Dietmar Lampert and Gábor Szüdi

Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI)

Question: Your work group is currently focused on designing the implementation plans for the ETHNA System. How is the work progressing?

Indeed, while it is true that the work is being led by us at ZSI, we could not have done it without our key partners because the conducted research has been a collaborative effort. Our goal was to revise and validate the results compiled in the first version of the ETHNA System concept, which we could only have achieved by sensibly involving the project partners. Each of them has contributed to at least one activity of the multi-stakeholder consultation, most of them to several activities where we strived to find out the most significant challenges and most important incentives, as well as good practices for the institutionalisation of RRI at different research-performing organisations commonly found in Europe.

We are nearly done with our work that we organised in three phases: at the outset of our work, we had started – together with our partners – with conducting 25 exploratory interviews to identify the central issues that quadruple helix actors throughout Europe experienced when institutionalising RRI or one of its key areas. The next phase was a series of workshops organised by selected project partners (Arc Fund, FECYT, NTNU, Harno, and us at ZSI) between July and September 2021 to discuss in-depth and enrich the findings of the interviews: four workshops were dedicated to research performers along four RRI key areas, i.e. ethics, gender equality, public engagement, and open science, and a special workshop was dedicated to research and innovation funders and the hot topic of AI and Ethics. The narrative evidence was then validated through a global-scale online survey where almost 900 researchers working on RRI shared their opinion on and experiences with RRI governance incentives, challenges, practices, and potential progress measures. In a final step, our work group is currently analysing the relevant gathered data to fine-tune the ETHNA System concept and provide guidance to the upcoming ETHNA Living Lab.

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

The four living lab implementation cases envisioned by ETHNA cover very different types of research-performing organisations as well as research-funding organisations, each of which has distinct needs and priorities towards the institutionalisation of RRI. In addition, RRI keys covered in our consultation process are truly diverse among themselves. Therefore, the sheer variety of the RRI issues on the one hand and the expectation to elaborate relevant and actionable options for the Living Labs one the other hand has proven to be the most challenging task of all. In the end, we as a project have to be modest in terms of what can be done in the Living Labs and what should even be attempted in the limited amount of time given in the context of the ETHNA project – institutionalisation takes time! That being said, there is no harvesting without planting seeds.

Question: Did something come up during the project work that you did not expect at the outset?

It was enlightening to see that, in terms of the institutionalisation of RRI or one of its key areas, most research-performing organisations face very similar challenges, irrespective of their kind, size, or country. Now, that does not mean that there is a common, ‘one-size-fit-all’ solution out there that is the answer to all their problems. On the contrary, institutional characteristics must be taken into account, from the organisational culture and values to the organisational structure, to the leadership support and support structures already in place, to the readiness and capabilities of their researchers, to bottom-up initiatives found in various departments or groups, to external influences.

We were also surprised to repeatedly hear how important it is to focus on processes, not so much – and certainly not solely – on outcomes. The saying that the journey is the reward seems especially true when it comes to RRI institutionalisation.