popper, 2008; Martin, 2010) and other types of future studies (Sardar, 2010).
RRI and responsibility
RRI exhibits a novel feature: It explicitly links R&I to responsibility (Grinbaum & Groves, 2013; Owen et al., 2013). This allows shifting the focus to open up new horizons on how to conduct R&I. This does not necessarily mean that it requires new approaches. Instead the major novelty of RRI is the integration of existing approaches such as research ethics and social sciences in a novel way by shifting focus and placing new emphases (Grunwald, 2011). Furthermore, RRI entails new insight into how existing approaches can be embedded ‘in a day-to-day operational context (i.e. implementation and practice).’(Owen & Goldberg, 2010)
RRI is a complex term whose primary purpose is to help societies make difficult and often contested decisions with regards to R&I policy. RRI is based on a number of already existing responsibilities and its novelty and practical relevance is in the fact that these are treated as a whole that needs to be addressed in order to lead to desirable outcomes and contribution to grand challenges.
RRI can therefore be understood as a higher level responsibility or meta-responsibility that aims to shape, maintain, develop, coordinate and align existing and novel research and innovation-related processes, actors and responsibilities with a view to ensuring desirable and acceptable research outcomes. The analysis of the current research landscape in ICT should be sensitive to these different aspects and dimensions of established research governance.
Relevance to ICT
RRI is particularly relevant to ICT. Unlike other areas of R&I such as genetically modified organisms, nuclear power or nanotechnology, ICT does not raise general concerns. At the same time ICT has a large and growing effect on our individual and collective lives. Its “logical malleability”, the fact that uses of ICT are not determined by the technological artifact, has long been accepted as a reason to pay ethical attention to them (Moor, 1985). Current developments in ICT lead to the disappearance of boundaries between a number of emerging technologies or to the convergence of technology (Roco & Bainbridge, 2007) and ICT is a key driver that promotes R&I in other areas. It could thus be argued that the application of RRI to ICT is important, if ICT is to live up to its promise of addressing grand challenges. This leads back to the definition of RRI and our suggestion to view it as a meta-responsibility.
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