In support of the Rome Declaration on responsible research and innovation

After yesterday’s publication of the results of the Research Excellent Framework (#REF2014) comes the post-mortem, introspection and then inevitable debate about REF2020.

We will have to wait a wee while before we learn more about the impact assessment aspect of #REF2014 and the overall story it tells us about how research in higher education instiutions is having an impact on society.  With nearly 7,000 submissions on impact looked at by the panels of assessors, I suspect there is more than one story lurking behind the headlines.  Already in public involvement circles there is much debate about the degree to which involving people in decision-making about research has featured in these submissions.

But, if you do have a few minutes today, I recommend you read Jack Stilgoe’s piece in The Guardian.  Jack uses the REF as his starting point to question the assumptions (and obsessions?) that drive the way we do science now.  He points to the Rome Declaration on Responsible Research and Innovation launched last month as part of the Italian Presidency of the European Union as the way forward and I heartily agree (and it is not just the Ialian in me).

The declaration has some strong words to say about the need for a different approach to ensuring science is better aligned to society’s priorities and needs.  For instance:

‘Decisions in research and innovation must consider the principles on which the European Union is founded, i.e. the
respect of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and the respect of human rights, including the
rights of persons belonging to minorities.’


‘….we cannot achieve technology acceptance by way of good marketing only. Second, diversity in research
and innovation as well as the gender perspective is vital for enhancing creativity and improving scientific quality. And
third, early and continuous engagement of all stakeholders is essential for sustainable, desirable and acceptable innovation.
Hence, excellence today is about more than ground-breaking discoveries – it includes openness, responsibility and the
co-production of knowledge.’

[There’s also some really interesting documents from the conference at which the Declaration was signed including this one on ‘stock-taking.‘]

The document is undoubtedly going to be influenctial in how science policy discussions unfold in the future including those on Horizon 2020.

When you hold up the Government’s new science and innovation strategy to something like the Rome Declaration you realise the poverty of democratic intent within the former. It is the future as far as I am concerned and you will find hints of the same sentiment when the report from ‘Breaking Boundaries’ review is published in the New Year.  As you will, the increasing need to work internationally to make these things happen.


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