Responsible Research and Innovation in Industry. Challenges, Insights and Perspectives

By André Martinuzzi

Responsible Research and Innovation in Industry. Challenges, Insights and Perspectives

The responsibility of industry towards society and the environment is a much-discussed topic, both in academia and in business. Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) has recently emerged as a new concept with the potential to advance this discourse in light of two major challenges industry is facing today. The first relates to the accelerating race to innovate in order to stay competitive in a rapidly changing world. The second concerns the need to maintain public trust in industry through innovations that generate social value in addition to economic returns.

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), which has recently emerged as a new approach in this context, is associated with great hopes that it will be possible to tackle these shortfalls in a more comprehensive manner, building on, and going beyond, CSR. RRI expands on concepts and theoretical approaches previously used in scientific inquiries into the responsibility of business by drawing on technology assessment, but also science and technology studies, ethics and philosophy of technology, as well as ethical, legal and social aspects of research. As such, it embeds responsibility at very early stages of research and innovation by drawing attention to questions of research integrity, different institutional environments, and dynamics with a strong bearing on societal impacts of business. Research and innovation can be responsible in many ways: environmentally, ethically, socially, or politically. The agents whose responsibility it is to make research and innovation responsible can be highly diverse from researchers to research funders, policy makers or businesses. Consequently, implementing RRI requires collaboration of various stakeholders in order to find sustainable solutions based on the ethical acceptability, sustainability, and societal desirability of the innovation process (how it is done) and its marketable products (impact on society).

RRI links up with two key challenges dominating the current business landscape: the accelerating global race to innovate in order to maintain competitive advantage, and the struggle to maintain public trust in business. Regarding the former, RRI offers the potential to bring CSR from the margins into core strategic decision processes, achieving a stronger integration of the creation of social value in addition to economic returns. This may open up previously untapped resources and avenues for innovation but may also spawn new conflicts. Consider, for example, the question of Intellectual Property Rights in inclusive, participatory innovation settings. Regarding the latter, RRI connects core business concerns to overarching societal challenges and is therefore considered a promising way for firms to navigate these issues for the well-being of individuals, communities, countries, regions, and global society. Overall, RRI strives to honour the promise of incorporating responsibility into the DNA of corporations. If successful, it may help business re-gain public trust and legitimacy by systematically anticipating problems before they become pressing, orienting innovation capacity towards areas with a significant potential for positive social impact and leveraging multi-stakeholder networks for the development of systemic solutions to grand societal challenges.

However, despite the benefits that RRI offers to industry, the concept does not yet resonate widely with business. Several explanations for this have been offered. Some argue that the variety of concepts and approaches in this field (responsible innovation, sustainable innovation, social innovation, open innovation, and others) have led to confusion. Others propose that the concept has mainly been implemented in the context of publicly funded research and needs to be operationalized and adapted for the business context. Finally, some scholars raise the question whether RRI is applicable to industry at all and call for the fundamental reconceptualization of both responsibility and innovation in order to achieve RRI in the business context. Efforts have already been made to show the relevance of RRI for industry. However, given the importance of industry for innovation, on the one hand, and the numerous open questions concerning RRI in industry, on the other hand, a broadening of the discussion is called for.



This is an excerpt of the journal article: Responsible Research and Innovation in Industry—Challenges, Insights and Perspectives, by André Martinuzzi , Vincent Blok, Alexander Brem, Bernd Stahl and Norma Schönherr. Published: March 5., 2018 in Sustainability 10(3), 702; DOI:  

André Martinuzzi

Dr. André Martinuzzi is currently the head of the Institute for Managing Sustainability at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. André Martinuzzi has more than 20 years of experience in coordinating and leading EU-wide research projects for the European Commission, as well as for international organizations and ministries. He is an expert in the fields of evaluation research, CSR, sustainable development, and knowledge brokerage.