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.