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Observing and Negating Matthew Effects in Responsible Research and Innovation Transition

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ON-MERRIT (Observing and Negating Matthew Effects in Responsible Research and Innovation Transition)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2020-09-30

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), and especially Open Science (including Open Access to publications and research data), promise to make science more inclusive, participatory, accessible and re-usable for large audiences within and outside of academia. The question remains, however, whether this promise can be fulfilled.

Success in research and innovation should primarily build and depend on merit; on clarity of thought, innovation of ideas, and integrity of processes. However, external factors like personal characteristics, prior reputation or available resources continue to have a strong impact on researchers’ careers. Making processes open does not in itself drive wide re-use or participation absent the capacity to do so. This so-called “absorptive capacity”, and the ability to capitalize on knowledge resources, varies considerably across institutions, businesses and populations. Such differences are further intensified by other factors like geographic location, language abilities, technological skills, educational levels and access to basic equipment and infrastructure. Those in possession of such resources and capacities benefit from an advantage over those without them. This reality puts at risk RRI’s agenda of inclusivity and highlights the role of “cumulative advantage” (the so-called “Matthew Effect”) in creating an unequal playing field.

ON-MERRIT (Observing and Negating Matthew Effects in Responsible Research & Innovation Transition) is a 30-month project to investigate how and if open and responsible research practices could, despite their good intentions, perpetuate existing inequalities. It aims at developing a set of evidence-based recommendations for science policies, indicators and incentives that could address and mitigate cumulative (dis)advantages.

To do so, we conduct three closely related strands of research. First, we are analysing Open Science beneficiaries and dynamics to better understand who stands to benefit from the current implementation strategies, how, and why. Thereby, we focus on how current policy interventions may actually drive new inequalities or exacerbate old ones. Second, based on these findings, we plan to derive a portfolio of indicators which will allow us to draw conclusions about the persistence of Matthew Effects. Third, we will analyse gaps and blind spots in current RRI implementation guidelines and make policy recommendations for their future enhancement. Each of these research strands takes account of four main stakeholder groups: research, industry, policy and society. To add depth to our broad investigations, we are gathering data on gender and analysing its role in these processes across the project. We focus our research within the domains of agriculture, climate and health, which are critical to realising the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
ON-MERRIT is solidly on-track to achieve all its aims and objectives. The preparatory phase is complete, with all deliverables submitted on time. The second phase, active research, despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, is progressing well. We have engaged in various dissemination activities and events, including presence on social media, blogging, participation in online conferences, a poster presentation and workshop organisation.

For our research on Matthew Effects in academia, we first selected universities from seven countries based on their ranking in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking. We then collected data on academic papers published by the universities’ researchers between 2007 and 2017, as well as data on the universities’ promotion, review and tenure policies (PRT-policies). Our report “D3.1 RRI and Open Science Datasets” describes the rationale for collecting this data and how we aim to analyse it to uncover effects of cumulative advantage within academia.

For our investigation of the uptake of (open) science resources, we carried out a semi-systematic review of the literature. Opening up scientific resources might spur economic growth, but are economic actors actually using Open Science resources? Our results suggest that scientific resources are currently used only by companies in certain R&D-heavy fields. Our inquiries will try to shed light on whether Open Access to research outputs could change this.

Complementing the analysis of academia and industry, we also reviewed the literature on how policy-makers gather relevant information and what role Open Science outputs might play in this domain. Our scoping report “D5.1 Open Science Outputs in Policy-Making and Public Participation” finds that researchers and policy-makers are described as living in different and frequently incompatible worlds. The uptake of research by policy-makers is rather low, especially if presented in the form of academic papers. Instead, they utilise oral forms of knowledge transfer and rely on their networks, which don’t necessarily include academics.

Overall, our work so far has found a lack of previous research on the uptake of Open Science resources across fields, which we will strive to improve on.
With our research, we will move beyond merely enabling access and participation in principle to systematically describing and addressing cumulative barriers to the uptake of scientific knowledge across a variety of stakeholders. ON-MERRIT will reveal any systemic drivers and consequences of cumulative (dis)advantage in current approaches to RRI and Open Science implementation. We will go beyond the state-of-the-art by determining the core absorptive capacities required for multiple stakeholders to engage and interact with open research outputs and participatory knowledge creation processes. We will create a revised framework for open and gender-sensitive inclusion, assessing roles and skill-profiles to enable individuals and organisations to best adapt to the emergent RRI landscape.

ON-MERRIT will enable a new dimension of recursive RRI policy assessment, which remains alert to the unintended consequences of science policy actions and the systemic factors which can subvert policy intentions. Scrutinising the RRI agenda in this way speaks to the core aims of RRI itself – critical enquiry that takes account of the social nature of both scientific endeavours and policy-making. Through this work, we will identify the right mix of drivers and incentives to enable optimal levels of opportunity and integrity in knowledge creation processes.

Based on our research, we will produce revised and improved self-assessment tools for RRI-awareness. Our research will also lead to evidence on the basis of which new approaches/indicators for RRI implementation can be further developed, updated or improved. Once these new approaches and indicators are in place, they will open a space in which new products and services can be developed to facilitate their goals.