February 10, 2017, by Brigitte Nerlich

Responsibility and openness

Hilary Sutcliffe (RRI specialist) recently made me aware of an article by Arie Rip published in the Journal of Responsible Innovation. At the time of our twitter exchange the article was not openly available, so Stephen Curry (Open access specialist) sent me a copy. The article is entitled ‘The clothes of the emperor. An essay on RRI in and around Brussels’ and provides an insider’s view of how Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is faring in Europe.

When reading the article, one paragraph caught my eye: “A recent development in the bureaucracy in ‘Brussels’ may strike at the heart of the fashion of RRI. When in 2015 the new Commissioner Carlos Moedas (for Research and Innovation) came in, he introduced his own approach, the three Os: Open innovation, Open science, Open to the world.”

How many d’you want? Three!

To my shame, I had not come across the three Os until reading that article! And to my utter shame the first thing that came to mind when reading about the three Os was the famous Two Ronnies sketch Four candles. In this sketch a shopkeeper (Ronnie Corbett) is confronted by a costumer (Ronnie Barker) armed with a long shopping list. Finding the items on the list in the old-fashioned hardware store causes some problems, mainly of a linguistic nature. After buying a few items, the costumer “then asks for ‘o’s’. This item causes the most frustration with the shopkeeper bringing a hoe, a hose (‘’Ose! I thought you meant ‘oes!’) and pantyhose to the counter before working out what he wants are the letter O for the garden gate – ‘o’s as in Mon Repos’. The box of garden gate letters is noticeably difficult to get to ….” (Wikipedia) The shopkeeper climbs up a stepladder, gets a box down, puts the ladder away, takes the box to the counter, and searches through it for the letter O. He then asks: “How many d’you want?” And the costumer replies: “Two”.

Making science public: Shadows and light

However, openness is a serious, indeed an increasingly serious topic, as testified by a recent special issue for Science, Technology, & Human Values entitled Data Shadows: Knowledge, Openness and absence, edited by Sabina LeonelliBrian Rappert, and Gail Davies. On 6 February Sabina Leonelli tweeted “Our special issue on “#Data Shadows” is now officially published – topic sadly prescient of post-truth data erasures”. The issue engages with openness in the context of data production, dissemination and use and focuses in particular on absent, missing, unavailable, or invisible data — what they call ‘data shadows’.

The topic of openness was also central to our ‘Making Science Public’ research programme. When we wrote our proposal around 2011, we observed changing practices in science and politics, including moves to promote greater openness (open access publishing, open source etc). However, we also foresaw that such opportunities for science to be more openly practised and discussed, for governments to promote integrity and transparency in policy making, and for the public to influence political decision-making might also generate a number of challenges and dilemmas.

We expected commercialisation and privatisation to increase in the context of knowledge economies and universities. We anticipated raising concerns about the politicisation of science; we worried about a rise of scepticism in scientific expertise accompanied by moves to choose (alternative) experts to support certain political positions on scientific issues. However, we also hoped that moves to open up science to public participation would, in the end, be changing science and politics for the better. We did not foresee at the time how big the openness movement would become. We also did not foresee how quickly things could change.

Open innovation, open science, open to the world

There is a footnote in Arie Rip’s article on RRI in Brussels, where he points readers to “a lavishly produced booklet’ on ‘Open Innovation, Open science, Open to the World – A vision for Europe’” (published in May 2016). Let’s see how the three Os were defined.

Open innovation: “The basic premise of Open Innovation is to open up the innovation process to all active players so that knowledge can circulate more freely and be transformed into products and services that create new markets, fostering a stronger culture of entrepreneurship.” (p. 11)

This means opening up innovation to users and citizens, but it also “boosting private investment” (p. 23).

Open science: “Open Science represents a new approach to the scientific process based on cooperative work and new ways of diffusing knowledge by using digital technologies and new collaborative tools. The idea captures a systemic change to the way science and research have been carried out for the last fifty years: shifting from the standard practices of publishing research results in scientific publications towards sharing and using all available knowledge at an earlier stage in the research process.” (p. 33)

Here again citizens are important in the context of an increasing emphasis on citizen science.

Open to the world: “Fostering international cooperation in research and innovation is a strategic priority for the European Union so that we can access the latest knowledge and the best talent worldwide, tackle global societal challenges more effectively, create business opportunities in new and emerging markets, and use science diplomacy as an influential instrument of external policy.” (p. 59)

In a speech given at the Royal Society in 2015, Professor Martyn Poliakoff (University of Nottingham) made clear that this is a plea for science without borders (p. 89). He stressed that: “The real risk is to draw new borders”. We have now reached a point in time where these risks have become real and might threaten the openness programme laid out in the brochure.

RRI, public engagement and citizen science

But what about RRI in this new openness agenda? Responsible Research and Innovation is only mentioned twice in this 106 page long brochure. Once on p. 13 in the context of open innovation and once on p. 54 in the context of open science.

Users and citizens are seen as core to open innovation or, as it has now become fashionable to say, to the open innovation ‘eco-system’. They are valuable as sources and targets of innovation, as sources and targets of knowledge transfer and as central points in creating demand for innovations and taking up innovations when they are on the market. ‘Public engagement’ is seen important to all this, as it brings users and citizens into this process of ‘co-creation’. RRI is more or less equated with public engagement, which is quite a narrow view of RRI.

By contrast, when talking about open science, RRI is conflated with citizen science, but also with outreach and public engagement! “Citizens have also funded citizen labs based on open source principles and community access to research. … Citizen Science is often linked with outreach activities, science education or various forms of public engagement with science as a way to promote Responsible Research and Innovation.” (p. 56)

A rather curious image of citizen science emerges here: “And just as people offer spare rooms via AirBnB, why shouldn’t they be allowed to offer spare brain power via citizen science?” (p. 34)

In the brochure’s new vision of the future (set in 2030), citizen science also merges with crowd-sourced science: “Free and open, high quality and crowd-sourced science, focusing on the grand societal challenges of our time, shapes the daily life of a new generation of researchers.” (p. 34)

How many d’you want? Four!

I very much appreciate the value of citizen science (and ‘extreme citizen science‘), but I was a bit surprised to see that potential challenges posed by this citizen science/crowd sourcing/crowd science agenda were not explored, such as problems for research integrity, for the distribution of responsibility, agency and power, for professionalism and expertise, as well as issues of exploitation, potential misuse of publicly gathered data, profit sharing, and so on.

As openness was always part of the RRI agenda, since its inception in about 2011, I also found it surprising that the OOO agenda wasn’t more knitted together with the RRI agenda. Was it because the focus is on “speed and scale” (p. 7) and “maximising impacts” (p. 26)?

In my view, openness should be promoted in tandem with responsibility. To come back to the beginning of this post: Without the emperor’s (new) clothes of RRI, the three OOOs are quite naked. So … (switching story-lines): If somebody asks policy makers or funding agencies: “How many d’you want?” They should say: “Four!” Three Os and an R, as in Responsibility.

Image: Pixabay

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