The concepts of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)  and Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) are central within the European Union innovation policy agenda. The concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is pushed by the Directorate-General for Research (DG Research), the concept of Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) is pushed by the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG Regio). 

Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) is a place-based policy concept to support regional prioritisation in innovative sectors, fields or technologies through the entrepreneurial discovery process (EDP), a bottom-up approach to reveal what a region does best in terms of its endowments in science and technology (European Commission). Regions have to design their own Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) as it is an ex-ante conditionality (compulsory element) for accessing the financial opportunities provided by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). 

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is defined as 'a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view on the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products (in order to allow a proper embedding of scientific and technological advances in our society)' (Von Schomberg). In other words, the aim of RRI policy is to create a positive societal impact of research and innovation. 

As innovation policies, both RRI and S3 share some similarities, arguing for a broad stakeholder involvement in the development of innovation policy and of innovations. While RRI aims to reconcile scientific progress with societal interests, S3 is a place-based policy strategy to promote innovations. If innovation outcomes should trickle down to the broader civil society, the two approaches must be combined to generate the kind of approach to innovation that can drive both growth and build better societies (Fitjar, Benneworth, and Asheim).

The path for applying policy concepts to reality 

The Interreg Europe Project, MARIE, MAinstreaming Responsible Innovation in European S3, provides interesting examples on ways to make the  RRI concept a reality at the regional scale and to integrate it within the Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3). Due to the policy complexity of the two concepts, policymakers must have concrete tools and instruments for such integration, starting from the quadruple helix, open innovation, and information systems and tools for RRI application. 

The concept of quadruple helix suggests that interactions between universities, the private sector, public institutions, and civil society matter for regional development (Carayannis and Campbell). For instance, the entrepreneurial discovery process (EDP) can benefit from quadruple helix working groups to promote transparency and inclusive regional decisions.

The concept of open innovation is a paradigm that acknowledges the importance of inflows and outflows of ideas and tacit knowledge in the process of innovation (Chesbrough, Vanhaverbeke, and West). Tools and information systems such as Open innovation platforms (OIP) can be policy measures to provide more agile co-creation spaces facilitating the interaction among research, education and innovation through a bottom-up process to involve the greater participation of users or citizens in the production of services (Raunio, Räsänen, and Kautonen). 

It really works…

The Interreg Europe Project, MARIE, has provided many good practices in integrating Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) into Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) and regional development, among which the Ambitious Research Development 2020, UNI/PdR 27:2017, the Innovation Café, and Tampere Region Open Innovation Platforms (OIP).

In region Centre-Val de Loire, France, the program Ambitious Research Development 2020 aims to spur ambitious regional R&D projects with an international reach and socio-economic impact for the territory. The program provides funding for up to 10 million euros per project through public calls to create partnerships among research centres, universities, and private companies on ambitious R&D projects. The large amount of public funding facilitates the creation of structural projects for the region. 

In region Emilia-Romagna, Italy, the UNI/PdR 27:2017 provides guidelines for the management and development of responsible innovation processes. The document aims to provide organisations with all the standards and criteria to carry out the innovation process in a responsible manner to improve quality of life and to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

In the region of Bucharest, Romania, the Innovation Café is a half day event that occurs two or three times a year involving the most important regional stakeholders. The event offers a tested framework for engaging quadruple helix actors, co-creating public policies, promoting ethics and gender equality, and scientific education. 

Tampere Region Open Innovation Platforms (OIP) is a programme to support the creation of platforms to foster an open and inclusive culture of innovation. It funds platforms that encourage co-creation among different actors, such as companies-students, companies-universities, and triple helix stakeholders. As an example, the platform Demola connects leading companies and students through innovation challenges, and it has contributed to the creation of 135 new jobs, connecting 180 companies and more than 500 people involved in projects. The final objective of Tampere OIP is to create financially sustainable platforms. 

…and it brings structural and durable changes

Thanks to the Interreg Europe Project, MARIE, the Tampere region has achieved some interesting policy improvements

Working with MARIE partners, Tampere Regional Council and Tampere University have introduced responsible criteria such as ethics, engagement, openness/transparency and safety/reliability into a regional ERDF call on Artificial Intelligence. The call for projects related to responsible artificial intelligence (AI) was funded by the ERDF 'Sustainable growth and jobs 2014 - 2020 - Finland's structural funds programme'. The policy improvement was inspired by the good practice from Ireland Broadening the Scope of Impact, owned by Science Foundation Ireland, as to how to focus the evaluation of the RRI criteria and the technical execution of the evaluation tool.

Image credit: Photo by Vojtech Okenka from Pexels