Key note: Media in Responsible Research and Innovation – European Intersectoral Summit on Research and Innovation, 25 et 26 February 2013, Dublin

lundi 4 février 2013


This key note was held by Dr. Claudia Neubauer, former director of Fondation Sciences Citoyennes, at the EISRI meeting (European Intersectoral Summit on Research and Innovation), Trinity College Dublin – 25-26 February 2013

Dear colleagues,

First of all I would like to thank the organisers for having invited me to this conference.

My presentation will be organised in several parts:

Knowledge production, society and democracy

-The concept of Responsible Research and Innovation

-Media and RRI


But before, let me start with some brief words on my organisation so that you know who is talking to you.


A) FSC – Fondation Sciences Citoyennes

Foundation Citizen Science is a French NGO think tank analysing the relation between science and democracy. Since ten years, we – scientists, students, citizens – intervene on research policy issues by working on three main issues: – the increase of research and expertise capacities of civil society, NGOs, consumerists, citizen movements and trade unions (“scientific third sector”) to respond to growing social and ecological demands ; – the stimulation of the freedom of expression and debate in the scientific world, the support to whistle blowers and the development of public controversies and « hybrid forums » on key scientific issues with strong societal dimensions ; the promotion of the democratic elaboration of scientific and technical choices.


B) Knowledge production, society and democracy

If we consider long term history we can claim that each civilization or historical era produces its own modes and institutions on how to create and to pass on their corpus of knowledge. Over the last centuries, science and technology have been among the most important factors changing society.

The second half of the 20th century saw, in wide parts of the world, an unprecedented economic growth. Numerous countries aimed to build prosperous societies on the basis of scientific knowledge and technical advances by exploiting seemingly unlimited natural resources, be it petrol, water or land. After 60 years of furious techno-economic develoment, there are two main observations: first, poverty and social injustice did almost not decline or even raise again, and second, our planet approches its limits.

Johan Rockström and his colleagues from the Stockholm Resilience Centre wrote in their 2009 article on Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity: “Anthropogenic pressures on the Earth System have reached a scale where abrupt global environmental change can no longer be excluded. … planetary boundaries are climate change; ocean acidification; stratospheric ozone; biogeochemical nitrogen cycle; phosphorus cycle; global freshwater use; land system change; the rate of loss of biological diversity; chemical pollution and atmospheric aerosol loading…. Transgressing one or more planetary boundaries may be deleterious or even catastrophic … within continental- to planetary- scale… ”

Different scientific and technological choices have different impacts on society and the planet, but the implicit assumptions that frame these choices, and their social implications, are nowadays rarely evaluated and discussed. Yet, this is what we urgently have to do.

Knowledge production in conventional research is both discipline-based, evaluated by publications, and increasingly shaped by an industrial logic. « Papers and patents » is a good summary of the trends that have shaped scientific research at least for the last decades, and that  explain why research  agendas are so much focused on developing new technologies and products. Techno-scientific innovation is often framed as “one way” progress with a given direction. Moreover, reinforced intellectual property rights, the crucial role of knowledge in the production of added economic value (the focus on new technologies and products), the affirmation of mercantile norms in the production and validation of scientific knowledge, and the world wide competition between individual research groups and between national research systems have led to a growing commercialisation of science and to a piecemeal approach in the design of research agendas, often inadequate for tackling the multi-dimensional challenge of sustainability.

All these  trends may explain why science has come to be seen mainly as a purveyor for new high technology products and of competitive advantage, and why the expectations placed on techno- logical innovation by a lot of policy-makers are so high.

However, the construction of a  « Knowledge-Based Society »  should  not  be confused  with  the  mere  creation  of a  common market for knowledge.

The lack of relevance of a linear model of research and innovation focused on competitiveness in addressing the ecological, economic and social crises in an integrated way has fostered the emergence of problem-based approaches, that emphasize trans-disciplinarity and that see knowledge not only as a marketable product, but also as a process and a common good. Citizens in European countries benefit today from a quality science education and a wider civic education, from the new social media, and from a rising consciousness on the fact that not every techno-scientific “progress” is to take without critical analysis. They doubt about the capacity of the techno-scientific system to control its discoveries and inventions.

In this contexte, participatory research between academia and civil society organisations or citizens has become a popular new research paradigm. It is increasingly being recognized as important in yielding concrete knowledge and understanding that can guide changes – in research, in policies, in society. By the variety of the outcomes, and their relevance for different partners as for instance local communities, participatory research is deemed “highly productive”, “cost-efficient” and “good value for money”. The problem-based approach which lies at the heart of it is a drive towards trans-disciplinarity, and towards more relevance of research to problems and needs of people. It is particularly adequate to understand the links between the different dimensions of sustainability, and to help communities move towards sustainability and the management of common goods.

