Developing 'Alternative Practices' for Responsible Research and Innovation in the UK and Japan

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Science Technology & Innovation Studies


The aim of this Connections grant is to develop 'alternative practices' for Responsible Research and Innovation in the UK and Japan. Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is a method of governing emerging scientific fields that aims to provide opportunities to explore questions about the type of future we want science and technology to bring into being. It often involves engaging with a range of stakeholders in 'upstream' conversations to inform the creation of scientific knowledge. Even while gaining traction, however, RRI is at risk of becoming a narrowly defined requirement - a set of boxes to be ticked rather than an opportunity for reflection. It is also at risk of becoming narrowed in geographic and cultural terms. 'Best practices' for RRI are being developed in Western countries and then exported to other cultural contexts. Japanese researchers are beginning to develop their own formulations of RRI, particularly in the wake of the 2011 'triple disaster.' However, Japanese versions of RRI, looking for established models, may end up reproducing narrowed and formulaic interpretations of RRI, which are not adequately sensitive to differences in context. Juxtaposing the UK and Japan draws attention to the inadequacy of exporting methods from countries with established RRI practices to countries where those practices are still developing. Our approach calls instead for international collaborative learning to promote continued reflection and openness to new possibilities amongst all participants.

We aim to mobilise cross-national collaboration to develop a more expansive and imaginative trajectory for RRI - one that creates a space for autonomous and critical research in the social sciences and humanities while also being closely informed by the scientific work. We will draw on the diverse experiences of the investigators across Japan and the UK and across the social sciences and humanities. We aim to explore 'alternative' rather than 'best' practices, in the form of heuristics rather than guidelines and case studies rather than tick boxes, to demonstrate and encourage the kind of broad, contextualised thinking necessary to develop science and technology in light of social concerns and interests.

We propose two two-day workshops, one in Edinburgh and one in Tokyo, with the latter developing on the former. Our four focal topic areas for these workshops - synthetic biology, molecular robotics, artificial intelligence, and genomic medicine - reflect areas of shared interest across the UK and Japan and the expertise of the research team. The rapid development of these fields in both countries raises timely questions and concerns that will form the empirical grounding for our conversations. The primary output of the proposed workshops will be a strong UK-Japanese network able to pursue a larger and more substantial programme of research on alternative practices for RRI through a collaborative grant application.

Planned Impact

The workshop report generated after the conclusion of our events can be expected to have an immediate impact on stakeholders including policy and governance staff and science communication practitioners in the UK and Japan. Individuals working in these areas may be tasked with developing and implementing RRI, and are likely to seek models or best practices for doing so. By providing a heuristic from an authoritative source that supports a more contextual and creative approach to implementing RRI, we create an alternative option to programmatic approaches with the potential to impact how RRI is implemented in diverse settings. Institutions in the UK and Japan who are likely to benefit from this workshop report include: learned societies (the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society, the Science Council of Japan); research funders (BBSRC, EPSRC, the Wellcome Trust, the European Commission, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Japan Science and Technology Agency, Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development); expert advisory groups (the Nuffield Council on Bioethics); NGOs and NPOs (ETC group, Greenpeace, Citizen's Science Initiative Japan); public engagement practitioners (Sciencewise); science communication bodies (Science Media Centre); government departments and bodies (UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, Japan National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, Japan Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society); and large and small companies (e.g. Cambridge Consultants and Synthace). Our workshop report and website will be our primary means of communicating and engaging with these stakeholder groups.

Impacts from the proposed activities will primarily be delivered via the larger, longer term grant for which this project is preparation. The research team have strong track records of building stakeholder engagement activities into their work and of delivering impacts particularly in policy and amongst wider publics. We anticipate building similar activities into the anticipated future project, including workshops involving stakeholders in policy, governance, and public deliberation roles, reports written with policy and governance audiences in mind, and public engagement events using art and design to provoke curiosity and critical thinking about emerging science and technology amongst wider audiences.

