Castelló de la Plana, Spain, 30.06.2023 – After 42 months, the European Commission funded initiative ETHNA System successfully concludes. The project leaves behind a wealth of resources that will provide higher education, innovation ecosystems, funding and research centres with a robust basis for implementing a flexible ethical governance system.

To evaluate the project results and share experiences, ETHNA System consortium members and extended stakeholders linked to research and innovation domains met on the 15th and 16th June in Castelló de la Plana, Spain. Under the theme of “Ethics and Responsible Research and Innovation in Practice”, the Final Conference spurred discussions on the significance of the outputs of the ETHNA System project to inform future initiatives and the most pressing ongoing developments in the field of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI).

Looking back, the ETHNA System project leaves behind many outputs and practical guides for the development of an ethical governance system in Research Performing and Funding Organisations (RPOs and RFOs), most notably the Guide with the accompanying toolbox. In addition to these final project outcomes, three handbooks on stakeholder engagement provide guidance on how to map stakeholders and scope their involvement, monitor and respond to their needs and engage them in participatory events. A blueprint for institutional change gives practical recommendations on how to bring an effective RRI governance to life and foster sustainable institutional change by identifying the right incentives and tackling the most crucial barriers with appropriate measures.

At the heart of the project, the piloting of the ETHNA System in living labs in six different organisations from Spain (UJI and Espaitec), Norway (NTNU), Estonia (Harno), Portugal (Uninova) and Bulgaria (ARC Fund) provided a wide range of information to draw conclusions from. Many of these key insights have been summarised in the implementation document “5 years ETHNA System Sustainability Plan” and its accompanying manual of trainers on the ETHNA System.

Among the project’s results, the Open Access book “Ethics and Responsible Research and Innovation in Practice” stands out as the culmination of over three years of dedicated project work. The book is part of the series Lecture Notes in Computer Science and was edited by Elsa González-Esteban and Ramón A. Feenstra from the Universitat Jaume I (UJI) of Castelló, and Luis M. Camarinha-Matos at NOVA University of Lisbon and UNINOVA.

The book skilfully brings together a range of practical results developed by the ETHNA System consortium over the course of the project and includes relevant contributions from prominent researchers in the field of RRI. Its main objective is to provide a practical and useful guide that will help other institutions to start introducing governance on research ethics effectively in their organisations. It succinctly presents practical contributions to the ethics governance framework, the conceptualisation and characteristics of ethics tools, as well as the experience gained from their application in different institutions. Contributions from beyond the ETHNA System consortium round out experiences across Europe with ethics tools in practice.

Lastly, the project presents a policy brief with recommendations for relevant policy makers on how to promote ethical and effective self-regulation with and for society. “We believe that the ETHNA System allows for the continuous openness to the values and social and ethical expectations of its stakeholders through its ethics governance system,” notes Elsa González-Esteban, professor at UJI and director of the project. “I am proud of the hard work of the consortium and the legacy it leaves behind in RRI implementation.”

Download the press release

After a lengthy implementation period in which the ETHNA System was piloted across different contexts in Europe, our project partners share helpful advice for future implementors.

Implementing organisations opened up about, among others, the challenges of too rigidly applying the methodology and risking being perceived as a top-down imposed mandate on researchers. One solution: a well-run co-creation process that fosters fruitful debates among stakeholders. This not only improves the quality of the process, but also helps to ensure that the achieved results are not seen by the personnel as something imposed on them but co-created with them.

The ETHNA System Guide to the Ethics Governance of RRI is overall shown to be a very practical document for the implementors, with useful, step-by-step instructions about how to implement the ETHNA System and develop its tools. As such, the ETHNA System can be easily applied in research-performing and research-funding organisations of all types and sizes. However, ETHNA is a flexible ethics governance system and organisations must not adopt it in its entirety. Most of the steps in the ETHNA System Guide are voluntary and can be easily adapted to organisational context and needs.

Watch the video for more helpful tips:

Members of the ETHNA System consortium have published a book based on their experience with the ETHNA System Ethical Governance in different institutions.

The Open Access book titled “Ethics and Responsible Research and Innovation in Practice” aims to present practical contributions to the ethics governance framework, the conceptualisation and characteristics of ethics tools, as well as the experience gained from their application.

