The science-society relationship in Australia: towards responsible innovation

Project Duration: February 2019 – September 2019

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Exploring perceptions of responsible innovation among researchers

The Challenge

While the concept of responsible innovation has been used extensively in Europe and the United States for over a decade, its adoption in Australia is relatively recent.

In late 2017, CSIRO established a new research program in responsible innovation that focused on assessing the risk, benefit and opportunities posed by diverse areas of future science and technology development. A year later, the Australian Council of Learned Academies published an outlook report on synthetic biology emphasising the importance of responsible innovation in synthetic biology research and industries. Soon after, the Australian Academy of Science called for a framework for responsible research and innovation. In 2019, the Australian Human Rights Commission called for a responsible innovation organisation to guide and govern the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in Australia.

The rapid adoption of the term by several significant Australian institutions signalled the growing acknowledgment and recognition of responsible innovation in Australia, particularly in relation to disruptive areas of science and technology. However, there remains a need to examine what this means in practice and how it is understood by scientists, researchers and other professionals in the research and innovation system.

Our Response

In April 2019, the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian National University planned a workshop on responsible innovation. They partnered with CSIRO’s Responsible Innovation Platform to design, conduct and analyse a survey that would provide critical data inputs for presentation and discussion.

An online mixed methods survey of scientists, researchers and other professionals in the Australian research and innovation system was undertaken to better understand their expectations and experiences of the science-society relationship and the implications of this for responsible innovation (n=171). In capturing both quantitative and qualitative responses of the participants, researchers set out to gain an understanding of their expectations of responsible innovation against the following three themes:

  • Transparency and openness in research and innovation
  • The role of inclusive, and meaningful dialogue between science and society
  • Ensuring ethical and responsible conduct of science.

Project Impact

The findings highlighted the importance of both the science-society relationship and responsible innovation to the community of scientists, researchers and other professionals surveyed. The data represented a useful first empirical exploration of these stakeholder perspectives on responsible innovation in Australia, which had previously been under explored.

This research marked the beginning of a longer conversation about what responsible innovation means in the Australian research and innovation system. The results identified key areas of focus for exploration but also highlighted the importance of undertaking further work to engage, interrogate and understand the perspectives and expectations of all stakeholders in the science-society relationship, including the broader Australian public.


CSIRO: Justine Lacey (Project Leader), Rebecca Coates and Matthew Herington

Additional information about the project isavailable:

CSIRO Report, The science-society relationship in Australia: toward responsible innovation – Survey of scientists, researchers and other professionals in the Australian research and innovation system:

Justine Lacey, Rebecca Coates & Matthew Herington (2020) Open science for responsible innovation in Australia: understanding the expectations and priorities of scientists and researchers, Journal of Responsible Innovation, DOI: 10.1080/23299460.2020.1800969

References and Links

J., Fisher, E. 2020. Interview with Justine Lacey on Responsible Innovation and Future Science in Australia. OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology 24,

The next phase of this research is now underway and explores the Australian public’s perceptions of responsible innovation: