RRI in regional planning processes: Lessons from Nordland
Challenges and dilemmas related to responsible research and innovation (RRI) are more ubiquitous than one might think. Innovative companies must act responsibly when making innovation decisions that impact society. RRI considerations should also be reflected in the way such companies are governed and organized. Public policymakers must deal with the problem of how to encourage RRI among private actors while at the same time setting an example by adhering to principles of RRI themselves. In a rapidly changing world, regional policymaking – especially when it comes to long-term strategic policies – has much in common with research and innovation. It must deal with uncertainty and unpredictability; it must be innovative; and its outcomes have widespread consequences for the public.
The Horizon 2020 project SeeRRI, which is coordinated by Nordland Research Institute, illustrates the multilayered nature of RRI. In SeeRRI we work with RRI at three levels.
First, each of the 12 partners in the project are committed to implementing institutional change towards RRI within their own organization.
Second, the partners are committed to assisting the regional governments in the project’s pilot regions with integrating RRI principles into their planning processes.
Third, the resulting regional strategies should encourage and facilitate the wider societal adoption of RRI.
This blog post focuses on one of the pilot regions involved in SeeRRI, the county of Nordland, Norway. We will discuss the RRI-based process model we came up with to help the policymakers in Nordland County Coucil create a long-term regional development strategy, and the lessons we have learned from the implementation of the model.
We designed the process model with four oft-cited dimensions of RRI in mind: anticipation, reflexivity, inclusion, and responsiveness (Stilgoe et al., 2013). The regional planning process must anticipate possible future problems stemming from current policies; it must be reflexive, i.e. incorporate careful reflection on past experiences and mistakes; it must be inclusive, meaning that representatives from a broad cross-section of society must have a voice in the process; and it must be responsive, addressing the pressing problems of our time.
A process model for responsible regional planning
The figure below is a step-by-step illustration of the regional strategy process model created by SeeRRI. In the first step, the regional government defines a core regional challenge that the strategy will address. This focus on a specific challenge serves to reduce the complexity of the planning process and make it more manageable for the stakeholders that will be involved in the next step. Nordland defined the problem of how to practice responsible coastal management as the core challenge of the region.
Next, workshops are organized at which key stakeholders from the region are invited to participate. In accordance with the RRI principle of inclusion, and to ensure a balanced representation of social interests, the entire ”quadruple helix” of government, academia, industry, and civil society must be represented. At the workshops, the invited stakeholders work together to envision possible future scenarios for the region and suggest measures the region can take today in order to put itself on a trajectory towards a desirable future. The details of this foresight methodology, which was developed by the Austrian Institute of Technology (a partner in SeeRRI), fall beyond the scope of this blog post. Suffice it to say that participants are encouraged to think outside of the box and consider the full range of possible future scenarios, including scenarios of an extreme nature, good or bad.
Next, the regional government synthesizes the outputs from the workshops to produce a coherent regional strategy. Finally the strategy is implemented, and experiences from the co-creation process are shared with other regions interested in the SeeRRI approach.
Lessons from Nordland
Three stakeholder workshops were carried out in Nordland in 2020, and one additional workshop is at the planning stage for 2021. The workshops in 2020 were physical events that brought together the invited stakeholders at a venue in Bodø. Here are some of the interesting lessons we have drawn from the process so far.
First, specifying a core regional challenge to be addressed made the co-creation process smoother by establishing a shared sense of purpose among participants and narrowing down the scope of the workshops. The original conceptualization of the SeeRRI model did not include this step, but we found that adding it faciliated cooperation among all involved.
Second, to maximize the value of the workshops, the co-creation process requires careful guidance by the organizers to root out misunderstandings among participants and make sure that all relevant perspectives are brought out. Although it is standard practice in Norway to invite the public to provide inputs on policy proposals, it is uncommon to involve stakeholders at such an early stage of the policy-creation process as we did in the SeeRRI workshops. Participants were unfamiliar with the methodology, and a certain degree of natural skepticism could be detected among them. It was crucial for us to address the doubts of the stakeholders and make the process as meaningful as possible to them.
Third, securing a broad representation of stakeholders is hard but worth it. If major interest groups are not represented, the outcomes of the workshops will lack legitimacy. During the group work at the Nordland workshops, it was uplifting to see stakeholders with radically different backgrounds and perspectives sit down together to discuss the future of Nordland in a spirit of co-creation.
Stilgoe, J., Owen, R., & Macnaghten, P. (2013). Developing a framework for responsible innovation. Research policy, 42(9), 1568-1580.
Image and figure illustration: Mario Magaña, from SeeRRI project (www.seerri.eu)