Its main objective is to provide a practical and useful guide that will help other institutions to start introducing Research Ethics effectively in their organisations. It is part of the book series Lecture Notes in Computer Science and was edited by Elsa González-Esteban and Ramón A. Feenstra at the Universitat Jaume I, and Luis M. Camarinha-Matos at NOVA School of Science and Technology. The papers included in this book were organised in topical sections: foundations; experiences and lessons learned; ethics tools in practice; and looking into the future: main challenges.

View the book here

Join the Final ETHNA System Conference in Castelló de la Plana, Spain to discuss ethics and Responsible Research and Innovation in practice. After three years of hard work, ETHNA System meeting for the last time to present its results. Highlights from the programme include an evaluation of the ETHNA System and what to expect (and not to) in the ethical implementation processes and practical guidelines, a look a recent policies for the promotion of responsible research, and discussions of the next challenges to be addressed in Research Integrity, Open Access, Public Engagement, and Gender Equality

Register here

At this year’s EARMA Conference the ETHNA System was recognised for its unique contribution to providing a systemic management of activities in research funding organisations.

Over 1000 participants gathered in Prague for the annual European Association of Research Managers and Administrators (EARMA) conference on April 24-26,. Three days of networking and sharing best practice gave the research community the opportunity to test out ideas and discuss exciting developments in the field.

ETHNA System partners were honoured to contribute: Ramon Feenstra and Elsa Gonzalez-Esteban from the Universitat Jaume I (UJI), and Lisa Häberlein and Philipp Hövel from the European Network of Research Ethics Committees (EUREC) presented the results of the project in their presentation “Integrity and Responsibility at R&I Centres“. Ülle Must, Development Director at the Education and Youth Board of Estonia (Harno), focused her presentation, “RFO in motion”, on the development of research funding organisations (RFOs) and on what participation in the ETHNA project brought to her organisation, in particular.

The session discussions and questions left the impression that what had been achieved thus far in the project was in line with current trends. It appeared that the complexity of the activities in the ETHNA System, coupled with its flexibility, was appreciated by the participants. In the case of RFOs, it was recognised that this kind of systematic management of activities had been missing before. To quote the experienced and recognised research administrator, Cristina Borrás Sardà from the Agency for Management of University and Research Grants (AGAUR), “it seems that AGAUR has something to take over here as well”.

Access the final version of the ETHNA System here.

Watch how the ETHNA System was piloted across six different countries in Europe. The latest project video dives into the implementation of the ETHNA System in different RRI contexts. What would an ethics governance system look like in a university as opposed to an innovation ecosystem? What are some of the barriers and challenges that these different organisations faced in implementing the ETHNA System? These are just some of the aspects the film touches on. The diversity of organisations that implemented the ETHNA System, the different approaches they undertook, and the wide range of outcomes they achieved provide valuable insights that will ultimately help demonstrate the viability and sustainability of the ETHNA System.

Watch the video below:

During the ETHNA System project, six organisations from four different RRI contexts piloted the Ethics Governance System implementation. Their experiences, the barriers they encountered and the lessons that were learned have now been consolidated into a report.  

Sofia-based ARC Fund comprised a report that presents the main findings and outcomes from the critical evaluation of the ETHNA System implementation process. Among the major barriers were an insufficient understanding of the RRI concept, a lack of resources and a lack of support from senior management. Other implementors reported that the methodology can be applied too rigidly and “to the letter”, leading to its perception as an imposition rather than a benefit. In other cases, there was a reluctance to implement changes and reforms in the organization, either in the management or the staff, or both. For each of the barriers, the report lists a number of measures that might be taken to reduce them.  

The lessons learned from the ETHNA System implementation process are just as varied. The report notes that it is vital to plan your objectives realistically and be aware of a potential gap between approval and engagement. Stakeholders may wholeheartedly support the objectives of the ETHNA System, but they might not line up to contribute to the implementation.

Most of all, Marko Hajdinjak, senior researcher at Arc Fund and author of the report, noted that, organisations wishing to implement an Ethics Governance System should remember that there is no one-size-fits all solution. “The ETHNA System can be an excellent source for ideas and inspiration, but each organisation should develop its own path towards the RRI-paved institutional change,” Hajdinjak stresses. “A small but sustainable change is better than an overambitious plan for change that never comes to fruition.“ 

Read report or watch this video on the implementation experience.

