One could imagine that Brexit will sound the death knell for RRI, (Responsible Research and Innovation). With the potential for Horizon 2020 research funding to be cut quite significantly, it could be regarded as a luxury – something mildly interesting during the good times, but which has no place in the new dog-eat-dog battles for scarce research resources. Many may feel it was nice while it lasted, but can quietly (and with not a little relief) be left to die, now the going is getting even tougher.
But I can see the total opposite may also be the case. The new Prime Minister’s speeches make very clear that she sees equality of opportunity as central and that elitist and out of touch institutions, ‘the privileged few’, should watch their backs. Universities could certainly be put in that box and may have to respond sharpish to demonstrate that they aren’t elitist, privileged and spinning around in their own little self-made worlds.
At the heart of RRI is a commitment to being much more responsive to society’s priorities and more inclusive in its approach to research, teaching and learning. It’s about being FOR society, not just ABOUT it. Not standing outside looking at social issues through the windows of the ivory tower, but getting stuck in to understanding and responding to people’s concerns, using our skills, our independence, our impartiality to challenge assumptions and develop the new ways of thinking we all desperately need.
Theresa May’s focus in her introductory speech on righting ‘social injustices’, ‘making Britain a country which works for everyone’, sounds to me a bit like a mandate to give greater emphasis to the issues that RRI advocates.
I for one will be shouting this message loud and clear to anyone who will listen. We should use this moment of hiatus to make a compelling case that the issues of societal involvement, fairness, ethics, sustainability and accountability should be front and centre of the new research landscape, and save it from itself!
RRI, perhaps your time has come!
What do you think?