Risk governance of nanotechnology R&D in Australia

Project Duration: March 2019 – December 2020

Transparent of graphene application.

Credit: iStock.com/BONNINSTUDIO

Understanding risk and responsibility in the development of disruptive technologies

The Challenge

The pace at which new technologies are emerging poses specific challenges for decision-makers and how they balance the potential risks and benefits of such technologies for society. Striking this balance plays a critical role in achieving responsible innovation. In terms of improving the way we assess risks and make these decisions in areas of future science and technologies, risk governance is an approach to identifying, assessing, documenting, monitoring and reporting risks that incorporates the social, ethical, legal, regulatory and economic environment.

We already have advanced methods for managing and mitigating certain types of risk, such as environmental risk for example. However, there is opportunity for developing and improving methods that integrate a broader range of societal aspects and considerations into the design, development and deployment of new technologies. This includes how we might incorporate broader stakeholder views on these technologies and their use.

While our focus is often on the new and emerging technologies of the future and their associated challenges, what are the lessons we can learn from the technologies that have disrupted us over recent decades? This research aims to unlock the lessons associated with the risk governance of nanotechnology R&D in Australia.

Responding to the Challenge

CSIRO’s Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform (FSP) has identified that the way we respond to and manage risk and responsibility in our future science and technology portfolio is a key part of how we deliver responsible innovation for the nation. Risk governance approaches are already embedded in projects that are assessing large scale resource development and ecological restoration and the creation of new industries. But what does it mean for new and potentially disruptive areas of science where uncertainty is high?

Dr Yuwan Malakar commenced as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the risk governance of future technologies in March 2019. His first research project explores the risk governance of emerging and potentially disruptive technologies by documenting the R&D practices associated with nanotechnology in Australia. By retrospectively analysing developments in this field, his research is identifying established and emerging risk governance practices that are instructive for how we respond to future technologies.

Project Impacts

This research, which will be subsequently developed over a series of case studies, aims to develop and validate a risk governance framework to inform and guide our research with emerging and potentially disruptive technologies. It also seeks to move beyond social and technical integration of science to demonstrate methodologies for incorporating stakeholder engagement in technological innovation.


CSIRO: Yuwan Malakar and Justine Lacey.

More information relating to this project is available as follows:

CSIRO RI FSP News Release ‘Looking back in order to move forward: Lessons from Nanotechnology’: https://research.csiro.au/ri/looking-back-in-order-to-move-forward-lessons-from-nanotechnology/

CSIRO’s Report ‘Risk governance of nanotechnology in Australia: Developing responsible science and technology’: https://publications.csiro.au/publications/#publication/PIcsiro:EP203658