New ‘virtual institute’ brings scholars together to advance responsible innovation


The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of nearly $500,000 to establish a new Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI). In a global marketplace that thrives on technological innovation, incorporating ethics, responsibility and sustainability into research and development is a critical priority. Responding to this need, VIRI will be an international collaboration of world-leading scholars working to ensure that knowledge-based innovation in academic and corporate settings integrates broad concepts of responsibility.

Collaboration with GenØk scientist Fern Wickson is a part of this research project.

Interdisciplinary and wide-reaching

VIRI is a part of an NSF initiative called “Science Across Virtual Institutes.” Virtual institutes are designed to facilitate worldwide collaboration among scientists and engineers on topics of common interest.

VIRI’s goal is to enable an international community of students and scholars who can help establish a common understanding of responsible innovation in research, training and outreach. By doing so, VIRI aims to contribute to the governance of emerging technologies that are dominated by market uncertainty and difficult questions of how well they reflect societal values.

VIRI founding institutional partners are University of Exeter (UK), Durham University (UK), University of Sussex (UK), Maastricht University (Netherlands), University of Copenhagen (Denmark), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany), University of Waterloo (Canada), Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (Norway), and State University of Campinas (Brazil).

VIRI founding institutional affiliates are the US National Academy of Engineering’s Center for Engineering, Ethics and Society, IEEE Spectrum Online and Fondazione Giannino Bassetti.

VIRI’s activities will also be tightly connected with a new, international peer-reviewed Journal of Responsible Innovation, which will begin publication in 2014 with Taylor & Francis.

Years in the making

Led by ASU faculty members David Guston and Erik Fisher, VIRI will bring a social and ethical lens to research and development practices that do not always focus on the broader implications of their research and products. Guston, director of CNS-ASU, co-director of the Consortium of Science, Policy and Outcomes, and professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies, has been pushing for the establishment of academic units that focus on responsible innovation for years.

«We are thrilled that NSF has chosen to advance responsible innovation through this unique, international collaboration,» Guston said. «It will give ASU the opportunity to help focus the field and ensure that people start thinking about the broader implications of knowledge-based innovation.»

Fisher, assistant professor in the School for Politics and Global Studies, has long been involved in integrating social considerations into science research laboratories through his NSF-funded Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) project, an affiliated project of CNS-ASU.

«Using the insights we’ve gained in the labs that have participated in the STIR project, we expect to be able to get VIRI off the ground and make progress very quickly,» Fisher said.

Impacts inside and out of the academy

VIRI is designed to make an impact in academia and in the marketplace. By designing curricular activities and programs, VIRI will insert responsible innovation into students’ graduate and post-doctoral work before they begin their careers. Through industry partnerships, VIRI will be well positioned to bring concepts of responsible innovation directly to corporations engaging in the research and development of emerging technological products.

More information on the project can be found on the CNS-ASU website