Rosana Sanahuja

Assistant Professor
Universitat Jaume I
Castelló de la Plana, Spain

It has been almost one year since you have been working with the consortium partners in the different corners of Europe. Please describe the experience of creating collaborations amongst such a wide variety of partners!

Our main role is to know what to request so that the knowledge that each partner already has will be of service to our common goal: to develop and implement the ETHNA System. In the kick-off meeting of the project that took place at the beginning of the year, it was clear that we all had very different professional profiles and backgrounds. But, from that day to the present, what it is to be highlighted is the evident will to offer self-knowledge to the committee. And do it all in spite of the challenges of Covid-19, which limited the contact and communication of telematic resources.

On the other side, working from different countries and institutions provides various perspectives and work methods, which enhances the process. Moreover, this is the first time we coordinate a European project of this nature and so far it has been a very interesting learning experience.

What do you consider the major milestones the project has achieved so far?

During these months we have made progress in every active work package, beginning with the one we lead from the UJI as coordinators: WP1. WP2, led by NTNU, has been progressed to evaluate the state of the RRI, especially in the governance field: to analyse good practices and conduct interviews to get further information concerning specific experiences. EUREC leads WP3 and is currently delving into the stakeholders map in order to be able to provide a guide of how to map their own stakeholders in R&D and Innovation to those who will come after, given that this is a project which seeks to last over time and have an impact beyond the implementations that will be made. In September, ZSI began WP4, the development of the conceptualisation of the ETHNA system, which is the first step of the WP and the resulting work of the previous WPs. Furthermore, transversally speaking, the communication led by BIOCOM in WP7 has been crucial throughout the project. Accordingly, the synergies obtained due to communicating through social media and the ETHNA System website should be noted.

How is ETHNA System collaborating with other EU projects on related topics?

As we mentioned, communication has favoured the establishment of synergies with different European projects. For instance, on January 13 and January 20, 2021, we will take part in an open online training on RRI and gender equality organised by the GEECCO project (Gender Equality in Engineering through Communication and Commitment). Likewise, we are planning on collaborating with the other projects on the programme “SwafS-05-2018-2019 – Grounding RRI practices in research and innovation funding and performing organisations” just like Co-Change (Co-Create Change in Research Funding and Performing) and RESBIOS (RESponsible research and innovation grounding practices in BIOSciencies). The role of the project’s associated partners is also noteworthy. Their collaboration and contributions are key to the development of the ETHNA System and the dissemination of its results. A project like this one must be open and collaborative. For that reason, we hope to broaden the collaboration throughout the project.  

What is the greatest challenge to date in the coordination of the ETHNA system project?

As coordinators, the main challenge is, as we mentioned at the beginning, working together with all the partners so that the knowledge that we each possess can be of service for the development and implementation of the ETHNA System. The ultimate purpose is to provide research centres, science parks and organisms that finance research with an ethical governance system 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

En el año 2011, en el contexto de trabajo de un grupo de expertos, la Unión Europea trabajaba con científicos, filósofos, politólogos y economistas con el ánimo de definir el marco adecuado para una investigación e innovación responsables. De ahí surgió el concepto de RRI por sus siglas en inglés -Responsible Research and Innovation.  Allí se ponía de manifiesto que para adjetivar de responsable una investigación o una innovación no bastaba con que se cumplieran los principios de precaución y de parsimonia regulatoria. Es decir, la responsabilidad no se puede entender únicamente bajo el principio ético de “no dañar” analizando las posibles consecuencias de los resultados o productos de la investigación.

El desarrollo de una RRI implica ir más allá del principio ético de “no dañar” para combinarlo con el principio ético -proactivo- de buscar los “impactos correctos”. Como señala von Schomberg, uno de los máximos exponentes y defensores de la RRI, este sistema de gobernanza lleva a todos los agentes que intervienen en los procesos de investigación e innovación a “hacerse mutuamente responsables unos de otros con la vista puesta en la aceptabilidad, sostenibilidad y deseabilidad ética” de los procesos de investigación e innovación, así como de los productos comercializables.

Por tanto, los protagonistas de una investigación e innovación responsable no son ya únicamente los científicos sino también la ciudadanía, las empresas, la sociedad civil, los políticos, entre otros.

El momento actual que estamos viviendo con la COVID-19 ha puesto todavía más de manifiesto la importancia que los principios éticos tienen como señales de aquello indeseable pero también como orientaciones de la ciencia y la investigación que queremos. Desde luego, ha quedado claro que va en contra de nuestro sentido de justicia que los avances científicos no lleguen a todos por igual, independientemente de la procedencia, género, o edad del paciente. La alarma social que ha provocado saber que frente a la escasez de recursos se llegó a plantear, incluso a aplicar, la pauta de no atender con recursos sanitarios a personas de avanzada edad, argumentando que tenían menores posibilidades de supervivencia, es una muestra de la necesidad de generar confianza en la sociedad en todos los ámbitos, también en el de la investigación e innovación.

Generar tal confianza en nuestros sistemas de investigación e innovación requiere de una atmósfera de investigación donde todos los escenarios presentes y futuros se puedan reconocer. Desde ahí será más factible poder trazar caminos que minimicen las posibles amenazas, así como proporcionar información valiosa sobre alternativas viables que posibiliten una mejor toma de decisiones. Además, la integración de las perspectivas de las ciencias sociales y del humanismo es relevante como control y también porque crea oportunidades de diálogo y de toma de decisiones más reflexivas y a la altura, como diría Ortega y Gasset, del ideal de humanidad de nuestro tiempo. Por otra parte, esta “gobernanza anticipada” conlleva una “gobernanza democrática” que promueve la interacción entre varios agentes que integran valores, preocupaciones, intenciones y propósitos heterogéneos. La idea subyacente es que la investigación y la innovación tienen que democratizarse y deben comprometerse con el público para servir a éste.

