Castellón de la Plana, 12.07.2021 – How will the ETHNA Ethical Governance System be implemented within our pilot organisations? ETHNA researchers have drafted a guide that has the answers. 

Establishing ethical governance in RRI is not done overnight. It takes work and commitment – and a guidebook detailing the steps of the implementation process. UJI researchers have now published the draft version of this guide for implementing ETHNA System within our pilot organisations. The guide will eventually be targeted at any organisation that performs research and innovation or funds it and that aspires to have a more effective ethical commitment. Complementing the guide is an in-depth toolbox that will support implementors in installing a system of their own.

The Guide is divided in six sections and includes seven annexes that form a toolbox to implement the ETHNA System. Section A, B and C explain the importance of having a system of ethical governance, its target audience and the benefits resulting from public commitment to manage the ethical basis for trust. Section D explains the structure of the system which consists of a set of building blocks that are flexible and adaptable to the needs, idiosyncrasies, and resources of each organisation to progress in RRI over time. Section E describes how to implement the ETHNA System through three phases and seven steps. And finally, Section F dives into the importance of internal and external communication in the ETHNA System to create a RRI culture.

The document is enriched with a Toolbox that will help with the implementation of ETHNA System.

“The ETHNA System wants to be useful for each institution to build its own system of ethical governance of RRI based on continuous improvement in a flexible and adaptable way to its circumstances”, said Elsa Gonzáles-Esteban, ETHNA project coordinator. “In any case, the key to the successful implementation of the ETHNA System will reside in the shared construction, in the joint creation of the ethical governance structure.”

Although far advanced, the current guide is still in draft stage and will be finalised by year’s end.

The guide is available here.

The toolbox can be downloaded here.

Why strive for research and innovation in and for a good society? This was the critical topic at hand discussed by over 80 participants at the ETHNA System’s latest workshop on March 24th. Main findings from the ETHNA System on RRI state of the art, best practices, societal needs assessment, and stakeholder involvement were presented to the public for discussion.

Keynote speaker Rosina Malagrida (pictured), head of the Living Lab for Health at IrsiCaixa, kicked off the debate by highlighting the central questions (why, how and with whom) that must be investigated in order to transform R&I to make it more open and inclusive. Malagrida spoke to the urgency of connecting with societal needs and using a system thinking approach.

ETHNA project partners then presented their main findings thus far and engaged with participants to answer key questions on the design and implementation of an RRI governance system. Marit Hovdal Moan, Senior Researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, presented the report State of the Art and Best Practices and its conclusions. A central element underlying the discussion was the necessity of aligning both R&I with the needs and expectations of society at large as well as the importance of making R&I more anticipatory in order to avoid future harm. In both circumstances, there is a need to build structures that enable RRI practices and processes to come bottom-up (needs identified by meetings, surveys, interviews, hotlines, etc.), at all times informing the RRI solutions and structures that subsequently come top-down. And at the same time, bottom-up efforts must be anchored at the top to be effective.

Recommendations on societal needs and stakeholder involvement were then highlighted by Julia Maria Mönig from the European Network of Research Ethics Committees (EUREC) Office. The discussions with the workshop participants highlighted the importance of the ETHNA System and the relevance of its findings. Participants discussed how to combine excellence, responsibility, freedom of research and stakeholder inclusion, how HR policies can be a means to influence ethical governance, and differences in a top-down versus bottom-up approach to defining societal needs for ethical meta-governance of R&I. For example, while answering to societal needs is crucial for RRI, stakeholder inclusion should not jeopardise freedom of research or that the researchers’ reality has to be taken into account when preforming RRI and that one must be taught how to accomplish public engagement.

Join us in the ETHNA System workshop on RRI state of the art, best practices, societal needs assessment, and stakeholder involvement!

In this workshop, ETHNA project partners will present the main findings on these topics and point to crucial questions for the design and implementation of an RRI governance system.

Go to Workshop

Trondheim, 09.02.2021 – Scientists working under the umbrella of the EU project ETHNA System have identified a comprehensive overview of good governance practices towards responsible research and innovation (RRI) in Europe.

The partners of the EU project ETHNA System have presented a literature review and state of the art description mapping examples of good governance of research and innovation (R&I) in European Higher Education, Funding and Research Organisations. “The findings form an essential basis for advancing our goal of developing a governance structure characterised by transparency, participation and co-responsibility”, said Elsa González Esteban, project coordinator and professor of the Department of Philosophy and Sociology of the Universitat Jaume I de Castelló (UJI).

The 82-page “Report on the state of the art and best practices” is the first publication of the project consortium involving ten partners from eight countries. Researchers at the ETHNA System partner institution Norwegian University of Science and Technology are the main contributors, in collaboration with project partners at UJI and Fundación Española para la Ciencia y Tecnología.

