EESC explores role of civil society in Responsible Research & Innovation and the health industry

Innovative solutions that improve people's lives, platforms that better communicate these solutions, and address ethical, social and environmental issues are the pillars of responsible research and innovation (RRI). Today RRI is one of the answers to meet the needs arising from society for safer, more ethically acceptable and better quality health solutions. A conference held at the EESC on 18-19 May explored how civil society is involved in this process and how to make its contribution more effective.

RRI aims to encourage civil society actors to work together at a deeper level throughout the whole  R&I process. This will ensure that R & I results meet societal expectations. Moreover, RRI is a key component of the Horizon 2020 funding scheme.

Hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), together with the European Commission (EC) the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the EU project Responsible Industry, the 2-day conference was split in five panels covering the different facets of RRI through open discussions with health industry stakeholders.

In opening the event EESC Vice-President Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, who has been working back on innovation projects in Portugal and is a member of the Portuguese national delegation for innovation in SMEs under Horizon 2020, said: "One thing is clear: if there is an area where we can easily prove the benefits of responsible research activities,  it is the health sector. There is no doubt that citizens more readily welcome the results of research if they affect their quality of life'.  Mr Lobo Xavier had recently been rapporteur of an EESC report on the mid-term evaluation of Horizon 2020: 'One of the conclusions of the Horizon2020 mid-term evaluation is that of course RRI is important for society, but there are still major differences in the way it is approached. We have wonderful projects in Europe, but the levels of infrastructure vary considerably among the Member States and that is an issue', he said.

EESC member Catelijne Muller rounded up the panel discussion on citizen engagement for better innovation. She highlighted the call made by the panel to involve all stakeholders and suggested the EESC, as the house of civil society, host more such initiatives in its premises.

Meelis Joost, EESC member, who summed up the discussion on the impact of health innovation on society, stressed that while innovating solutions were often associated with higher costs, in fact RRI 'is saving money or avoiding costs in the future'.

The conference highlighted the need for more sophisticated applications and devices for a new wave of patients who are taking control of their diseases. These needs must be met, but in an appropriate way, as constructive research should not only answer questions and solve problems, but should do so in line with ethical values - this was the main message from the panellists. EESC member Ulrich Samm, who took part in the panel discussion on the future policy agenda on RRI in industry, outlined the huge differences between Member States and the need to work on evening out those differences. 'We are mature enough to go in this direction', said Mr Samm. The debate between RRI and society must continue to fill existing gaps in communication, generate synergies and agree on how science and technology can best be used for the common good.

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