Considering the dilemma of societal alignment: A response

In 2018, a discussion paper – “Introducing the dilemma of societal alignment for inclusive and responsible research and innovation” (Ribeiro et al., 2018) – was published in the Journal of Responsible Innovation. I was one of the paper’s 11 authors.

This discussion paper outlined and reflected on some of the key challenges that influence the development and uptake of more inclusive and responsible forms of research and innovation. Taking these challenges together, we invoked Collingridge’s famous dilemma of social control of technology to introduce a complementary dilemma that of ‘societal alignment’ in the governance of science, technology and innovation. We suggested that considerations of social alignment are scattered and overlooked among some communities in the field of science, technology and innovation policy. By starting to unpack this dilemma, we outlined an agenda for further consideration of social alignment in the study of responsible research and innovation.

The publication of this paper was accompanied by three commentaries:

  • David H Guston (2018)  … Damned if you don’t, Journal of Responsible Innovation, 5:3, 347-352,
  • Jennifer Kuzma and Pat Roberts (2018). Cataloguing the barriers facing RRI in innovation pathways: a response to the dilemma of societal alignment, Journal of Responsible Innovation, 5:3, 338-346,
  • Alfred Nordmann (2018). The mundane alternative to a demiurgical conceit. Comment on Ribeiro et al. ‘Introducing the dilemma of societal alignment for inclusive and responsible research and innovation’, Journal of Responsible Innovation, 5:3, 332-337,

In late 2018 and into 2019, we worked on a rejoinder to comments on this article. We completed our “response to the responses” in June 2019. After receiving editorial feedback and suggestions towards the end of 2019 from the Journal of Responsible Innovation, some of us had started to work on further revisions to our response. We planned to revise and resubmit in early 2020.

Due in part to disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we were unable to continue in developing our revisions. Then, in May 2020, we were deeply shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of our dear friend, colleague and co-author, Paul Benneworth.

Paul was involved in leading the revision of the response alongside Barbara Ribeiro and Philip Shapira. Paul contributed with critical ideas for making our argument stronger and was a lead thinker and writer for the rejoinder and consideration of subsequent modifications. Paul is deeply missed by all of us.

Wishing to share the ideas that we were all working on together, we now post the response in the form of the manuscript as originally written in June 2019. We have posted the manuscript at SocArXiv – an open access archive for the social sciences. The manuscript is available via this link.

The full citation is:

Ribeiro, B., Shapira, P., Benneworth, P., Bengtsson, L., Bührer, S., Castro-Martínez, E., Hansen, M., Jarmai, K., Lindner, R., Olmos-Peñuela, J., Ott, C., 2020. Considering the dilemma of societal alignment: A response. SocArXiv, 28 Aug. 2020.

Text above is drawn from the abstract of our first article and the abstract and preface of the response.