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practices, institutionalisation and impact of responsible innovation

Practices, Institutionalisation and Impact of Responsible Innovation in Nanotechnology

The emergence of nanotechnology as a promising new scientific and technological field has been accompanied with growing concerns about unknown risks and other unintended effects. In response the notions of Responsible Development, Responsible Innovation and more recently Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) have become a widespread topic of discussion. However, these notions are used in a variety of activities in which their meaning differs. At the same time there are attempts to establish overarching and unifying definitions and frameworks, for example for RRI as a cross-cutting theme in the European Horizon2020 programme.


This project is part of NanoNextNL, a micro and nanotechnology consortium of the Government of the Netherlands and 130 partners. As part of the NanoNextNL Risk Analysis & Technology Assessment (RATA) theme, this project contributes to anticipating the societal embedding of nanotechnology by studying different practices of ‘doing responsible innovation’. The analytical approach has been developed in close connection to the FP7-project Res-AGorA, in which a governance framework for RRI will be developed.

The cases studies cover two different practices – 1) public policy & regulation; 2)nanotechnology research consortia – in two different countries (NL and US). Input for the first case study is derived from a reconstruction of nanosafety governance in the Netherlands over the past decade. For example, one of the main principles of the risk governance strategy that has been put into action for ensuring the responsible development of nanomaterials is ensuring a clear distribution of responsibilities. Yet, the responsibilities in resolving uncertainties with respect to nanosafety are continuously being negotiated, at national as well as international level. Initial findings from this case study have been published in Van Est et al 2012 (see list of publications below). C:\Users\WalhoutAM\Dropbox\UT\NanoNext1C\STePS nano and clubje\Webpage NNNL@STePS\bw cases.png

The second case study concerns the RATA program of NanoNextNL itself. So far, the analysis for this case study has been documented in an internal case study report of the Res-AGorA project. The report analyses how the ambition of integrating RATA throughout NanoNextNL has been shaped by the way the RATA program has been designed and activities aiming for integration have been deployed. The analysis reflects the more general finding that ‘doing responsible innovation’ is a learning process for all actors involved and hence should be designed as such. Some findings from this case study also have been published in a paper co-authored by NanoNextNL colleagues from Utrecht University (Bos et al 2014).

Recently, interviews have been conducted for the third and fourth case study, both situated in the US: federal agency responses to the issue of nanosafety and the activities of the Center for Nanotechnology and Society (CNS) at Arizona State University and at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Project duration: 9/2011-1/2016
Contact person:
Bart Walhout
a.m.walhout(at), + 31 53 489 4235 / 3353


Bos, C.; Walhout, B.; Peine, A. & Van Lente, H. (2014) Steering with big words. Articulation of ideographs in research programs. Journal of Responsible Innovation 1:2, 151 – 170

Van Est, Q.; Walhout, B.; Rerimassie, V.; Stemerding, D & Hanssen, L. (2012): Governance of Nanotechnology in the Netherlands – Informing and Engaging in Different Social Spheres. International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society (iJETS) Vol. 10, 2012, pp: 6 – 26


RATA = Responsible Innovation?! Poster presented at NanoCity’14, Utrecht, October 27, 2014

Risk Governance & Responsible Innovation. Poster presented at NanoNextNL Risk Analysis and Technology Assessment (RATA) meeting, November 8, 2012.


Making a difference with Responsible Innovation. Talk for

Practicing RRI in NanoNextNL. Presentation given at the S.NET 2014 conference, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, September 22, 2014

All in the game? - Learning from nanosafety governance in the Netherlands. Presentation given at the Micro-NanoConference (MNC)’13, Ede, December 13, 2013.

Risk governance arenas – Nanosafety governance in the Netherlands. Presentation given at the S.NET 2012 conference, University of Twente, October 23, 2012.

Participation in other publications and presentations:

Learning from de facto governance of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). Presentation given at Eu-SPRI annual conference 2014, Manchester, June 20, 2014

Hanssen, L.; Vos, T.; Langeslag, M. & Walhout, B. (2013) Kleine deeltjes, grote kwesties - Een issueanalyse van de Maatschappelijke Dialoog Nanotechnologie. Tijdschrift voor Communicatie­wetenschapAflevering 2, 2013

Te Kulve et al. (2013) Context Matters: Promises and Concerns Regarding Nanotechnologies for Water and Food Applications. Nanoethics 2013 Vol. 1

Res-AGorA - a socio-normative approach to the governance of responsible research and innovation. Presentation given at IEEE-ITMC & ICE Responsible Innovation & Entrepreneurship conference, June 24, 2013.

In search for a governance framework for Responsible Research and Innovation. Presentation given at the annual conference of the Dutch Maatschappelijk Verantwoord Innoveren (Socially Responsible Innovation), December 13, 2012.