Responsible Innovation: managing the responsible emergence of science and innovation in society
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Exeter
Unit of AssessmentBusiness and Management Studies
Summary Impact TypePolitical
Research Subject Area(s)
Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services: Business and Management
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Applied Ethics
Summary of the impact
A Responsible Innovation Framework developed by Prof Owen is transforming
how Research Councils and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) fund and
deliver programmes of science and innovation. The Framework recently
became a central element of EPSRC's research policy. It has supported key
governance decisions by EPSRC concerning the first, contentious UK field
trial of climate engineering technology. It was embedded in EPSRC's
Delivery Plan and Doctoral Training Centres, and TSB's Synthetic Biology
Roadmap, Industrial Feasibility and Innovation and Knowledge Centre
programmes. It has been an important input into a restructuring by the
European Commission of the European Research Area, underpinning its
Horizon 2020 Strategy and Innovation Union.
Innovation is a powerful, uncertain and unpredictable activity that
produces not only social and economic value but ethical dilemmas and
impacts that can be global and intergenerational in nature. Innovation is
also something that can be managed responsibly. Professor Owen is
pioneering research that aims to understand how we can collectively manage
innovation responsibly under conditions of ignorance and uncertainty, how
we can proceed in a manner that is socially desirable and acceptable, and
how responsibilities are perceived and distributed. His practical
experience of both the strengths and deficits of regulation as an
innovation governance mechanism galvanized him to initiate and research
the concept of Responsible Innovation (RI) in 2009 to explore how such
deficits could be addressed and the leadership role that may be played by
Research Councils, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and companies (e.g.
in the insurance and finance sectors) involved in funding and undertaking
innovation. He has held the Chair in Responsible Innovation at the
University of Exeter since 2010, and the research has been supported by
two research fellows (ESRC, EPSRC and EU funding) and six PhD students
Building on an initial EPSRC pilot grant in 2009-10 which supported
research to frame the concept, he led the development of a comprehensive
RI Framework in 2011, funded by ESRC and EPSRC, and which was evaluated by
ESRC as `outstanding' in its final evaluation. The research supporting the
development and application of this framework has been strongly
multidisciplinary in nature, bringing together concepts and methodologies
from disciplines of strategic innovation management (a core Business
School strength), governance, ethics, and science and technology studies.
These underpin a framework based on a set of overarching and integrated
dimensions which emphasize that for innovation to be responsible it should
be continuously anticipatory, reflexive and inclusively deliberative,
continuously opening up innovation to broad reflection on its purposes and
future possible impacts (intended or otherwise). Critically, the approach
is researching concepts of institutional responsiveness, e.g.
governance mechanisms that ensure that the trajectory of innovation is
responsive and that reflection is coupled to action. This emphasis on
practice has led to a number of implementation experiments at the Research
Councils and TSB (e.g.nanotechnologies, synthetic biology), and most
recently in financial institutions (e.g. new financial product development
department at Fidelity International Asset Management). A further EPSRC
grant provided an opportunity to research the framework's application in
the contentious field of climate engineering, demonstrating its broad
These experiments have in turn catalysed organizations to reflect on
their own responsibilities, policies and practices and the co-creation and
adaptive learning aspects of the research have been key. Research has also
occurred at an EU level, reflecting the European Commission's announcement
in 2011 that it would be reconfiguring the European Research Area around
`responsible research and innovation', in its Horizon 2020 Strategy,
following an expert group meeting in March 2011 attended by Prof Owen.
This is being investigated within the climate engineering field as part of
EU FP7 grant (EU TRACE), Prof Owen is a co-investigator.
References to the research
The following publications describe the underpinning intellectual
framework used in the impact case study.
(i) Stilgoe J., Owen R., Macnaghten P.M. (2013) Developing a Framework
for Responsible Innovation. Research Policy 42 (3) 1568-1580.
(ii) Owen R., Stilgoe J., Macnaghten P.M., Fisher E., Gorman M., Guston
D.H (2013). A Framework for Responsible Innovation. Chapter 2, in
(eds R.Owen., J. Bessant, M.Heintz,) Responsible Innovation. John Wiley,
(iii) Owen R., Macnaghten P., Stilgoe J. (2012) Responsible Research and
Innovation: from Science in Society to Science for Society, with Society.
Science and Public Policy 39: 751-760.