Así pues, este marco europeo para la RRI se convierte en un requisito de la Unión Europea para que la comunidad científica y la sociedad trabajen conjuntamente. Para que las motivaciones, procesos y resultados de la ciencia respondan no sólo a las expectativas, los valores y la reflexión de los investigadores, sino también a los de la ciudadanía.

De ahí que se pueda afirmar que la RRI es un concepto que proviene de los legisladores e instituciones científicas de la UE en un proceso de arriba abajo. Pero que, al mismo tiempo, el propio concepto de RRI y su práctica implican también un proceso ascendente. Un proceso en el que se deben tener en cuenta las experiencias ya existentes, así como fomentar el aprendizaje mutuo con esta realidad.

Las barreras a las que se enfrenta el desarrollo de sistemas éticos de gobernanza de la investigación y la innovación son muchas. Las más acuciantes son: el tiempo, la financiación, los sistemas de recompensa, la capacitación de los investigadores y de los humanistas para trabajar conjuntamente con la ciencia de laboratorio, las expectativas de la producción científica y la división moral del trabajo. Algunas de estas dificultades son de carácter individual, pero otras son de nivel institucional.

En el proyecto europeo ETHNA System la Universitat Jaume I lidera un consorcio de 10 socios y 7 países que trabaja en el diseño e implementación de un sistema ético para favorecer el arraigo de prácticas y procesos de RRI en las organizaciones que financian o realizan investigaciones e innovaciones. El objetivo es impulsar una investigación e innovación ética utilizando el doble bucle del proceso “de arriba abajo” y “de abajo arriba”. Un tipo de investigación que en los tiempos de la COVID afronte sus retos desde una perspectiva ética y responsable, por ejemplo si es correcto tomar atajos para la búsqueda de una cura para la COVID-19 si con ello se pone en riesgo a quienes participan en las investigaciones o a las posteriores evoluciones de la cepa. El Sistema ETHNA tiene como pretensión facilitar el camino para alcanzar las mejores respuestas por la vía de trabajar a nivel institucional mediante una oficina de integridad que permitirá promover la responsabilidad en las prácticas de la investigación e innovación y en su aplicación sin dejar de estar en permanente contacto con la sociedad.

Elsa González-Esteban, Profesora Titular de Filosofía Moral de la Universitat Jaume I y Coordinadora del proyecto europeo ETHNA System

In 2011, in an expert group, the EU worked with scientists, philosophers, political scientists and economists to define the right framework for RRI. This led to the RRI concept: Responsible Research and Innovation. It was clear that in order to describe R&I as responsible, it did not suffice to comply with precaution and regulatory parsimony principles. In other words, responsibility cannot be understood solely according to the ethical principle of “do no harm” by analysing the possible consequences of research results or products.

Developing RRI involves going beyond the ethical principle of “do no harm” to combine it with the ethical – proactive – principle of seeking the “right impacts”. As von Schomberg, one of the leading exponents and proponents of RRI, points out, this system of governance leads all the actors involved in the R&I processes to “make each other mutually responsible with a view to the acceptability, sustainability and ethical desirability” of R&I processes, as well as marketable products. Therefore, the actors of RRI are no longer only scientists, but also citizens, companies, civil society, politicians and others.

Currently we are experiencing how COVID-19 has made it even clearer how important ethical principles are as signs of what is undesirable, but also as guidelines for the science and research we want. Of course, it has been made clear that it goes against our sense of justice that scientific advances do not reach everyone equally, regardless of a patient’s origin, gender or age. Social alarm has been caused by the knowledge that, when faced with a shortage of resources, the guideline of not providing health care resources to the elderly has been proposed, and even applied, by arguing that they had fewer chances of survival, which proves that R&I require an appropriate response from the reliability it generates in society.

Generating such confidence in our R&I systems requires producing a research atmosphere in which all present and future scenarios can be recognised, and from which we can help to minimise possible threats to decision making by providing viable alternatives. Furthermore, the integration of social science and humanism perspectives is relevant as a check, but also because it creates opportunities for dialogue and more reflective decision making that fall in line, as Ortega y Gasset would say, with the ideal of humanity of our time. Besides, this “anticipated governance” entails “democratic governance” that promotes an interaction of the various agents that integrate heterogeneous values, concerns, intentions and purposes. The underlying idea is that R&I have to be democratised and must engage the public to serve the public.

This European framework for RRI, therefore, becomes an EU requirement for the scientific community and society to work together. For the motivations, processes and results of science to respond to not only researchers’ expectations, values and thinking, but also to those of society.

This is why we can state that RRI is a concept that comes from the EU’s scientific legislators and institutions in a “top-down” process but, at the same time, the very concept of RRI and its practice also imply a “bottom-up” process. A double loop process in which existing experiences must be taken into account, and mutual learning from this reality must be encouraged.

There are many barriers to develop ethical systems of governance for R&I. The most pressing are: time, funding, reward systems, training of researchers and humanists to work together with laboratory science, expectations of scientific production and the moral division of labour. Some of these difficulties appear at the individual level, but others are institutional.

The ETHNA System Project is a consortium of ten partners and seven countries that work on the design and implementation of an ethics system to encourage the rooting of ethical practices in R&I in organisations that fund or conduct R&I. The goal is to foster ethical R&I using the double loop of “top-down” and “bottom-up” processes. The challenges currently facing research in the times of the COVID-19 require it. The ETHNA System attempts this by working at the institutional level through an integrity office to promote responsibility in R&I practices and their application, and to remain in permanent contact with society.

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

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.