Responsible Research and Innovation

What is Responsible Research and Innovation and why is it important?

Research and innovation has traditionally been seen as completely positive and desirable. However, it has become clear that this is not always the case. There can also be detrimental effects of research and innovation.

Examples include;

  • the industrial revolution resulting in impoverished living conditions
  • modern warfare resulting in larger death tolls
  • industrial accidents in places like Bhopal and Chernobyl
  • data scandals such as Cambridge Analytica
  • misuse of technology such as facial recognition software​​​​​​​

Give the below video a watch. Although this isn’t a true to life scenario, it is useful to highlight how seemingly harmless and progressive innovation can take a nasty turn.

Now that we are aware of these potentially negative effects, it is important to be considerate of them when carrying out research and innovation.

This is where Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) comes in….

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is the term used to describe conducting scientific research and technological development in a way which is considerate of all environmental and societal impacts, whether positive or negative.

As a researcher, you have a responsibility to ensure that your activities are aligned with the principles of RRI, creating value for society in an ethical and responsible way.​

Research which has considered RRI should;

  • Consider and take steps to avoid unintended negative impacts
  • Identify and reduce potential barriers to dissemination
  • Contemplate the societal and economic benefits

The general idea of RRI is to ensure you conduct your research…

  • to high ethical standards
  • ensuring equality and diversity in the research community
  • whilst ensuring policy makers take responsibility for avoiding harming effects of innovation
  • engaging the communities affected by research and innovation and ensuring they have the knowledge needed to understand implications/impact of your research


How can you implement Responsible Research and Innovation?

In order to ensure RRI is being considered across the board by researchers, EPSRC has developed and adopted a framework which can be applied to all research and innovation.

The AREA framework takes you through the process of considering RRI when developing and conducting your research.


Describe and analyse the impacts (intended or otherwise) that might arise. Not to predict but to support exploration of possible impacts and implications that may otherwise remain uncovered and little discussed.

Examples of questions to consider

  • What systems need to be put in place to ensure that your planned research methodology is acceptable (e.g., consider health and safety, an ethical review, informed consent, data management plans)?
  • What mechanisms will be required in order to carry out the remaining sections of the AREA [reflect, engage, act] framework (e.g., workshops, advisory board/committee, active engagement, community building)?
  • Why should your planned research be undertaken (e.g., justification, how might the research maximise social and economic impact, is there a social need, scientific curiosity, other impacts, does the research address a grand challenge)?
  • How sustainable are your research’s outcomes/processes/products (e.g., materials, energy)?


Reflect on the purposes of, motivations for and potential implications of the research, and the associated uncertainties, areas of ignorance, assumptions, framings, questions, dilemmas and social transformations these may bring.

Examples of questions to consider

  • How can the consequences of your research be identified (e.g., how might you evaluate the research, how might the research influence the future, what do you need to integrate into the project criteria)?
  • What is still unknown (e.g., are there any blind spots, can anything be done to investigate factors which have not yet been explored or where evidence of social impacts is lacking)?
  • Is the research controversial (e.g., consider ethical social and political issues, how can you measure the public view on your research agenda, identify public engagement mechanisms [e.g. focus groups, interviews, surveys])?
  • Can your research be done differently (e.g., consider alternative approaches)?


Explore and validate such visions, impacts and questioning to broaden deliberation, dialogue, engagement and debate in an inclusive way. Inter and transdisciplinary exploration to identify potential synergies and emergent properties.

Examples of questions to consider

  • Who will be affected by the research (e.g., who might care, who might benefit, which groups/individuals influence your research, in what ways can stakeholder influence your research, who will take responsibility if there are negative impacts, could different groups be affected in different ways)?
  • How is best to engage a wide group of stakeholders in your research design (e.g., identify the stakeholders who matter, what methodology is appropriate to be able to include stakeholders in decisions, how do you evaluate if public engagement is successful)?
  • What are the viewpoints of a wide group of stakeholders (e.g., how can you actively involve stakeholders in the design process [e.g. public engagement, prototype evaluation], can stakeholders evaluate the process or planned product, can stakeholder provide input in strategy and decision making)?
  • For whom is the research being done (e.g., who is pushing for the research to happen, which stakeholders make decisions within the innovation process, are there any other stakeholders that need to be involved)?


Use these processes to influence the direction and trajectory of the research and innovation process itself. Acting to inform society of the potential impact of innovations on their way of life, to permit preparation and participation of all.

Examples of questions to consider

  • How can the research structure be flexible (e.g., find ways to course correct, record and document reasons for change, re-evaluate the vision of the project, do you need to revise the research question, methodology or intended outputs)?
  • What are the necessary skills, training and knowledge and how can these be acquired (integrity/ethics, research/data management, public engagement, regulation and compliance, awareness of issues [organisation, local, national, etc.])?
  • What needs to be done to ensure social desirability (how can social needs feed in to the research design, use techniques which take in to account social normalities [e.g., respect for human values, sustainability, privacy, security], design privacy and data protection into systems at the onset as default, is personal information encrypted and data securely stored)?