In the last decade the debate about the role of science and innovation in society in the fields of biosciences and biotechnologies has gradually shifted from ELSI/ELSA and ad hoc public engagement approaches to a renewed focus on the reflexive, inclusive and anticipatory governance of innovation and techno-science with an emphasis on responsibility. This paper documents and analyses this transition during the period 2014-2019 at BrisSynBio, one of the Synthetic Biology Research Centres (SBRCs) co-funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The case suggests that the centre has developed an approach to Responsible Innovation (RI) that includes but goes beyond public engagement to catalyse anticipation, reflexivity and deliberation in sometimes creative and innovative ways. Nevertheless, despite the efforts aimed at embedding RI in BrisSynBio, the centre has struggled to capture the impacts of RI interventions and assess how exposure to this concept is changing the way scientists routinely work. The study reveals that initiatives aimed at catalysing reflection, inclusion and anticipation do not in themselves necessarily lead straight forwardly to changes to daily practices, or to outcomes, without appropriate institutional support, openness to change and ways of capturing impact.
- Bristol BioDesign Institute
- responsible research and innovation
- research governance
- synthetic biology