Responsible innovation is a process that seeks to promote creativity and opportunities for science and innovation that are socially desirable and undertaken in the public interest. Responsible innovation acknowledges that innovation can raise questions and dilemmas, is often ambiguous in terms of purposes and motivations and unpredictable in terms of impacts, beneficial or otherwise. Responsible innovation creates spaces and processes to explore these aspects of innovation in an open, inclusive and timely way. This is a collective responsibility, where funders, researchers, stakeholders and the public all have an important role to play. It includes, but goes beyond, considerations of risk and regulation, important though these are.
As a public funder of research, we have a responsibility to ensure that our activities and the research we fund, are aligned with the principles of responsible innovation, creating value for society in an ethical and responsible way. EPSRC does not wish to be prescriptive about how responsible innovation is embedded in the research and innovation process. We recognise that some researchers are already well engaged with this agenda. We also recognise that different approaches might be required for different research areas. There may be instances where detailed consideration is premature or even unwarranted. In other areas of research, a responsible innovation approach may be highly recommended or even required. We therefore recommend that all researchers demonstrate awareness of and commitment to the principles of responsible innovation, following the AREA approach described below.
Anticipate, reflect, engage, act (AREA)
Describe and analyse the impacts, intended or otherwise, that might arise. Do not seek to predict but rather support the exploration of possible impacts (such as economic, social and environmental) and implications that may otherwise remain uncovered and little discussed.
Reflect on the purposes of, motivations for and potential implications of the research, together with the associated uncertainties, areas of ignorance, assumptions, framings, questions, dilemmas and social transformations these may bring.
Open up such visions, impacts and questioning to broader deliberation, dialogue, engagement and debate in an inclusive way.
Use these processes to influence the direction and trajectory of the research and innovation process itself.
Some of the skill sets required to enact the AREA framework will be unfamiliar to some of our community, and we offer below some further resources that may be of use. For responsible innovation to take place in a meaningful way, it is important that we and our researchers nurture and promote partnerships with other disciplines and spheres of expertise, and facilitate training to enable these skills to be developed and taken forward. This might involve integrated approaches and collaborative research involving social and environmental scientists, ethicists and engagement practitioners.
To support the AREA approach, EPSRC:
- promotes reflection, understanding and training about responsible innovation approaches within the wider research community, encouraging broader interactions with other disciplines and spheres of expertise in order to develop capacity for responsible innovation
- welcomes funding requests for research grant proposals that seek to explore aspects of responsible innovation as an integral part of the research endeavour
- remains vigilant to potential social, environmental, ethical and regulatory challenges which arise from new research at the limits of our knowledge, and seeks to broaden debate at an early stage
- ensures that responsible innovation is prominent in our strategic thinking and funding plans, including proposal assessment
- alerts government and regulatory policymakers to emerging issues and opportunities associated with new research areas as soon as these become apparent.
EPSRC research community
We expect our research community to:
- conduct their work in an ethical and legal manner
- reflect on their own personal and collective motivations for conducting their research
- anticipate, reflect and engage on the wider ethical and societal impacts, implications and value of their work, entering into dialogue with the public and other stakeholders where appropriate, and respecting the views of others
- inform EPSRC and their own research organisations about any concerns, dilemmas and opportunities revealed by the responsible innovation process as these become apparent.
We expect research organisations in receipt of EPSRC funding to:
- acknowledge and respect responsible innovation principles and their role in promoting them
- encourage and support researchers to develop responsible innovation approaches as a core capability, working with others across disciplines and beyond the research organisation itself.
All EPSRC communities
EPSRC recognises that, if the generic principles of responsible innovation are to be embraced in a way that is pragmatic, proportionate and ultimately of value to all, we need to work closely with our research community as we proceed. This needs to be a responsive and deliberative process, in which the views of our research community and wider stakeholder base are important in shaping and developing our approach to responsible innovation.
Acknowledgments and resources
EPSRC wishes to acknowledge the help, support and advice of all those involved in producing this framework, in particular Richard Owen, Phil Macnaghten, Jack Stilgoe and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for their support in developing and co-funding the project.
- Responsible innovation – UKRI
- A Framework for Responsible Innovation (Wiley Online Library)
- Developing a framework for responsible innovation (ScienceDirect)
- A synthetic biology roadmap for the UK (Innovate UK): see theme 2, page 19
- Become a Responsible Innovator (ORBIT)
- Responsible Innovation: Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society (Wiley Online Library)
Last updated: 31 March 2022