Accepted Paper:

Responsible innovation in action: spaces for socio-ethical reflection on synthetic biology.  


Ken Taylor (Newcastle University)
Simon Woods (Newcastle University)

Paper short abstract:

Great claims have been made for synthetic biology, yet being based on genetic modification techniques, societal concerns might be expected. Working with a team of synthetic biologists we have created both formal and informal discursive spaces in which Responsible Innovation concepts can be applied.

Paper long abstract:

Synthetic biology has had extraordinary claims made for its importance. It will 'heal us, heat and feed us' according to the then UK Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2012. And yet, as a direct development of genetic modification (GM) technology, the socio-ethical concerns provoked by synthetic biology might well be anticipated. The development of strategies for the amelioration of such concerns has often fallen to bioethicists engaged on Ethical, Legal and Social Issues (ELSI) programmes. However, recognition of the limitations of the ELSI approach has led to developments around the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). Where ELSI programmes are conducted by specialists working in parallel with scientists, RRI approaches aim for the scientists themselves to anticipate and reflect on socio-ethical concerns and work with stakeholders to shape the direction of research.

Working with a team of synthetic biologists, we are developing a model for the creation of discursive spaces in which we act as facilitators for scientists; encouraging them to consider social and bioethical aspects of their work. In this way we become collaborators in, rather than appendages to, the development of the science. Empirical research with these scientists suggested ways in which RRI might be fostered and recognised. A relatively informal scheme, whereby routine laboratory meetings set aside some time to consider RRI issues has been instigated. Additionally, a more formal space has been created with the establishment of a project-based 'Responsible Innovation Directorate'. This presentation will report on the work begun by that more formal approach.

Panel C03
Empirical bioethics in STS. Making science, technology and society in research and deliberative spaces