Competitive advantage through RRI practices for RFOs
Based on the empirical insight gained through the survey and case studies, recommendations for different stakeholders about how to develop RRI-like practices while deriving a competitive advantage are provided below. First, recommendations for industry, which is the principal actor of competitive advantage at the micro level, are provided. These are followed by recommendations for the main actors of competitive advantage at the macro level: policymakers. Then, recommendations for supporting stakeholders that help to create the context in which RRI-like practices are developed are provided, with the aim of supporting their role in accompanying the principal actors in competitive advantage concerns, allowing for sustainable socio-economic development. These are recommendations for research performing organisations, research funding organisations, investors, civil society, and NGOs and association bodies.
Set of Recommendations for the RFOs
- Contextualize process and outcome dimensions in research requirements
An important recommendation to support the competitive advantage of a region – but also at the micro level – through research funding is to level the field for different actors of research and innovation in applications for research funding. In order to do so, both process and outcome dimensions of RRI-like practices may be introduced into grants requirements. However, it is necessary to maintain a bottom up perspective and engage other stakeholders in the design of these goals, so that the visions and concerns of a varied spectrum of stakeholders are introduced into the calls for funding. As a consequence, calls for funding would stay relevant in terms of addressing societal needs and enhancing the development of local research capabilities. As noted in the results of the case studies, it is important to introduce baseline RRI concerns in the calls for funding, such as representation of gender and minorities, or the inclusion of ethical assessments. However, the most appropriate techniques for these ethical assessments are best determined in accordance with the disciplinary domain, geography and project specific concerns; therefore, the best way to come down to detail on these assessments would be in consultation with research and innovation actors and supporting stakeholders. In this way, these concerns can be integrated strategically rather than becoming a ‘checkbox’.
- Understand funding needs for participatory or reflective processes
If these requirements of ethical assessments and increased stakeholder participation are to be included in calls for funding, in order to preserve the advantage of actors participating in the call, the costs associated with such processes also need to be acknowledged and built into calls. Participatory processes throughout the research project might imply some financial costs to bring stakeholders closer, which might be taxing – particularly in the case of SMEs and smaller RPOs – or might extend the time needed to finish the project – especially if considerations of responsiveness to reflective processes are taken into consideration.
Therefore, in order to allow research and innovation processes to be developed successfully and avoiding possible threats to competitive advantage, the funding needs derived from participatory reflective processes need to be acknowledged in the calls for funding. Thus, allocating research funds in the calls for the development of such RRI-like practices is particularly important in the case of calls for funding involving private actors, who need to make an economic profit out of the commercialization of the resulting product (and would be less inclined to participate in such calls for funding if the full costs of the inclusion of ethical requirements is not taken into consideration). By doing so, local research and innovation actors will gain capabilities on participatory ethical assessments, and the involvement of the RFO will level the field with other institutions who have more resources or research funding or capabilities (such as large enterprises).
- Include post-hoc evaluation criteria
In order to promote the development of a competitive advantage through RRI-like practices through research funding, it is important not only to include promotion criteria as requirements at the first stage (access to funding) and provide the resources to facilitate them. Aiming to assess how this has been carried out and what the outcome has been, both process and outcome dimensions should be included in post hoc evaluation criteria. In this way, the procedural approaches and the contributions (potential and realised) and risks of the research output can also be evaluated. This would aid not only the organizations participating in the call, but also the RFO, to investigate what are the best available techniques in the local context to conduct ethical assessments and RRI-like practices. In a circular manner, this would also help to develop guidelines and recommendations during the contextualization of process and outcomes dimensions in future calls for funding from the bottom-up.