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The Oslo Research Group on Responsible Innovation

Modern society is characterised by rapid technological development. The Oslo Research Group on Responsible Innovation aims to contribute to responsible innovation by engaging in research and development projects with clear sustainability and democratic objectives.

The background and philosophy

Modern society is characterised by rapid technological development. Synthetic biologists engineer cells to produce new enzymes, nanotechnologists create chips that can be implanted in the human brain to control vision for vision impaired, gene technologists modify goats to produce HIV medicine in their milk, etc. Less spectacular, but as important, are developments that increase the energy efficiency of solar cells, enhance water purification, increase food security, etc. Such technology development is an integral element of societal progress towards better quality of life for current and future generations, as well as environmental and animal wellbeing and integrity. And in order for innovations to flourish there must be a space for public and private actors to experiment and continuously explore new technological opportunities. However, new technologies, through being novel, often introduce new uncertainties and worries about potential harmful effects on human beings, animals and the environment. A technology that is designed to solve one problem can introduce new, and perhaps unexpected, problems or uncertainties. When such uncertainties are significant the application of the precautionary principle becomes relevant.

The Oslo Research Group on Responsible Innovation believes that society should be a driver for innovation, and not only a passive recipient. We believe that technological innovation must be carried out in dialogue with key users, stakeholders, affected parties and the society at large, - from the start of the innovation processes (e.g. setting research priorities) until the products are commercialised and needs regulation or other governance measures. We believe that democracy is an important foundation for all aspects of innovation, including patent issues, standardisation issues and international trade policies. This is a crucial condition for ensuring that technology development and innovation indeed is responsible. However, we are aware of the weaknesses of how democratic governance is carried out in practice, and of the need for continuous development of better governance processes. Responsible innovation necessitates the concerted efforts from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives, including the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities and lay people. The Oslo Research Group on Responsible Innovation aims to contribute to responsible innovation by engaging in research and development projects with clear sustainability and democratic objectives.

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is becoming an increasingly important concept for addressing the relation between science, innovation and society. Various approaches to RRI have begun to emerge and most of the them highlight at least the following requirements from responsible research and innovation:

  1. A specific focus on addressing significant societal needs and challenges
  2. A research and development process that actively engages and responds to a range of stakeholders
  3. A concerted effort to anticipate potential problems, identify alternatives, and reflect on underlying values, and
  4. A willingness from relevant actors to act and adapt according to 1-3.

We subscribe to these dimensions and develop and adapt such an approach in different concrete projects.

The mandate and ambition

The Responsible Innovation (RI) group is a trans-disciplinary research group at the HiOA Work Research Institute (WRI). It's mandate is to deliver action oriented and policy relevant research of high academic standard in the areas of:

  • Ethical, legal and social aspects of emerging science and technologies (ELSA)
  • Governance of innovation processes
  • Responsible, participatory and integrated innovation processes
  • Risk and uncertainty related to health, safety and environmental consequences of new technology development

Specific research interests include:

  • the philosophical foundation for sustainability and responsibility
  • methods and practices of transdisciplinarity, transparency and dialogue
  • concepts of innovation (such as innovation system approaches) and their implications for responsibility
  • institutional and structural conditions for (responsible) research and innovation, such codes of conducts, assessment practices, standards and patents
  • specific application fields such as biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, geo engineering and ICTs (including welfare technologies and big data)

The performance ambitions for the work at the Research Group on Responsible Innovation are:

  • To have a strong international focus (taking part in international projects, attending international conferences, etc.). Innovation and ELSA is essentially international endeavors. We want to contribute to this international discourse.
  • To have a strong project generating focus. We wish to create a strong academic environment and this can only be achieved by having growth as a strategy.
  • To have a strong focus on scientific publication. Scientific publication is the basis for quality control and for ensuring that funding invested in research becomes to the benefit for society.

Our vision is to make the Oslo Research Group on Responsible Innovation a notable research group in Europe. At a national level we wish to make the Research Group the hub for studies of ethical, legal and social aspects (ELSA) of emerging science and technologies (EST) in Oslo. We will achieve this by maintaining a number of relations to related institutions, like SIFO, UiO’s IFIKK, ARENA, TIK and SUM, UMB, the National Research Ethics Committees and the Research Council.

The Research Group is a founding member of the Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI), lead by the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University.

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