(iv) Macnaghten P and Owen R (2011) Good governance for geoengineering. Nature
(v) Owen R (2011) Rising to the Challenge of Responsible Innovation. Journal
of the Parliamentary Scientific Committee 16(1):5-6 01 Mar 2011.
(vi) Owen R., Goldberg N. (2010) Responsible Innovation: A Pilot Study
with the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Risk
Research Grants (in ascending chronological order)
• Owen, R., Pilot Study, Responsible Innovation, EPSRC April 2009 —
August 2010 £37,000.
• Owen, R., `International workshops on Responsible Innovation: Paris,
Oslo and Washington with research funders and policy makers'. FCO/French
Embassy/Norwegian Research Council/US National Science Foundation. Funded
directly by the French Embassy: £25,000.
• Owen, R., `Environmental Nanosciences Initiative'. NERC. November 2010
- September 2014, £130,000
• Owen, R., `Responsible Innovation Framework'. ESRC. June 2011 —
February 2012. £54,586.
• Owen, R. & Lenton, T., `Geoengineering Responsible Innovation'
EPSRC. March 2012 — October 2012. £39,883.
• Owen, R. (Co-I) et al., EU TRACE Geoengineering Governance. EU FP7.
June 2012 — Sept 2014. EUR 1M.
• PhD funding (5 current PhD students)
Details of the impact
The impact of this research has been substantive changes in research and
innovation policy at the UK Research Councils (notably EPSRC),Technology
Strategy Board and European Commission. It has also had impact in key
funding and management decisions by these bodies relating to three areas
of emerging techno-science and innovation: nanotechnology, synthetic
biology and climate (geo) engineering.
The initial impact of the research was at an EPSRC level. Drawing on his
experience in establishing and then leading an international science into
policy programme in the area of nanotechnologies by NERC and EPSRC, Prof
Owen was asked to scope the RCUK `Nanotechnologies for the Environment'
funding call on carbon capture innovation (2009). Prof Owen was granted
approval to research, trial and embed some of his early ideas on
responsible innovation: this was the first time this had been attempted at
EPSRC and the first formal occasion in which researchers applying to EPSRC
were asked to reflect on the wider impacts and implications of their
research. He introduced a new responsible innovation funding approach in
which applicants to the call were required to identify any societal,
environmental or other impacts, or ethical concerns associated with their
proposed research, qualitatively provide an appraisal of risk, and
identify responsibilities for managing these risks. Prof Owen worked with
EPSRC to develop the peer review and funding panel evaluation procedures
for this novel process (see Owen and Goldberg, 2010).This pilot work was
an important location to develop the initial framing of the concept and
insights into the opportunities and challenges of implementation.
Working with the EPSRC's Societal Issues Panel and Executive, and funded
by ESRC and EPSRC, Prof Owen developed the thinking further throughout
2010 and 2011, working closely with EPSRC and ESRC in a co-production mode
to develop several key dimensions of responsible innovation (see above).
This culminated in a paper to EPSRC Council in October 2012. These
dimensions evolved into the development of a generic RI framework and led
to a commitment by EPSRC to responsible innovation within its Delivery
Plan. It was at this time that EPSRC took ownership of the RI concept,
first within their Strategy team. The recommendations of Prof Owen, as
noted by the EPSRC CEO for Strategy and Planning, `had a direct
impact and was an integral factor in assisting the advisory group to
shape specific recommendations for implementing a responsible
innovation approach'(1). The RI agenda was further
developed at EPSRC where, in conjunction with the Director of Impact, Prof
Owen led the case for responsible innovation through the strategic
advisory structures and Council, `to develop a responsible
innovation framework for implementation across the research council'
(1). The recommendations were formally approved in November 2012 (6)
and EPSRC committed fully to RI as a key part of research policy published
in September 2013 (6).
In early 2011 the work took on greater significance when Prof Owen was
asked by EPSRC, NERC and STFC to use the evolving RI framework to guide
decisions concerning the first cross council climate engineering project,
underpinning this with a responsible innovation approach. He was asked to
develop several responsible innovation criteria, which were used by RCUK
to support a decision on the undertaking of the first climate engineering
field under the SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate
Engineering) project; `the adoption of the framework ensured a very
careful and thoughtful consideration of potential public perception by
the research team'(2); it was critical for EPSRC as the
major funder that they proceed, and be seen to proceed, in a responsible
manner. This was an important case study to put the conceptual thinking
into action: Prof Owen led on embedding the responsible innovation
dimensions within an innovation stage gating process drawn from business
studies to serve as a governance mechanism, which was used in a pivotal
`stage gate review' panel convened by RCUK with the SPICE team in June
2011. This challenging case study demonstrated the impact and value of the
responsible innovation concept in a real world situation `..after
consultation with stakeholders.....the SPICE project team decided not
to carry out an experimental component of their project. This decision
was made in part as a response to their reviews carried out under the
responsible innovation framework'(2). This project
culminated in a publication in Nature that received considerable media
attention in the national press (e.g. The Guardian), and extended
interviews as part of the BBC programme `Material World' and the Canadian
Broadcasting Company's flagship current affairs programme `The Current'.
