Responsible Research and Innovation in Information and Communication Technologies
Responsible research and innovation (RRI) aims to ensure that the processes, outcomes and intentions of research are socially acceptable, desirable and sustainable (Von Schomberg, 2013). Recent political events, notably the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and the US election of Donald Trump as president underline the importance of these goals. The use of public funding for research and innovation, like most other government activities, can no longer be taken for granted. The ‘social contract for science’ (Jasanoff, 2011) that provided science funding and autonomy in exchange for trained researchers and innovation needs to be reflected upon and actively renewed. The public, users and other stakeholders need to be able to understand and contribute to the science and innovation system. RRI is an important way of achieving this.
RRI is a concept that has been used to discuss a particular view of research and innovation governance. Having entered the academic discourse around 2010 (Owen & Goldberg, 2010), RRI draws on a much longer tradition of work in research and innovation governance which includes, for example, technology assessment, science and technology studies, ethics of technology and others (Grunwald, 2011). The ideas have been integrated in various research funding streams, including the Dutch Research Council, the Norwegian Research Council and, most prominently, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research framework programme. In the UK the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRSC) has adopted a framework of RRI expressed through the acronym AREA (Anticipate, Reflect, Engage and Act) (Owen, 2014) based on the work by Stilgoe, Owen and Macnaghton (2013).
The starting point for much of the work on RRI is the recognition that public funding for science and research and the subsequent development of services and products arising from such work can have significant social consequences. Research funders therefore look for ways to ensure that the work they support does not have avoidable negative consequences. High-profile examples of such negative consequences include the debate around genetically modified organisms, but also older technologies such as nuclear power generation, which have created a public backlash against the scientific system and against industries which develop, utilise or promote such research and innovation. RRI, however, goes beyond such attempts to minimise and mitigate risks arising from science and innovation. In its more ambitious interpretation, it seeks to ensure that the entire research and innovation ecosystem is finely attuned to societal needs and preferences.
The field of ICT does not immediately or obviously raise some of the thornier normative questions around life-and-death, or health and wellbeing that are prominent in other areas of research. However, the increasing pervasiveness and ubiquity of ICT, the fact that ICT is an enabler of the scientific as well as the economic system and that ICT is a key driver of economic growth, has led to the recognition that it is an important area for RRI to take into consideration. It is, therefore, not surprising that one of the first edited volumes on RRI was specifically targeted at ICT and security technologies (Von Schomberg, 2011). It also explains why the ORBIT project was developed and the ORBIT journal is being launched.
The Observatory for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT (ORBIT) is a project funded by the UK EPSRC. It aims to provide information and services to develop a community that will foster and support scholars, researchers, industry and other stakeholders in establishing a culture of responsible research and innovation (RRI).
ORBIT is one stage in the development of RRI. It builds on the EPSRC-funded project a ‘Framework for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT’ that investigated current practices of the UK ICT research community and mapped them to ideas of responsibility (Jirotka, Grimpe, Stahl, Hartswood, & Eden, 2017). This research showed that there are highly variable levels of awareness of RRI across the ICT discipline. The vast majority of scholars intend to be responsible and often believe they are acting responsibly. However, many lack the knowledge and tools to put these aspirations into practice.
The recognition that RRI is highly relevant in ICT, the adoption of the principles of RRI by the EPSRC coupled with the insight that large parts of the UK ICT research and innovation communities struggle to put it into practice, motivated the EPSRC to establish a mechanism whereby RRI could be disseminated and integrated into research culture and practices.
This is a tall order, as university-based research communities traditionally have a high level of autonomy and cultures do not change quickly. The ORBIT project will therefore pursue a number of avenues to achieve this aim. One key aspect is the website which serves as the knowledge base for anybody interested in RRI in ICT. It will provide examples of good practice and research-based insights into RRI as well as a pathway into other ORBIT services. One key service will be the provision of training on RRI. This will include general introductory training activities as well as bespoke training on particular issues, technologies or topics. ORBIT is planning to develop a self-assessment tool that ICT innovators can use to check their organisation’s or project’s compliance with principles of RRI.
In addition to serving as a knowledge hub, ORBTI will offer a range of further services that will help its mission to promote a culture of RRI. The training provision mentioned above will be supported consultancy services that will help users reflect on the state of RRI in their organisation, their project or their proposal. ORBIT also aims to contribute to the development of new knowledge on RRI by being research active and joining projects and consortia, focusing on questions related to RRI. And, finally, ORBIT seeks actively to develop, promote and maintain a community of scholars interested in RRI. This will be supported through interactive features of the website which will allow users to exchange ideas, by identifying community champions of RRI in particular fields of RRI and encouraging collaboration between members of the RRI community and the ICT research and innovation communities.
A key question that ORBIT seeks to answer is how it will ensure that current and up-to-date knowledge of RRI will be made available and shared, to inform discussions by members of the community and to develop RRI in light of scientific and technical progress. The answer to this question depends to a large degree on the ORBIT journal.