The recent movement of democratisation of knowledge in terms of access and use thus also leads toward a democratisation of the knowledge regime in terms of production of knowledge. The increasing number of highly educated people give notably increasing possibilities to civil society organisations to recruit more graduated people able to understand, to discuss and possibly to contest produced knowledge and the official knowledge institution. Often they are able to produce knowledge and (counter-)expertise, and to use them for their social purpose. Is thus emerging a scientific third sector in addition to the public and private research sectors.

These new actors in research can be large international NGOs like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or the World Wildlife Fund, patients’ associations (e.g.  AIDS movement,  breast cancer associations, orphan  diseases organisations, etc.), users’ and  consumers’ organisations, associations on urban or rural development, farmers’ organisations like Via Campesina (dedicated to food safety, food sovereignty, to the conservation of biological diversity, preventing the dissemination of GMOs…), women’s associations (e.g. active on a multiplicity of issues like domestic  violence,  water  preservation, the  situation  of women  in rural areas, etc.), organisations of international solidarity (e.g. on biopiracy and patenting) or international health aid. They can be science shops (allowing free access to research for CSOs) but also small groups of citizens or unions. These civil society organisations have become major players in domains such as environment, health, energy, agriculture, climate, ecology,  international solidarity, gender, social exclusion and immigration, disability and poverty, both at local and global levels. They participate to international negotiations, advise  governments  and governmental  bodies, work with the media, and with scientists – supporting thus the emergence of a new paradigm of knowledge creation, based on cooperation instead of competition, on co-production by different actors and on the sharing of knowledge instead of its private appropriation.

Improving the relevance and the validity of research is a pre-condition for better informed evidence-based policy-making. The value of academia – civil society partnerships is that they can make policy alternatives visible, challenge existing norms, and broadening perspectives beyond technological approaches by opening up new research and innovation paths. They encourage diversity in science, which is a key asset, and confirm that solving problems or achieving change is rarely only a matter of technology.

The problem we are facing today is not primarily a knowledge gap between scientists and citizens rather than a power imbalance between scientists, industry, policy makers, media and citizens where techno-scientific innovation often escapes democratic scrutiny. (We often hear the argument that citizens are not able to discuss or understand techno-scientific endeavours as long as they did not require the scientific knowledge base which goes along. This raises two questions: -In which frame and on the basis of which knowledge a society can discuss techno-scientific developments? -What about the social and political knowledge that techno-scientific professionals, scientists, engineers need to acquire to be able to understand the nature of their own work and their potential impact? For instance the training of scientists at universities needs to be rethought and should introduce history, epidemiology, sociology and economics of research, the latter being today a decisive factor to the scientific work.) Sharing of knowledge is inherently related to the issue of sharing power.

These reflections lead us directly to the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation.


C) Responsible Research and Innovation

Right now we have some corner stones of what RRI is about, and here I refer to the recent report of Hilary Sutcliffe: RRI is about

“1. The deliberate focus of research and the products of innovation to achieve a social or environmental benefit. 2. The consistent, ongoing involvement of society, from beginning to end of the innovation process, including the public & non-governmental groups, who are themselves mindful of the public good. 3. Assessing and effectively prioritising social, ethical and environmental impacts, risks and opportunities, both now and in the future, alongside the technical and commercial.

RRI is about trying to get better at anticipating problems, taking into account wider social, ethical and environmental issues and being able to create flexible and adaptive systems to deal with these unintended consequences. This is sometimes called ‘Anticipatory Governance’”

A few points on this issue.

In the Commission’s Horizon 2020 text from November 2011, a semantic analysis we undertook showed that the terms of competitiveness, industry, market, economy appeared much more often than civil society, citizens or well-being. Even in the Societal challenges part industry and market were predominant. Also, the terms ‘citizens’ or ‘consumers’ were used for describing mainly a passive, ignorant public rather than active, creative citizens.

In general the text gave the impression that societal challenges have a lot to do with competitiveness and industry and much less with citizens or civil society, that citizens have mainly to play a role as consumers, and that excellent science can be done with industry but not with civil society.