An additional set of medium- to long-term impacts are expected to be delivered via the capacity-building functions of our two workshops and by establishing a strong UK-Japan network around RRI. Workshop participants will be equipped with specific case studies of RRI challenges, 'alternative' responses to those challenges across two national contexts, and conceptual tools for re-imagining RRI in reflexive and context-sensitive ways. Because our workshops will involve many of the key research staff working on RRI in the UK and Japan, these events have the potential for widespread impact by influencing how these individuals engage in myriad subsequent RRI activities. This should result in increased space for researcher reflection on the social dimensions of their work, increased space for multi-group conversations around those concerns, and scientific research that actively and attentively responds to social considerations in the course of producing scientific knowledge itself.

Finally, additional medium- and long-term impacts can be expected to accrue from the training and networking opportunities afforded to the four early career researchers amongst the co-investigators and named staff (Kawamura, Mikami, Smith, Szymanski), who will develop international connections that they would otherwise have been unlikely to make, which may enable further collaborations.


10 25 50
Description Project funding became available in January 2019. We held our first two-day workshop on 19th-20th March at the University of Edinburgh with seven colleagues from Japan attending. We each presented on RRI in our areas of technical interest (genomic medicine, synthetic biology, molecular robotics and artificial intelligence). The outcomes of this workshop included a shared conceptualization of RRI in theory and practice revolving around spaces for alternative thinking. We identified cross-cutting themes for further investigation, namely: discourses and metaphors, histories and temporalities, responsibility and responsibilities, and alternatives and interventions.

We concluded the March 2019 meeting with plans to cooperate on articles for a special issue of East Asian Science, Technology and Society (EASTS) examining these cross-cutting themes through empirical sites shared across the UK and Japanese teams. A majority of the project team met informally in September 2019 in New Orleans at the annual meeting for the Society for Social Studies of Science to share updates about case studies and continue to discuss plans for the special issue and second workshop.
Our second two-day workshop is scheduled for 17th-18th March 2020 in Tokyo. We will use this workshop to begin writing jointly written contributions to the EASTS special issue. We will hold an additional workshop in Tokyo on 15th-16th May 2020 on RRI education and public engagement across the UK and Japan. We also will write a collaboratively authored summary of the project as a whole for the European Association for the Studies of Science and Technology Review.
Exploitation Route Responsible research and innovation (RRI) is gaining traction globally and across scientific fields. Scientific and social scientific researchers in countries beyond the UK and Japan, and in many different areas of research, could build on our findings the nature and place of RRI.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description The project team's shared interests in how policies for Responsible Research and Innovation are implemented across different national contexts has led to further policy engagement. Co-I Koichi Mikami, along with named researchers Jusaku Minari, Arisa Ema and Robert Smith, held a round table meeting with the Research Council of Norway at their headquarters in Oslo on 12th September 2019 to discuss policies for Responsible Research and Innovation. This roundtable has led to plans for a workshop in Tokyo in June 2020 bringing together funders from Japan, the UK, Norway and the USA. These activities resulting from the UK-Japan Connections grant are central to an ESRC Impact Acceleration Grant 'Building Capacity for Responsible Innovation in International Biotechnology Policy Organisations', which was awarded to Robert Smith, Jane Calvert and Thoko Kamwendo (£18,012, Jan 2020-Aug 2020). This aims to clarify and share the work required by science policy practitioners to make substantive improvements to the governance of emerging biotechnologies, drawing on collaborations with research funders from the UK, Japan, Norway, Germany, Portugal and France.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description ESRC Impact Acceleration Grant: Building Capacity for Responsible Innovation in International Biotechnology Policy Organisations
Amount £18,012 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 08/2020
Description Roundtable on Responsible Research and Innovation with the Research Council of Norway 
Organisation Research Council of Norway
Country Norway 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Koichi Mikami, along with Jusaku Minari, Arisa Ema and Robert Smith held a round table meeting with the Research Council of Norway to discuss policies for Responsible Research and Innovation.
Collaborator Contribution The Research Council of Norway hosted the meeting in their offices in Oslo on 12th September 2019.
Impact A future workshop is planned in June 2020 bringing together funders from Japan, the UK, Norway and the USA to discuss policies for Responsible Research and Innovation.
Start Year 2019