René von Schomberg

In this post I would like to take a look at the work of one of the most important figures in Responsible Innovation, René von Schomberg.

René von Schomberg

Von Schomberg works within the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research and innovation, and over the last 12-15 years has introduced and promoted the idea of Responsible Innovation, introducing it to the Commission’s calls for funding over a decade ago, and helping to make it ever more important within research funding.

He is co-editor of the International Handbook on Responsible Innovation, has written the most widely used definition used in academia but also runs a non-academic WordPress blog.

Recent articles include on the blog an overview of our recent book, a summary of projects on RI that have been funded by the Commission, articles on open science and precision agriculture.

LIVING INNOVATION

Once that has wetted your appetite, you should take a look at the LIVING INNOVATION website, which hosts a video interview with von Schomberg entitled Responsibility and Transformational Change in Innovation Systems. This interview is very recent and wide-ranging, addressing a series of topics and issues and covering the evolution of the concept of RRI within the European Union. Note that he is described as the Father of Responsible Innovation!

In the video von Schomberg addresses lots of interesting topics, including small business practices and local, regional, national and supranational governance of innovation systems.

The website also contains an interview with Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director General of Digital Europe, a leading trade association representing digitally transforming industries in Europe. The topic of Responsible Research and Innovation and the consequences of its implementation are discussed from the speaker’s own perspective, making for very interesting and thought-provoking listening.

Last but not least comes an article that I wrote in 2012 about von Schomberg’s Matrix for Responsible Innovation, published in various academic books but also in non academic terms on his blog.

Von Schomberg is an interesting and extremely influential character. A good starting point if you want to understand how the idea of introducing responsibility to research funding has developed.

The Online GM Foods Debate

gm-picGM Experiences

A few weeks ago I was invited to Vienna to participate in a 2 day workshop on Responsible Research and Innovation in the Context of GMO. Obviously, these two topics being my main interests in life, I accepted, and off I went with my extremely stylish new laptop/overnight bag to an equally stylish country hotel.

It was a really interesting weekend. The other participants were scientists, members of regulatory bodies and governmental institutions, professors and other professionals from across Europe. I should say that this weekend was part of a much larger project called RES-AGORA, which is funded by the European Commission. You can read all about it here.

If that tickles your fancy here is the 60 page long Stakeholders Report.

But anyway back to the experience of a Luddite blogger in a posh hotel. I learned a lot about genetic modification, legislation, the problems of getting seeds to test, companies not making life easy for those testing or reporting, property rights and their effects over publication possibilities, loopholes in laws in different countries that allow people to legally buy seeds without a contract with the manufacturers (oh don’t get me started), and it got me thinking about writing an article.

So I did, and got it published here, in an Italian online academic journal.

Writing Skills

Now why is this of interest to you I hear you ask. Well I wrote this article basing much of it on the food series that I wrote here  on Technology Bloggers last year. In writing the series I unearthed a real underbelly of food production, and a little organization and rewriting, updating, selecting and expanding, and I had an academic article. You can download it for free here if you like.

The article raises the issue of how the GM debate is played out online. The problem it seems (to me) is that there is no forum for constructive debate about GM, and this leads to a polarization of positions. So we can imagine a scenario in which website “A” points out as many problems as the author can think of, ethical issues, exploitation, altering nature, global takeover of seed production, and other nasties. In the same scenario website “B” is glossy and tells us that only GM will be able to produce enough food to feed an ever growing population, that it is all safe, that they are spending money on research just to help us out….

The problem is that in all scenarios website C is the same as website A, and D is the same as B and so on. There is little room for debate about GM in organic fuel production, or any other possible uses. It is the goodies against the baddies, and the baddies have more money, friends and power. The goodies however don’t seem to have a broad enough base to attack from.

Now the article looks nothing like the blog series I grant you, nor does this 2 paragraph description above, and I have to say that a lot of work went into the article. But having done all of the research for the series gave me a really good grounding. Now I am sure that many readers have written blogs that follow long and intricate lines of argument, but I wonder how many have thought about writing an article for a journal, newspaper or magazine and submitting it? It certainly broadens your writing capabilities, and if you feel you have something important to say it gives access to different readerships.

And it looks good in the portfolio and on the CV!

Misshapen Food

bendy-marrow

More About Food Waste

I read with interest this week that leading UK supermarket chain Asda is starting to sell oddly shaped vegetables in a bid to waste less food. This announcement leads me to draw a few conclusions that I would like to share with you all, and brings back a few memories.

My mum and dad had 3 boys to bring up, in the dark shadow of the mills of Manchester, and they probably weren’t what we would call rich (today). Every year we went to Skegness for our summer holidays, and every Sunday went to the market.

Markets were a different thing then I think, everyone went. My mum used to buy her biscuits there. She bought them in a bag, a huge bag a bit like the ones we use today to put the rubbish in. The biscuits were broken. They had not made it into the boxes in the factory, were collected up and sold in huge sacks for next to nothing (I presume).

There was a chip shop too that put batter bits on your chips if you asked, the crumbs that had fallen into the fat off the fish, lovely.

As I became some form of adult I continued the tradition. A local chocolate maker sold bags of ‘misshapes’, again chocolates that had come out of the mold wrong, had treacle dribbling out of them or had got squashed. The same chocolates that cost a fortune in their branded high street shops.

Surely this must be a good way to use the wasted ones, although there is the issue of supply and demand that I raised in my previous post about food waste.

Vegetism

So back to Asda. They are going to sell strangely shaped vegetables for less than their regularly shaped cousins. Are they going to sell them for less though because maybe they are worth less (or worthless)? This is a strange idea for sure. They are all fresh vegetables, they all contain exactly the same nutritional value, you can cook them all and they all taste the same, so why sell them for less?

Well we live in a society here in Europe that has engineered a situation in which only certain shapes are good. You might recall I mentioned ableism in a recent post and it certainly isn’t difficult to see how the human figure has been moulded into an ideal type, with all variations somewhat frowned upon or in need of correction (particularly I feel in the case of women).

And this is also the case for vegetables. In this case aesthetics is enshrined in law, as the European Union has regulations about the size and shape of fruit and vegetables. These regulations were ridiculed in the popular press ten years ago as it was said that straight bananas could not be sold. Read all about it here.

And vegetables come in at least 3 categories; nice looking that go into supermarkets, not so nice looking that go into processed food production, and unfit for human consumption, that go into animal feed. But it can all be used, you get less for the ugly ones however.

So producers have always been able to sell these vegetables, but for different uses and at different prices, so I must come to the conclusion that this is a marketing ploy in order to sell them for more. Just my opinion of course, but cynicism runs deep in my line of work.

It would be great to see them though in with their cousins for sale all together at the same price, but reports are that they are often left on the shelf to rot. Apparently people prefer a correctly curved banana to a straight one, and a straight marrow to the one in the photo above.