The report provides a comprehensive overview of governance theory and practices in the R&I sector related to the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). The report is based on findings from a review of the RRI literature, with a particular focus on the governance of research and innovation processes, a mapping of good governance practices in the research and innovation sector related to RRI in Europe, and interviews with 22 European-based experts on R&I governance in the area of RRI, or RRI-related topics. The purpose of the report has been to present some of the governance options – or building blocks – available when constructing the ETHNA system, both conceptually and practically speaking.

The selection of examples of governance practices in the R&I sector related to RRI has been guided by Arie Rip’s conception of de facto governance, which proposes that governance is constituted to a large degree “by bottom-up actions, strategies and interactions … [that] add up to outcomes at the collective level which function as governance arrangements”.

Following this approach, the consortium identified a broad variety of governance practices.

Applying the governance framework of the EC-funded project Res-A-Gora, the authors organised identified cases under the following three governance themes: ensuring quality of interaction, positioning and orchestration, and developing supportive environments.

Each of the governance themes are divided into three parts, which are referred to in the report as governance modules. The concept of governance modules was chosen to emphasise the idea that the governance themes can be understood as building blocks, which one can pick and choose from when constructing the ETHNA governance system. The cases organised under each module are meant to serve as an inspiration when reflecting on how a module could be adapted to a given institutional context.

The report does not indicate which of the selected cases qualify as good governance practices for the purpose of constructing the ETHNA system. However, the authors suggest that a selection of relevant practices could be guided by the overarching quality criteria for good governance in the R&I sector that underpin the ETHNA System project, which are those of ethical and effective.

Informed by Habermas’ theory of communicative action, an ethical governance system is defined here as one that promotes and facilitates on the one hand  the inclusion of those immediately affected by it (i.e. R&I actors) in processes of discursive justification of the way in which the governance system is organised, and  second, the inclusion of stakeholders (citizens, end-users, non-governmental organisations, business representatives, policy makers) in processes of critical examination and discursive justification of possible scenarios and potential impacts generated by research and innovation processes.

In addition to being ethical, the ETHNA System project holds that to qualify as good an R&I governance structure must also be effective. Informed by governance theory on public innovation, an effective governance structure in this context refers to one that accommodates and facilitates the form that R&I activities often take, namely the form of diverse, complex and dynamic networks.

The report is part of the project’s work package 2. Needs assessment, planning and implementation of ETHNA System are the upcoming tasks that will be realised in the next two years.

Download the report

Image Copyright: Skylark1952 – Freepik.com / BIOCOM

ETHNA System is teaming up with two related Horizon 2020 projects to host a webinar series on Gender equality in Responsible Research and Innovation.

The webinars were launched as a cooperation of ETHNA System and the EU projects GE Academy and GEECCO, which both focus on gender equality in research, innovation and education. ETHNA System project coordinator Elsa Gonzáles-Esteban and project manager Rosana Sanahuja, both representing Universitat Jaume I, will play a vital role in the webinar taking place on January 13. Elsa will lead through the webinar while Rosana will contribute to the programme with the collaboration of UJI colleague Santiago García Campá.

The webinar will introduce the concept of gender used in RRI and explain the interrelationship between gender equality and RRI plans. The objective is also to raise awareness of the importance of the gender dimension in research and innovation processes and introduce the models and practices that are being adopted for the institutionalisation of the gender issue in R&D&I spaces.

In a second webinar on January 20, the partners from the GEECCO and GE Academy will take over and dive more deeply into the subjects of sex, gender and intersectional analysis in STEM research, gender-sensitive measures in RFOs and more.

The webinar series targets the scientific community, but also policy makers, students and research funding and performing organisations. The interested public is also welcome.

Learn more about the webinars

ETHNA System project coordinator Elsa González Esteban, who is part of the Applied Ethics and Democracy Research Group at Universitat Jaume I, explains the SwafS call for Horizon 2020, which continues in Horizon Europe, through the success story ETHNA System. The video is part of the #EUflashlesson series launched by the European and International Projects Office of the Foundation Universitat Jaume I-Empresa. It comprises short videos with useful, practical and first-hand information about calls, programmes, entities, news and much more related to Europe.

See more #EUflashlesson videos

Partners from all over the EU have joined forces to develop a framework that will help European research institutions to implement ethics in their research.

In the kick-off meeting for the ETHNA System project, the ten partners from eight countries met in Castellón to outline the first steps. ETHNA System aims to establish a management system of the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) within 6 European Higher Education, Funding and Research Centres: two universities, two research funding centers and two technology parks in Spain, Norway, Estonia, Bulgaria, Austria and Portugal. To do that, the consortium will implement Living Labs, an approach uniquely suited to identify approaches to successfully put ETHNA System into action.

“This project will allow us to work so that what is good can be real,” said project coordinator Elsa González from the Universidad Jaume I. “Our goal is to bring ethics from theory into practice.” The rector of the Universitat Jaume I, Eva Alcón, welcomed the partners in Castellón. “There are three years of hard work ahead of you, but also the challenge of making visible the importance of Human and Social Sciences in research and the transfer of knowledge to society,” she said.

