Ethics, ESLI and RRI at BrisSynBio

ELSI (Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications) and RRI (Responsible Research and Innovation) are ways for thinking about the broad social, economic, political, and environmental impact of scientific research. Within a traditional Social Science framework ethics would be an element of ELSI or RRI. From a philosophical perspective, ethics is a much wider term which denotes thinking about what the good life is and how to live it. Within this wider framework, ELSI and RRI and would fall within the umbrella task of ethics. 

RRI has been developed over the past decade or so in response to perceived shortcomings in the ELSI approach. It has enjoyed particular support from the European Commission and its funding programmes. The ELSI approach has come under criticism for being too oriented toward the products of research, rather than the more encompassing process of research and development. It has also been criticized for having too detached an approach, where social scientists are brought in at certain “gates” to assess risks, after which researchers continue their work without reflecting themselves on the broader social, ethical, environmental, etc. aspects of their work.

By contrast the European Commission defines RRI as  “an approach that anticipates and assesses potential implications and societal expectations with regard to research and innovation, with the aim to foster the design of inclusive and sustainable research and innovation. Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) implies that societal actors (researchers, citizens, policy makers, business, third sector organisations, etc.) work together during the whole research and innovation process in order to better align both the process and its outcomes with the values, needs and expectations of society.”

Responsible Innovation is an evolving idea and there is no fixed definition or protocol to be followed in order to be “responsible.” Our aim at BrisSynBio is not to simply find an acceptable or pragmatic definition and apply it. Thinking critically about the meaning of Responsible Research and Innovation, exploring what presuppositions and assumptions may go along with different renderings of the term, is part of the core mission of the Ethics and RRI cross-cutting theme of BrisSynBio. We’ll be working initially with four of the projects within BrisSynBio, but our aim is to develop and share resources that will be relevant to work across the Centre. We will use the the Centre’s Fora, the website, the Ethics and RRI blog, and other tools to share and discuss our findings. 


With that in mind, here are some helpful links to resources developed by the EC, EPSRC, and the RRI Tools Project:

If you have questions, or would like to discuss anything to do with Ethics, ELSI and RRI within or beyond the context of BrisSynBio please do not hesitate to contact Darian Meacham or Julie Kent.

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