Responsible Research and Innovation

What is RRI?

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is concerned with the nature and trajectory of research and innovation: what it can do for society and who gets to decide. According to Research Councils UK, it is:

the process that helps researchers understand the benefits and risks of emerging technologies early on in the innovation process. It includes public engagement, risk management, life cycle analysis, ethical approval and regulation”.


RRI has been embedded by research funding institutions such as the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme and in major funding calls from other organisations. The EPSRC has RRI as a key strategic element of its funding programme, highlighting four important dimensions of RRI, namely AREA:

  • (A)nticipate
    Describing and analysing the impacts, intended or otherwise, (e.g. economic, social, environmental) that might arise. This does not seek to predict but rather to support an exploration of possible impacts and implications that may otherwise remain uncovered and little discussed.
  • (R)eflect
    Reflecting 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.
  • (E)ngage
    Opening up such visions, impacts and questioning to broader deliberation, dialogue, engagement and debate in an inclusive way.
  • (A)ct
    Using these processes to influence the direction and trajectory of the research and innovation process itself.

The application of RRI also applies to the potential commercialisation of products and innovations based on synthetic biology, as stressed by the Technology Strategy Board. The focus here is not only on identifying and anticipating potential risks and impacts but also having procedures in place to manage them.

The SBRC is committed to implementing Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) within its research programme. The RRI strand of the SBRC’s research programme takes a collaborative interdisciplinary approach, with social scientists working closely with the scientists and PhD students in the Centre to explore social and ethical issues relating to their work.


From July 2014 – October 2016, the RRI strand was led by Brigitte Nerlich (Emeritus Professor of Science, Language and Society) and she continues to contribute to the SBRC in an advisory capacity. Dr Carmen McLeod, a social anthropologist was appointed as a full-time Research Fellow to the RRI strand in June 2014. Prof Nerlich and Dr McLeod engage both with scientists and members of the public around RRI and have also critically studied how RRI works in theory and practice, with a particular emphasis on the role of language and metaphor in this context.