Horizon 2020 reflects the dominant comprehension of innovation. Nowadays, innovation is mainly cited when referring to nanotechnologies, biotechnologies and genomics, nuclear energy, ICTs and more recently synthetic biology and geoengineering and much less when referring to for instance organic agriculture, environmental health, or social organisation. It is as if innovation would preferably take place in certain techno-scientific domains rather than in others. Innovation is also presented as something happening on a global level and having almost always global consequences. However, one can also think innovation in terms of local and regional innovation adapted to local and regional contexts and conditions. When having a look at research budgets, we realise that the same domains – nanotech, biotech, nuclear energy and so on have got much more financial support over the last decades than domains related to sustainability and public health goals such as environmental health, energy efficiency tools, sustainable fisheries and agriculture or sustainable consumption and lifestyle. There are no natural priorities in science. What means, collectively, governments, industries and public and private research institutions take political decisions where to fund research and where not, and in which domains to support innovation and in which not.

Let’s take the example of research into biotechnological agriculture versus research into organic agriculture.

From 1984 on, programmes whose main thrust was biotechnology, were the Biotechnology Action Programme (BAP) 1986-1989, Biotechnology Research for Innovation, Development and Growth in Europe (BRIDGE 1990-93, and BIOTECH 1992-98). In 1999, the European Commission unified its funding for biotechnology research under the Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources programme, that fell under the 5th Framework Programme.

In the opposite, under FP3, research for organic agriculture counts for less than 0,1% of the total FP budget. Since then, European funding in total amount of money for organic agriculture research is constantly growing. However, since total FP budgets raised constantly as well, the relative support of the European Commission to research for organic agriculture did not grow since 1994 and stays stable at a very low level under FP4, 5 and 6. Under the FP6-Food priority, project funding on biotechnologial projects was more than three times as high as funding on research project for organic agriculture.

In 2009, the Belgian scientists Gaëtan Vanloqueren and Philippe Baret from the catholic University catholique of Louvain publish their article on How agricultural research systems shape a technological regime that develops genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations. They underlign: “Agricultural science and technology (S&T) is under great scrutiny. Reorientation towards more holistic approaches… has recently been backed by a global international assessment of agriculture S&T for development (IAASTD)… The process by which one paradigm (genetic engineering versus agroecological engineering) is favoured over the other is the result of the interactions between many factors… The interactions among divers determinants of innovation (e.g. orientation of science policies, funding priorities, scientists’ cognitive and cultural routines etc.) within agricultural research systems … shape a technological regime. Genetic engineering, a technological paradigm that is well suited to scientific reductionism, is more successful in this technological regime than agroecological engineering, a paradigm that questions mainstream approaches within agricultural research. The development of agroecological innovations is clearly impeded…”

Finally, if we have to work about the notion of RRI, this means that there exists the opposite, so non responsible research and innovation. Our work is to separate responsible R&I from non responsible R&I, to promote the first one and to avoid the latter.

Having in mind the example of agricultural research, the question is: What is RRI and what is not? Who defines what RRI is? What are the criteria? How far do we take into account the planetary boundaries? For instance, there seems to be a consensus today, that use of pesticides and herbicides should be limited. But do orientations of current R&I programs fully integrate this approach? And if not, why not? What are the barriers?

More largely, isn’t there an urgent need to re-conceptualise progress and to overcome its old fashion definition that wants that the control of nature, techno-scientific knowledge and rationality guarantee social and moral progress.

Scientists from the STEPS Centre of the Sussex University formulate it like this in their 2011 Manifesto: «  A radical shift is needed in how we think about and perform innovation … we need a new politics of innovation. This is not about being ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ science and technology, but about addressing real questions of choice : ‘which science ?’, ‘what innovation’ ?  and especially ‘whose innovation’ and ‘what kind of change’ ? In other words, we need to foster more diverse and far more fairly distributed forms of – an directions for – innovation, towards greater social justice. »

Here we are in the middle of important tensions between conflicting world views and prospectives, conflicting visions of economic models but also conflicting scientific analyses and expertises.


D) Media and RRI

Some short reflections on media:

The media is one of the most important vehicle today for communicating science issues to citizens and the public sphere.

One can probably and approximately distinguish three major phases in the treatment of techno-scientific developments in media.

The first phase would be the one of an enchantment about scientific discoveries and technological innovations. Media describe techno-scientific novelties in terms of ambitions, hopes, new possibilities, promises, for instance for future applications.

The second phase would be the one where besides a positive reporting, threats and risks gain in visibility. Innovations are discussed under different approaches, contradicting expertises are presented, dissens on how to deal with problems and on what solutions to apply is more put forward.

One example to underlign this.