To truly develop and improve the ETHNA System it must be tested out in real life situations. Implement, test, refine…through an iterative process, the ETHNA Lab method is taking six organisations across Europe through an inclusive process of developing, testing, and refining the ETHNA System.

After months of development the ETHNA Lab method and training materials (Deliverable 5.3) have been released and are being put into practice. The deliverable includes a guide on the ETHNA Lab process, followed by reflections on the methodological development of the ETHNA Lab and its implementation.

“It has been an eye-opening experience to see how the ETHNA Lab process is bringing together stakeholders to co-create, experiment with, and evaluate the elements of the ETHNA System in vastly different contexts,” shared Sigrid Vedel Neuhaus from the Danish Board of Technology Foundation (DBT), the partner supporting the implementation process.

In the first step, Implementation Plans (Deliverable 5.1) have been created by the six implementing organisations. In addition, each organisation has created stakeholder engagement plans (Deliverable 5.2), providing insight into the plans for engaging Quadruple Helix stakeholders in the implementation, testing, and improvement of the ETHNA System. The engagement of Quadruple Helix stakeholders is key in the co-creative development process of the ETHNA System, ensuring its usefulness, relevance as well as is sensitivity to different social values and concerns. 

The ETHNA Lab process is currently running simultaneously in six different organisations from four different research and innovation contexts. Over the period from December 2021 to October 2022 the implementing organisations have adapted the ETHNA Lab process and the ETHNA System to fit their own, individual organisational reality.

Currently each of the organisations are facing different opportunities and challenges in their implementation of the ETHNA System. For example, in the context of a university, the Universitat Jaume I of Castellón (UJI) has led several critical external consultation workshops. UJI’s Dr. Ramón Feenstra has found that, “the implementation project has been a real challenge for the participants. Discovering the great plurality of disciplines and thinking is one of the highlights. You end up meeting a wide range of people – who said research ethics is boring!?” In the other university, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), where tools similar to those proposed by the ETHNA system are already in place, the RRI officer is exploring how successfully these instruments are integrated in the life of a department and how the ETHNA system could bring an added value.

The implementing institution, the Education and Youth Board (Harno), a government agency of the Ministry of Education and Research that deals with the implementation of Estonian education and youth policy, is moving smoothly in the process of developing ethical governance procedures. Multiple awareness raising events for internal target groups on ethics, gender, open access have been held and the appointed RRI Officer together with the working group meets regularly. The first brick in the ETHNA System set of building blocks was an in-depth treatment of the issue of gender diversity, as a result of which sections were prepared for the Code of Ethics and Good Practice. Thanks to this effort, Harno’s Gender Equality Plan for the period 2022-2027 was adopted.

At the Applied Research and Communications Fund (ARC Fund) the ETHNA System implementation is well on its way. An RRI-Officer and a working group has been formed to develop a Code of Ethics and Good Practices. The working group has conducted several interviews and are planning for a workshop with internal stakeholders as a part of developing the Code. After the finalisation of the Code, a Research Ethics Board will also be formed. Lastly, all staff members will participate in a series of trainings (research ethics; public engagement methods; gender equality and diversity issues in research; and training on open access).

Lastly, Espaitec, the Science and Technology Park at UJI, which works in the area of innovation is in the process of developing a Code of Ethics and Good Practices in terms of gender perspective. As Espaitec is not a research centre, a key challenge has been the lack of references of good practices in ecosystems such as theirs. “We have realised that there are many examples of responsible research, but not so much of innovation hubs. So, a main difficulty has been to identify good practices that can serve all the companies settled in the park, since they develop their activity in very diverse sectors such as energy and environment, ICT, health and biotechnology, among others,” noted Eva Pardo Gil from Espaitec.

Towards the end of the year, reports will be released analysing the ETHNA system implementation and collecting the difficulties found in the process.

Download the deliverable 5.1

Download the deliverable 5.2

Download the deliverable 5.3

All the deliverables of the ETHNA System project can be found here.

The deliverables have not yet been reviewed by the European Commission. Its content might therefore change as a result of the review process.