The funding for the project comes from the EU’s Horizon 2020 call “Grounding RRI practices in research and innovation funding and performing organisations”.

Universitat Jaume I will coordinate the European project ETHNA System for the development and implementation of an ethical governance system that promotes responsible research and innovation. The project has a duration of three years and involves the participation of ten partners from eight countries.

Universitat Jaume I de Castelló (UJI) will coordinate the European project ETHNA System, which aims to develop and implement a system of ethical governance to promote good practices in research and innovation (RRI) in higher education centres, research centres and research funding institutions.

The project, which will last three years and will involve the participation of several partners from different countries, will implement and validate a system of ethical governance through the integration of an ETHNA office in the structure of management of the consortium’s entities: two universities, one of which is UJI, two research funding centres and two technology parks in Spain, Norway, Estonia, Bulgaria, Austria and Portugal. The ETHNA office is based on four pillars: an ethical code, an ethics committee, an ethical line of alerts and suggestions, and indicators for reporting on RRI compliance.

The aim is to contribute to the implementation of institutional changes in the research and innovation structures of the European Union from an ethical perspective in order to promote and institutionalise RRI, whose basic pillars include research ethics and integration, gender equality, open science and citizen engagement.

“Although RRI has advanced from a training perspective, we do not have the same development in innovative governance structures, and this is where we bring our added value. We will take into account all the dimensions of RRI, but the objective is not to train on these dimensions, but to generate a structure in the institutions that finance and do research to manage these dimensions in an ethical way”, explains Elsa González-Esteban, professor of the Department of Philosophy and Sociology of the UJI and director of the project. It is a research project of the Horizon 2020 Programme coordinated for the first time by a research team from the UJI Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, but it involves other research groups.

The research group in Practical Ethics and Democracy that leads the project and is directed by Professor Domingo García Marzá will contribute its experience in the implementation of ethics management systems in organisations. In addition, the UJI group on Law, Management and Effective Equality of Women and Men, coordinated by Professor Santiago García Campá, will contribute to the generation of indicators for the different dimensions of RRI.

González-Esteban explains that, in terms of RRI, governance and ethics are the two most significant variables, but they are also the ones that require the least amount of research and implementation. “While progress has been made in the area of gender and citizen participation, governance is more complex because it requires structures, resources, and defined objectives, and we often have organisations that, if they declare their adherence to RRI, do not have an ethical infrastructure in line with it,” she explains. In this line, she notes that many people believe that ethics is an undefined subject, as if it were not objective, “but it is objective and very important; the reason is to be good and with ethical infrastructures. Since the UJI we have worked a lot in the field of applied ethics in institutions and companies”.

In relation to this aspect, the group’s researcher in Practical Ethics and Democracy also emphasises that “human and social sciences can be very fertile when it comes to guiding and specifying how our institutions follow and the objective of the project is this: it is not only a question of saying how they follow, but also of specifying how we can do it”. According to the director of the project, ETHNA System will produce transformations not only in the short term, but also in the medium and long term. “Having structures within our research and innovation systems that clearly define the way we want to go and that can measure whether we are doing well or not is very important”, she points out.

The work packages

The project is divided into several work packages. The UJI, as a coordinator, will direct and guide the project in all its phases and will also be in charge of the ethical compliance package, as well as ensuring internal communication throughout the project.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology will carry out a review of the state of the art on the institutionalisation of ethical research governance structures in order to learn from good practices developed in Europe.

The third package will be completed by the European Network of Research Ethics Committees in Germany, which will be responsible for carrying out, through a participatory methodology, an assessment of the needs and expectations of the interest groups of the entities in which the ETHNA system will be implemented.

The protocol of the ETHNA office will be designed by the Zentrum für Soziale Innovation in Austria. “At the head of the institutions in which the system will be developed is an office that supplies all areas, although in each case we will be making use of processes that are already in progress. We will work on a protocol that shows how it has to be implemented, which objectives are to be achieved each year and which goals the office has to reach. Afterwards, the protocol will be validated and indicators will be designed to measure the supply of the best in each of the RRI’s areas,” says the UJI’s Professor of Moral Philosophy.

The implementation in the systems will be coordinated by the Danish Board of Technology Foundation. Furthermore, the evaluation and validation of the system will be carried out by the Applied Research and Communications Fund of Bulgaria.

Through these actions, a guide will be developed that will serve as a compass for possible implementations of the ETHNA office in entities that will carry out this process.

The work packages will also include a communication and dissemination campaign, both to a specialised public and to the general public, which will be carried out by the German company BIOCOM. “The exploitation and dissemination of the results will be along the lines of the research group and the project with a twofold purpose: from a band, to the scientific community and, from another band, an adequate transfer of knowledge to the environment with the objective that it penetrates the society. I am sure that with this project, humanitarians will show their capacity and their ability to transform our society”, says González-Esteban.