The Wilson Center published two months ago, in December 2012 a report on “Trends in American and European press coverage of synthetic biology” tracking the years 2008 to 2011. They observe: “American press coverage still emphasized the benefits of synthetic biology but is less rosy than it was between 2003 and 2008. Around 30 articles appearing in the American press between 2008 and 2011 mentioned the risks of the new technology. Around 70 mentioned the benefits…European coverage, meanwhile, has become more balanced in the 2008–2011 period. Some 35 percent of news articles during the period mention the benefits of synthetic biology, while 33 percent mentioned the risks and 31 mentioned both risks and benefits. In the 2003–2008 period, 51 percent of coverage only mentioned benefits, compared with 5 percent of coverage that mentioned only risks.”

The third phase of media coverage has still to come, or may be it is right now emerging. It is the one of massively showing alternatives, reporting on alternative trajectories and solutions, often still marginal, and marginalised. This phase would also include a critical reflexion and analysis about the relation between democracy and research, at several levels, for instance on the participation of citizens and non for profit civil society organisations to research governance, research programmes and projects, the local dimension and relevance of research, the argument of authority in science, the dominance of certain issues in the public space, etc.

The relation between media, citizens, industry, science and policy is complexe. It includes notably  questions about -the critical distance media take on the messages which are emitted by different actors, -the individual perception of citizens which is also influenced by numerous factors, -the public as a passive or active recipient of information, -the correlation between public awareness and the amount of media coverage. Few media coverage of issues makes that they are forgotten, uninteresting, or considered as being unserious.

Let me come back here to the example of agricultural research. Vanloqueren and Baret in their 2009 article underlign:

“The simplified approach characterizing the mainstream media favours a binary approach concentrating on the benefits and risks of genetic engineering, for better or worse… Media have not adopted thinking on technological choices that would have discussed the comparative advantages of transgenic crops and their alternative options. Between 1981 and 2008 the archives of The New York Times contain, for instance, 2696 references to ‘genetic engineering’ against 3 for ‘agroecology’, 7 for ‘agroforestry’ and 0 for ‘cultivar mixtures’. Moreover, agroecological innovations, when considered, are usually presented as innovations for organic agriculture, not as possible agricultural practices in the future. The media’s stand is of great importance, give the power they wield over public opinion. As communication theorist Bernard Cohen observed in what became a widely accepted communication theory: ‘the press is significantly more than a purveyor of information and opinion. It may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about’ (Cohen, 1963). The public’s attention is thus drawn to the risks and benefits of genetic engineering, not to the alternatives such as agroecological engineering.”

This analysis is further developed by other scientists such as Timothy Caulfield, a Canadian professor of health law and science policy, who observes that  « ..While it is likely that the media’s desire for a good story is at least partially to blame, available evidence indicates that much of the spin comes from researchers and research institutions….The private sector, however, seems to be one of the most powerful engines of hype… »

Critical citizenship and critical media have a positive role to play in the building of a democratic knowledge- based society. This society requires the diversification of the types of knowledge recognized as relevant. Innovation should become an important site of democratic experimental practice with more bottom-up experiences and an up-stream approach.


E) Recommendations

In general :

overcome the myth that only highly complex and cost intensive technologies can create employment, sustainability, and well-being,

-allow and support plurality in technology choice, seek for major non productiviste innovations,

support decentralised governance, decentralised energy supply, locally adapted and produced agriculture, etc.

-facilitate cooperation and knowledge exchange between civil society organisations and academia in order to realise the innovative potential of the non-profit sector in numerous research and innovation domains.

-reconsider direction, diversity and distribution of benefits of R&I

Consequently, Horizon 2020 should include :

-a specific program on RRI

-mainstreaming of RRI in all thematic priorities

-a specific program on science with and for society

-mainstreaming of science with and for society in all thematic priorities

-adapting the upcoming annual work program calls to the criteria of RRI

At the  dawn of the XXIst century, our societies face immense ecological, social and economic challenges. It is certainly not a time for « business as usual », and being innovative can not mean continuing on the same path as over the last 30, 40 years. It means making the right decisions to allow our societies to change for the better. Knowledge creation is not a privilege of universities and businesses anymore, and it is more crucial than ever – not only for the design of new technologies, but for social innovation. Present times are full of challenges, but they are also full of opportunities. Our collective capacity to create more societally relevant knowledge will ultimately depend on people, their curiosity to explore new grounds, their openness to engage with new actors, their willingness to change their  habits and ways of thinking. At a time of crisis, Participatory Research and Responsible Research and Innovation help us rediscover the value of cooperation in science.

After all, the idea of cooperation is the very founding idea of the European Union, and has proven to be a rather successful one.