The ORBIT Journal
The ORBIT journal is an open access online journal. It allows scholars, practitioners and others who are interested in RRI to exchange experience, good practice and other ideas about RRI. Our research has shown that a repository for this type of information is important to help individuals involved in research and innovation understand the problems that RRI is meant to address as well as ways of successfully addressing them. Papers published in the ORBIT journal are therefore categorised in ways that we hope will help the audience to access them and make them useful. The categories currently being used are:
- Case Studies
- Ethical Issues
These categories are not mutually exclusive and are meant to help readers navigate their way through RRI. In the category of case studies we want to collect contributions that describe cases of successful but also of unsuccessful implementation of RRI. The main point is that there should be interesting lessons to be learned. The category of ethical issues aims to explicate particular problems that have arisen or can arise in research and innovation. The concept of ethics used here is open and pluralistic. It can include broader social issues where authors believe these to have ethical relevance. We believe that much of the work previously done in computer and information ethics could fall in this category. To some degree this also true for the category of technologies, which aims to focus on the way RRI may be reflected in particular technologies, ranging from high-profile technologies such as artificial intelligence to technologies that are less prominently discussed in terms of RRI such as quantum computing. The category of concepts will include theoretical, philosophical or conceptual work that does not fit easily into any of the above categories. The final category of solutions is meant to provide a space for those contributions that want to focus particularly on a specific way of addressing an issue, or for methods that allow dealing with RRI in general or particular aspects of RRI in a well-defined way.
Papers published in the ORBIT journal will be accessible through the ‘journal’ section of the ORBIT website but they will also be made available via the categories. We hope that this will lead to broader readership. We will therefore continue to monitor the usage of the site and review the use of the categories regularly. If additional categories are required or if the categories initially suggested do not prove to be beneficial, we will review them.
The intended audience of the ORBIT journal is the community of people who are interested in RRI, in particular its application to ICT. This will, in the first instance, be predominantly academics but it will also include researchers and innovators from companies as well as individuals involved in research funding and policy development. We hope that the ORBIT journal will be a key component in the development of a community of practice in RRI. We therefore encourage submissions that focus on transferable lessons and that demonstrate the relevance of the insights gained to the community. We hope to attract papers that are practice-oriented and provide advice and methods as well as traditional academic papers.
In the spirit of openness and accessibility, papers in the ORBIT journal will be published under a creative commons licence and be freely available. As long as ORBIT is funded by the EPSRC, no article processing fees will be charged. The ORBIT journal is a peer reviewed journal and therefore will employ the principle of double blind peer review in the selection of papers. However, in order to avoid imposing an orthodoxy on the novel field of RRI, the peer review criteria will focus on rigour in methodology and consistency of narrative. We hope that this will allow novel ideas to flourish which will benefit creative thinkers and in particular scholars in an early part of their career.
The editorial review processes that the ORBIT journal employs are still underdevelopment. They will orient themselves along the lines of other established online journals, such as the PLOS or Frontiers families of journals. They will ensure academic rigour while simultaneously ensuring openness and inclusion. We are still in the process of developing the processes and would welcome any input and proposals. Similarly, we are currently establishing the groups needed to run a journal and are looking for volunteers to contribute to the editorial review board and group of associate editors who will be crucial to making the journal a success.
Setting up a new journal is a difficult and time-consuming process. We are therefore delighted that we have managed to work with the ETHICOMP conference to offer the publication of papers to be presented at the ETHICOMP 2017 conference in the inaugural issue of the ORBIT journal. ETHICOMP is one of the oldest conference series that focuses on ethical and social issues of computing (Stahl & Ess, 2015). Its subject area is very closely aligned with RRI in ICT and the papers selected for inclusion into the inaugural issue of the ORBIT journal show the breadth of issues and approaches that the journal can cover.
The papers included in this inaugural issue show the breadth of work undertaken in computer ethics and RRI in ICT. They cover the range from empirical to conceptual, from traditional academic accounts to exploratory formats.
What these papers in the first issue show is that there is much thinking going on to help us better understand how we can ensure that ICT is conducive to human wellbeing and flourishing. With developing technological capabilities we need to engage our collective imagination to ensure that we can steer technology development and eventual use in desirable directions. The ORBIT journal offers a way to share related insights. The other services of ORBIT can the build on them and help researchers, innovators and other stakeholders to integrate them into practice.
Grunwald, A. (2011). Responsible innovation: bringing together technology assessment, applied ethics, and STS research. Enterprise and Work Innovation Studies, 7, 9–31.
Jasanoff, S. (2011). Constitutional Moments in Governing Science and Technology. Science and Engineering Ethics, 17(4), 621–638. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-011-9302-2
Jirotka, M., Grimpe, B., Stahl, B., Hartswood, M., & Eden, G. (2017). Responsible Research and Innovation in the Digital Age. Communications of the ACM. Retrieved from http://www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/files/31608804/CACMArticleNoTrackChanges_1.pdf
Owen, R. (2014). The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Commitment to a Framework for Responsible Innovation. Journal of Responsible Innovation, 1(1), 113–117. https://doi.org/10.1080/23299460.2014.882065
Owen, R., & Goldberg, N. (2010). Responsible Innovation: A Pilot Study with the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Risk Analysis: An International Journal, 30(11), 1699–1707. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2010.01517.x
Stahl, B. C., & Ess, C. M. (2015). 20 years of ETHICOMP: time to celebrate? Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, 13(3/4), 166–175. https://doi.org/10.1108/JICES-05-2015-0015
Stilgoe, J., Owen, R., & Macnaghten, P. (2013). Developing a framework for responsible innovation. Research Policy, 42(9), 1568–1580. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2013.05.008
Von Schomberg, R. (Ed.). (2011). Towards Responsible Research and Innovation in the Information and Communication Technologies and Security Technologies Fields. Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/research/science-society/document_library/pdf_06/mep-rapport-2011_en.pdf
Von Schomberg, R. (2013). A vision of Responsible Research and Innovation. In R. Owen, M. Heintz, & J. Bessant (Eds.), Responsible Innovation (pp. 51–74). Wiley.