Three questions to… Work Package 2

Marit Hovdal Moan

Researcher at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, NTNU

Your work group is currently working on assessing policies, practices and projects relevant for grounding RRI practices in R&I funding and performing organisations. How is the work progressing?

WP2 is led by NTNU, and is undertaken in collaboration with UJI and FECYT. We have agreed on a division of labour, where UJI and FECYT is in charge of articulating the ETHNA project’s conceptualisation of “RRI and “ethical governance”. They are also in charge of writing a literature review on RRI and ethical governance. NTNU, on its part, is mapping practices of RRI governance in the EU/EEA, focusing primarily on the meso and micro level (i.e. the institutional level of HEFRCs, and the level of RRI research projects). NTNU is also responsible for putting all the elements together in a coherent report in the end.

A draft version of the UJI/FECYT contribution was due by the end of June and has been completed, and the mapping of relevant RRI governance practices will be completed by mid-July.

The purpose of the mapping exercise is to gain an overview of the field of RRI governance in the EU/EEA, both to see whether there are examples of “good” or “promising” practices of RRI governance “out there”, and if so, whether the practices identified are worth picking up, as it were, and bringing into the ETHNA System.

The desk research phase will be complemented by RRI expert interviews. Although the interview phase is only due to start in August, we have already begun the process of identifying and interviewing a couple of RRI governance experts, notably Roger Strand, former chair of the EC expert group on “Indicators for promoting and monitoring Responsible Research and Innovation” (Strand et al., 2015).

What are the major findings or achievements so far?

In the process of mapping relevant RRI governance practices in the EU/EEA, it is imperative that we work with a set of criteria for promising RRI governance practices, which enable us to filter out “good” governance practices among these, to paraphrase the RRI Tools’ methodological approach to identifying good RRI practices (RRI Tools D1.4, p. 5). We have therefore constructed a theoretical framework for the evaluation of RRI governance practices, drawing on the literature on governance theorising “on the role of institutions in influencing behavior of actors” (Jan Kooiman, 1999: Social-Political Governance. Overview, reflections and design, in: Public Management an International Journal of Research and Theory, 1:1, 67-92, p.82).

Two main categories of factors have been singled out as crucial for affecting organisational change towards RRI: On the one hand, institutional factors – including the organisational culture (vision/mission), identity (organisational capacity to implement objectives and programmes), agency (challenges the organisation is oriented towards, as expressed for example in its KPIs), and action (experience in implementing activities connected to a vision). These institutional factors pertain to the structural aspects of governing interactions, and constitute the institutional framework within which R&I processes are embedded; that is, the structural conditions that affect the way in which R&I processes are organised and coordinated. These structural factors affect whether, and to what extent, RRI is integrated in R&I processes. Other EU-funded RRI projects concerned with the governance of RRI, such as Res-A-Gora, JERRI, RRI-Practice, and STARBIOS2, all point to similar institutional, or structural, factors as potential drivers and barriers for organisational change towards RRI.

On the other hand, there are factors at the actor level that also affect organisational change towards RRI; that is, the level of individuals acting within the framework of the institutions, and their interactions. This “intentional level of interactions” (Kooiman, ibid, p. 76) is an importance analytical focus of the EC expert group’s report. To be effective – that is “up to standards such as efficiency, legitimacy and fairness” – the governing of R&I processes “has to reflect the diverse, dynamic, and complex character” of the R&I sector, to paraphrase Kooiman’s conception of the governance of social political systems (Kooiman, ibid, p. 75). Echoing Kooiman’s view that complex systems need complex modes of governing, the European Commission’s expert group on “Indicators for promoting and monitoring Responsible Research and Innovation” argues that the network context of R&I processes requires a network model of governance (Strand et al., 2015, p. 18).

The concepts of “networks”, “self-governing networks” and “meta-governance” have proven particularly helpful in this context, as they seem to capture very well the diverse, complex and dynamic nature of R&I processes (network-based, self-governing), and the type of non-interventionist institutional framework  (meta-governance) that could fit these characteristics of R&I processes, so that the interactions in R&I networks can actually be influenced at the structural level, in the direction of RRI.

Kooiman has developed a set of normative criteria to evaluate meta-governance performance, which take into consideration the dynamic, diverse, complex characteristics of that which is governed; that is the networks of interactions at actor-level. Kooiman includes a criteria that echoes the criterion for “ethical governance” that informs ETHNA System, namely what Kooiman calls “fair representation”; a criterion which is thought to connect to the “complexity” of the networks at actor-level. Fair representation echoes ETHNA System’s criterion of multi-stakeholder governance, “which is based on the principle that governance models should be based on the equal participation of all actors involved and/or affected by (a given activity, for instance) research and innovation” (García-Marzá, 2017). Kooiman’s work thus seems a promising place to start when reflecting on criteria for the evaluation of RRI governance practices.

What are the key challenges you are facing in your work?

Deciding on relevant criteria for the evaluation of RRI governance practices has proven a more challenging task than expected. Finding concrete examples of RRI governance practices has also been difficult. With the exception perhaps of JERRI, Fit4RRI and RRI-Practice, previous EU-funded RRI projects focus on RRI practice at project level when mapping good RRI-practice.