749   Roundtable discussion

Can Novelty be Responsible? A Conversation on Science Communication and RRI

The futures promised by emerging technoscientific developments are framed as disruptive and powerful with applications in wide-ranging areas. Responsible research and innovation (RRI) offers one approach for engaging in conversation around these promises and opening up their presuppositions to scrutiny. For example, the economic, societal, and other benefits of emerging technoscience are uncertain. While the challenge for technoscientific researchers may seem purely technological (how do we realise new technologies?), there are also social and political questions (how do we engage publics in dialogue on new developments when we don’t know what they do or when they will be built? What kinds of social worlds do they enact and how desirable are these?). 

Science communication can animate RRI conversations in new ways by exploring how we imagine novelty and its normative significance. This is urgently needed as RRI is often re-interpreted as a way of describing some well-established practices (e.g., risk regulation of new technologies, research integrity and so on) despite efforts by RRI proponents to clarify its distinctive focus on innovation ‘systems’. Understood as risk regulation of technological change, RRI is conventionally framed as a way of  slowing down innovation or novelty by attending to ethical matters and unintended consequences.

Yet, RRI might also be understood differently as a way of promoting novelty. For example, ‘responsible stagnation’ requires distinct types of novel social, economic, cultural and technological practices. Remaking research practices and their relationship to publics likewise represents novelty as does the effort to attend to the creation of social change in response to ‘grand societal challenges’. In this roundtable, participants will explore what science communication might contribute to re-constructing narratives of RRI and re-imagining its relationship to more or less responsible forms of novelty.

Author: Tara Roberson
University of Queensland, Australia

Speaker: Maja Horst
Technical University of Denmark, Denmark

RRI literature tends to under-emphasize the issue of communication. In Stilgoe et al 2013, communication is implicit in their four RRI dimensions. Direct reference to communication is made only in the Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) case study as a question of the SPICE team being challenged to address 'framing, communication, and dialogue' (Stilgoe et al, 2013:1575). The commitment to this form of open dialogue and institutional reflexivity is an essential element within 'innovation communication' (Plesner & Horst 2012; Davies & Horst 2016). We do not limit the scope and range of innovation communication to this alone. Rather we define it as an integral part of the innovation process. Science communication is a significant and central element of the entire innovation process and therefore also of RRI. As we will argue, this has important consequences for the theory and practice of responsible research and innovation.

Speaker: Fabien Medvecky
University of Otago, New Zealand

RRI focuses our attention on research and innovation: how to be responsible when we do these. In this setting, innovation is viewed primarily as new goods brought to market, and usually techno-scientific goods. What if we decoupled innovation from the marketplace? As a starting position, take a broad definition of innovation: "the process by which novelty is taken up and circulated in the public sphere ... producing some kind of profound re-ordering of what-has-been" (deSaille and Medvecky, 2016). This would mean re-imagining the relationship between science, innovation, economics and politics, but this might also be liberating and unleash much greater and more helpful innovations. Fundamentally, what RRI needs to do is innovate innovation, and this raises some important questions for science communication-Is science communication complicit in pushing the 'for market' agenda? Is science communication at the mercy of market-driven research?

Speaker: Sujatha Raman
Australian National University, Australia

RRI is meant to draw attention to the nature of societal grand challenges and the adequacy of current innovation systems in addressing these challenges. Yet, these issues remain marginal in multi-stakeholder conversations sparked by RRI. These conversations tend to be dominated by discussion of specific technological innovations or 'emerging' technologies. Such technologies are assumed to be significantly novel departures from the present with RRI translated as a matter of unforeseen consequences. But how novel are emerging technologies? By what criteria are they considered to be novel? Are they novel enough (Safalaoh, 2014) in light of aspirations to pursue the global public good? We argue that that science communication is ideally placed to articulate a new set of questions for RRI and revive its goal of attending to systemic, societal issues. We unpack the concept of responsive novelty (Raman, 2015) as a way into this challenge.

Speaker: Alan Irwin
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

RRI is now attracting attention in some important policy and academic contexts. But it is must also be seen in the larger context of previous developments in the relationship between democracy, on the one hand, and research and innovation, on the other. Thinking back over previous discussions of (among others) science for the people, citizen science, public engagement and dialogue, constructive technology assessment, and social responsibility of science, one has to ask: is this the same song, just with different lyrics? The point is not to be dismissive of current RRI initiatives. Instead, we should consider what we can learn from other approaches - and identify particular areas of novelty and potentiality with RRI. What possibilities and what challenges emerge for science communication? And what in particular should science communication learn from previous experiences?

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