Causing a STIR in Brisbane
By David Douglas
A small team of researchers working in the field of responsible innovation came together in February 2020 for a visit by Professor Erik Fisher of Arizona State University. Prof Fisher led the team through the STIR (Socio-Technical Integration Research) protocol he developed to help researchers uncover the social and ethical dimensions of their research.
The STIR protocol introduces a humanist (someone trained in the humanities or social sciences) as an embedded observer within a research team for several weeks. Working alongside the research team gives the observer first-hand knowledge of how the researchers perform their work and the choices they make.
During their time with the research team, the observer conducts a series of interviews with team members to discuss the decisions they make in their work. The purpose of these interviews is to help researchers recognise how much influence they have in how they perform their work, and the hidden assumptions that might otherwise obscure the social and ethical impact of their research. As Prof Fisher explained, the observer’s purpose is not to be the research team’s conscience, but to serve as a mirror to assist researchers in seeing the ethical and social aspects of their research themselves.
STIR has been used across the world in a variety of research contexts, ranging from nanotechnology to smart cities. More details about STIR can be found on the Arizona State University website https://cns.asu.edu/research/stir.
Prof Fisher’s years of experience in applying and teaching STIR provided a unique perspective on how responsible innovation is being practiced around the world and in different research contexts. It inspired several discussions within the team about how to integrate STIR into future projects.
The training also served as a first opportunity for our cohort of responsible innovation postdoctoral research fellows and PhD scholars (based in CSIRO, The University of Queensland, Charles Darwin University and the Australian National University) to come together. Knowledge gains as a result of this training has introduced the team to a new set of skills they can apply to their projects, and provided an in-depth look at an approach to responsible innovation from one of the field’s international leaders.