Ouch! I can hear the howling from here!
I know that academics and many others LOATH checklists but I don’t, I think they have an important place. Anyone who has read the excellent Checklist Manifesto will perhaps learn the value in many many areas to help us avoid failure and mitigate against human incompetence and cognitive biases.
Those are not the reasons that I think they have a useful place in RRI though. I think it is a useful concept and a doable concept for us, because the more I look at RRI in diverse technology areas, the more I realise there are many common themes and issues which are relevant and appropriate in different ways in different areas but which can be clustered into key themes to help us deliberate. We haven’t been in any way good enough about helping people understand the issues RRI is asking them to consider. The breadth of possible issues is massive, and they are desperate for helpful ways to know where to start.
The dialogue folks also hate checklists because as participants we are supposed to be unconstrained from rummaging through our heads to find the issues that are important to us and bring them up. But I find this to be unsatisfactory, not least because it takes me quite a while to get my crappy train journey and the quality of the biscuits with the coffee out of my head, and then there isn’t much time left.
No seriously, for at least five key reasons a checklist would be helpful:
- RRI requires dialogue, both internal and external. Dialogue and stakeholder involvement takes time that people don’t have. You get three hours max usually to start the engagement process, and this rummaging around in your imagination methodology which I see practiced most of the time doesn’t give quality enough data in my view.
- Having done many many of such dialogues, I now find the process of initiation of limited use. Often the discussion is dominated by the loudest persons pet theory or what’s in the news that day, or the top line issues or a depth of discussion on one issue at the expense of depth of issues.
- Despite the best dialogue design, there is pretty much no time in even the longer dialogues to come up with anything other than the things which are in the forefront of your mind and limited help to prompt further thought.
- There are so many potential issues associated with RRI at the many different levels – from governments, to academic researchers, businesses to NGOs that it is virtually impossible to know where to start. This often makes for a paralysing and unsatisfactory process
- Checklists are forbidden because it is felt they constrain people’s imagination, and close down ideas. I think if it is the right structure, a checklist can do the total opposite.
There are some frameworks already available which aim to stimulate peoples imagination. But for me, the EC framework which is nearest to a checklist is far too narrow and the others are focused on process, which is great, but only takes you so far (see the complications above!. Here is my little map of the main frameworks:
So though it is not an extensive analysis, I have looked at the main frameworks, many of the research projects, input from the many many meetings I have both attended and ran in both RRI in general and specifically in synbio, nanotech, robotics, GM, AI, ICT, finance, food, food irradiation, fracking, medicine and transport and have come up with a draft RRI Checklist for discussion.
You could probably call it a Framework for Deliberation if you liked. Checklist does usually mean that you tick things off when done, which is obviously not possible with these types of issues. But it’s a word that many people can identify with and this one is designed to help cluster the important issues for discussion in key areas.
The idea of this is that it could be used as the starting point for discussion about individual technology areas, or applications, by any type of stakeholder. If it evolved properly, it may be a useful prompt for senior level policy makers looking at the direction of research and innovation on a macro level, right down to the individual researcher considering a new project or company R&D manager looking where to go next with their widgets. For example, we can’t expect an SME to consider the potential wider implications of global use of graphene on developing world copper markets in my view, but we can ask governments involved to consider responses to that, and all of them to consider what their responsibility is in their own area of graphene use and the implications of their work on the rest of us.
What do you think? I would be very grateful indeed for your input. I think there are more, many of these are a bit rubbish, but it’s a start. Please, please suggest below the ones I have wrong, new ones, better ones, new clusters, or trash, adapt or support the whole concept from start to finish? Feel free to comment below or email me on hilary at matterforall dot org.
I’ve criticised alot of initiatives in the past, now is the time to get your own back!
Image here and word & PDF link below.
RRI Checklist – PDF
RRI checklist – Word doc for amendment suggestions.