In October 2012 the impact of the RI framework extended beyond the
research councils to the Technology Strategy Board and Nuffield Council
for Bioethics. The TSB lead for Synthetic Biology states `the
Responsible Innovation framework has been very valuable in helping
shape the thinking within Technology Strategy Board as we evolve our
position and expectations of project partners to demonstrate they are
undertaking responsible practice' (3). The framework
was used as a key input into the drafting of the UK Synthetic Biology
Roadmap (4) and `within the business-led Synthetic Biology
Industrial Feasibility competition (2012) and EPSRC-BBSRC-TSB
Innovation and Knowledge Centre (2013)......responsible innovation was
an important underpinning theme and a key criterion for funding'
(3). These included specific responsible innovation criteria
evaluated by a multi-disciplinary `responsible innovation framework panel'
on which Prof Owen sat.
The international impact of the work began in March 2011, when Prof Owen
was invited to attend an expert group meeting at DG Research, European
Commission, to frame and scope a Responsible Research and Innovation
policy initiative. The policy lead for the EC DG Research & Innovation
notes `the responsible innovation framework developed by Prof Owen
and colleagues has been an important input in terms of the
intellectual thinking behind and framing of RRI and has had
significant impact at an EU research and innovation policy level in
this regard'(5). This initial meeting was followed by a
major international workshop on responsible innovation at the French
Embassy in London in May 2011 organised by Prof Owen in which the EC
announced its intention to commit to the responsible innovation concept
under its forthcoming Horizon 2020 and Innovation Union Strategies (see
Owen et al, 2012 above). A series of knowledge transfer activities
(workshops, seminars, training) then followed with international research
councils, including the Norwegian Research Council in November 2011 and US
National Science Foundation in 2012, in part funded by the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office. The EU Commissioner for Research and Innovation made
a formal policy announcement to reconfigure the European Research Area
underpinned by the concept of `Responsible Innovation' in May 2013,
placing the responsible innovation concept at the centre of science and
innovation policy in Europe. The significance of this for EC policy is
noted; `Prof Owen's research has been an important contribution to
the development of RRI in terms of both concept and practice, and this
has had significant impact in terms of the formulation and development
of emerging research and innovation policy at an EU level' (5).
Sources to corroborate the impact
EPSRC. CEO Strategy and Planning. Letter corroborating nature
and resultant impact of research outcomes.
EPSRC. Portfolio Manager — Geoengineering. Letter confirming
use of Responsible Innovation Framework to guide decisions concerning
Technology Strategy Board (TSB) - Lead for Synthetic Biology. Letter
corroborating TSB's use of the Responsible Innovation Framework.
TSB UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap: responsible innovation is a key
pillar (theme 2 and specifically page 30) http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/documents/publications/SyntheticBiologyRoadmap.pdf
European Commission - Policy lead DG Research and Innovation.
Supporting Statement corroborating impact of engagement with Prof Owen's
RI Framework and resultant implementation.
EPSRC - Framework for Responsible Innovation — crediting Prof
Richard Owen, Dr Jack Stilgoe (UEBS Research Fellow on Prof Owen's RI
grant) and Prof Phil Macnaghten.
Embedding of responsible innovation framework within EPSRC Centres for
Doctoral Training call:
Technology Strategy Board Responsible Innovation Framework
Statement from EU Commissioner on embedding Responsible Innovation
as a policy in EU Horizon 2020 programme: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/geoghegan-quinn/headlines/speeches/2012/documents/20120423-dialogue-conference-speech_en.pdf
EC Directorate-General for Research and Innovation: Options
for Strengthening Responsible Research and Innovation: report of the
Expert Group of the state of art in Europe on Responsible Research and
(Prof Owen's Research Fellow Dr Jack Stilgoe member of Expert Group)