ITA Conference: Responsible Research and TA

How do the media deal with the issue of Fracking? Is an ethical debate on innovation synonymous with a constant re-evaluation of European fundamental rights? Can the elderly even handle technologies which were developed specifically for their needs?

Some 150 international experts discussed these and other questions at the ITA conference "Responsible Research and Innovation. New impetus for technology assessment? ", which took place on June 3-4 at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna.

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Geraldine Fitzpatrick, Director of the Human Computer Interaction Group at the Vienna University of Technology, reported on the challenges in connection with new technologies for the elderly: "During a field study in the UK, we had a woman who was totally confused by a sensor in her bathroom door. The sensor recorded how often she went to the bathroom. The data was then forwarded to us, the scientists. The woman assured us repeatedly that she was clean and would wash enough." For her, the biggest challenge is not to inhibit social interaction through technological progress, but to enable it on a larger scale.

Resarch for the rich or the poor

RRI expert René von Schomberg (European Commission) held a plea for a pro-active innovation process that is not based solely on market success. “The call for responsible technology development as well as citizens involvement is nothing new. Today, we must ask ourselves: What research should be funded? How can new, expensive technologies also carry benefit for the poorest of a society? "

For Schomberg it is all about attitude: “We have to create something positive and not just try to avoid the worst.” Technology assessment with its emphasis on foresight and participation can offer crucial insight in this process.

RRI - the new cure-all

EU politics frequently expect scientific research to contribute to the solution of urgent social problems as well as to involve the public and representatives of interest groups. Innovation processes should not only be steered by commercial and technical, but also by ethical and social aspects.

For Alexander Bogner, sociologist at the ITA and co-organizer of the conference, policy makers still have the last word: "Responsible innovation is sometimes being treated like a cure-all for EU research policies. Rather than evaluate individual technologies ethically, innovation as a whole is being discussed as something ethical. Overall, this is a positive development. But we must not overlook the fact that in the course of this “ethicisation” opposing value systems can be integrated into an assessment. Such stalemates have then to be dissolve by policy makers themselves. "

Managing Innovation

During the conference, expert teams presented several EU projects that deal specifically with the issue of RRI. The final panel discussion dealt with the question whether innovation can actually be controlled, and if so, in what way. The participants, Petra Ahrweiler (European Academy Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler), Thomas Jakl (Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management), Regine Kollek (BIOGUM / University of Hamburg) and Peter Skalicky (Council for Research and Technology Development) discussed the issue from a TA, a management and a research policy perspective.

Conference presentations are available here, just click on the “Vortrag” ling right of the title.

By: Denise Riedlinger

Responsible Research (RRI) is supposed to help with devising strategies for socially just research policies. (Photo: Jaro Sterbik-Lamina/ITA)