A necessary system to institutionalise the ethical management of research and innovation

The 21st century is a time of great progress and big changes in the fields of research and innovation. Scientific developments and technological applications uncover not only that their potentialities become real at a faster speed. They also show that the dizzying speed in which they do keeps us as a society from understanding them, participating and even getting close to their potential consequences in society as a whole, including economy, scientific developments and the professional careers of researchers.

R&D and Innovation spaces are highly complex and they are getting their scientific and technological progress to be in syntony with society. That is, getting them to practice science for society. It is a challenge which requires both a deep knowledge of their necessities and requests and managing the values that society identifies with minimums of justice. Occasionally, the results make research organisations and those who finance them feel pressured, which can lead to the imposition of frameworks that may cause a minor or major misconduct. For this very reason, nowadays it should be a moral imperative to favour R&D and Innovation spaces which are guaranteed to reflect on the best ethical standards, which promote them and think about social needs and how to add those to the process of research and innovation.

The ETHNA System proposal aims to face the challenge of institutionalising a system which manages ethics in research and innovation. To promote an ethical governance in research centres and research finance institutions. A constant surveillance in order to simultaneously prevent inadequate behaviour and promote excellency.

ETHNA System defines itself as a procedural system and one which manages the ethics of research and innovation. It aims to align the R&D and Innovation spaces in those organisations that implement it, along with the aspects (anticipation, inclusion/discussion, reflection and responsiveness) and key areas of RRI (research integrity, governance, gender equality, commitment of the public, scientific education and open access). In order to achieve said goal we encourage the coordination of procedures and existing resources (ethics committees, organisational ethical codes or guides of good research practice) and the institutionalisation of new ones (ethical committee of research, ethical line on research or progress indicators linked to RRI).

Said institutionalisation of ethics in the R&D and Innovation spaces is made from an ethical perspective of discursive and procedural governance. This conceptual framework requires an equal participation of everyone involved in R&D and Innovation activities. To achieve that, ETHNA system is restructured as an ETHNA Office which relies on four instruments (ethical code, ethical committee, ethical line and a system which supervises the RRI progress) in order to ensure there are areas to reflect, promote and conduct an R&D and Innovation from an ethical perspective.

The ETHNA Office may adopt the shape of an administrative structure with an ethical officer as a leader who coordinates the instruments and promotes the alignment of the existent resources by means of an ethical governance of the R&D and Innovation aligned to a RRI.

The fact that an organisation has an Ethical Office of R&D and Innovation does not guarantee that every action will be ethical. Nevertheless, having a formal administrative structure with a high-level executive position leading an ethical infrastructure would be very useful. The creation and maintenance of said structures will display a deep compromise regarding the promotion of ethical and responsible behaviour in research and innovation.

Elsa González-Esteban, Moral Philosophy Associate Professor (tenure) at the Universitat Jaume I (Spain) and ETHNA System Project Coordinator