Towards a methodology for combining participatory design and responsible research and innovation approaches in quantum technologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Computer Science


Project summary
This project will examine and critique the stakeholder-involvement frameworks that have been incorporated into some areas of practice within UK quantum technology research. It aims to create a methodology for going beyond existing 'requirements' type approaches to offer researchers and developers practical techniques for connecting their work to broader societal contexts.

Project background
A perceived disconnect between 'science' on the one hand and 'society' on the other has deep roots, stretching back to debates about 'public understanding' of science in the latter half of the 20th century. These debates have resurfaced in the last decade as negative impacts on society from many and various technologies have become increasingly apparent. Issues include (but are not limited to) data misuse, algorithmic unfairness, and the incorporation of unproven and problematic technology such as facial recognition into everyday society.

The set of technologies collectively known as quantum computing technologies represents an opportunity to 'reset' some part of this troubled narrative. Frameworks from human-computer interaction (HCI) disciplines that aim to address breaches between scientific development and societal concerns - using techniques such as anticipatory governance and stakeholder involvement - have recently been embedded into some funding and regulatory and governance systems. Quantum computing technology, though responsible for significant advances in the modern world, remains a small and focused field. If the techniques described above can be used in quantum to create an end-to-end methodology that will truly embed science within its societal context, this could provide a model that can be rolled out elsewhere in computer sciences and technology development.

To create a methodology for embedding responsible techniques into research and development practice in quantum computing technologies throughout the field, from grassroots training out to industrial applications.

This project will examine epistemological and pedagogical challenges around teaching and training ICT students in 'responsible' methodologies, the foundations of these systems in ethical and jurisprudential theories of justice and social contract, and the value and practicability of incorporating them at the level of research and development. The project will focus on how societal challenges can be embedded into quantum computing research and development in a way that focuses on responsiveness and mutuality.

The project will be carried out through mixed-methods research. Subject to supervisory approval and necessary alterations as the project progresses, this is currently envisaged as:
Fieldwork including observation of the teaching of responsible innovation to doctoral students and interviews with senior academics tasked with delivering responsible technology training
Delphi study with commercial quantum technology companies.
Systematic literature review on policy frameworks worldwide that seek to embed responsible innovation approaches.

Given the relative novelty of the incorporation of frameworks such as RRI into funding and governance, there is as yet little research on the effectiveness of these frameworks or their usefulness in actual research and development. It is critical for the future of such techniques that there is ongoing assessment of the way in which they are incorporated, and their value as a practical methodology. This research seeks to provide such an assessment vis-à-vis quantum technologies and with wider applicability to computer sciences, with the aim of creating a methodology that can be utilised as an assurance of responsible and pro-social behaviour.

This project falls within the EPSRC Quantum technologies research area


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513295/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2023
2220046 Studentship EP/R513295/1 01/10/2019 30/03/2023 Carolyn Ten Holter