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REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - RECIPES (REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2022-06-30

The precautionary principle guides decision-makers faced with risks, scientific uncertainty and public concerns. As a general principle of EU law, it allows decision-makers to adopt precautionary measures, despite a situation of scientific uncertainty about, for instance, environmental or health impacts of new technologies or products. Hence, the precautionary principle encourages early and forward-looking action to minimise risks. Critics of the precautionary principle argue, however, that it promotes excessive caution and hinders technological innovation.
The RECIPES (“REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders”) project links the precautionary principle with the notion of ‘responsible innovation’ and highlights the principle as an important enabler for the implementation of this anticipatory and inclusive approach to the governance of research and innovation. RECIPES overall objective was to develop tools and guidelines to ensure the precautionary principle is applied to foster responsible technological innovation. RECIPES worked closely with stakeholders through interviews, workshops, webinars and other methods of stakeholder engagement, such as scenario workshops and digital platforms for stakeholder participation.
One of the key messages of the project’s main outcome, the Guidance for the Future Application of the Precautionary Principle in the EU, is that the precautionary principle unfolds its full potential by serving in a double role. As a legal principle and safeguard, it permits policy-makers and legislators to manage uncertain risks by preventing irreversible damage. As a compass and policy principle in research and innovation, it can trigger upstream debates and research about the potential impacts of emerging technologies and related innovation pathways, lead to adjustments in innovation development and stimulate responsible innovation. The RECIPES Guidance highlights that the overall process of risk governance should be precautionary in the sense that it is consistently sensitive to uncertainties and knowledge gaps, as well as to potentially serious harm. Consequentially, anticipation, inclusion, reflexivity, and responsiveness are key principles for technology governance in the EU.
RECIPES demonstrated the precautionary principle’s pronounced relevance at the international, EU and national level. The project’s empirical insights from the application of the precautionary principle in different areas both at European and at Member State level have contributed towards a deep and analytically sound understanding of the tensions and synergies between precaution and innovation. This knowledge was essential to solve the perceived tensions between precaution, innovation and science.
RECIPES examined the notions of precaution and the precautionary principle as well as the effects and the applications of the precautionary principle at international, EU and national level, since the Commission Communication on the Precautionary Principle in 2000. This stock-taking exercise also comprised an analysis of the notions innovation and ‘innovation principle’ as well as an analysis of recent and on-going controversies to understand competing interests and concerns of stakeholders and citizens. Next, RECIPES analysed the application of the precautionary principle in different areas in nine case studies. This case study analysis formed the basis for the development of scenarios for the future of the precautionary principle and innovation, serving as a segue into the third phase of the RECIPES project. By highlighting the potentials and risks of allowing either precaution or innovation to dominate the development of law and governance in relation to new and emerging technologies, the scenarios served as focal points for the stakeholder discussions in a transdisciplinary, co-creative approach. An important outcome of the discussions was that precaution is not fundamentally opposed to innovation. RECIPES vision therefore was that the future implementation of the precautionary principle in the EU should ensure a high level of proactive protection of human health and the environment, and stimulate socially desired innovation.
Guided by this vision, RECIPES developed the Guidance for the Application of the Precautionary Principle in the EU in co-operation with stakeholders and through a series of co-creation processes and review workshops. The guidance advises on how to deal responsibly with uncertain risks in the development and implementation of technology in the EU. The target groups are primarily EU policy makers, EU agencies, and EU policy support organizations and bodies that are concerned with risk regulation or the governance of science, technology and innovation. RECIPES also developed sector-specific recommendations for the application of the precautionary principle whilst encouraging responsible innovation, elaborating on what the lessons would mean for two policy sectors in the EU.
The RECIPES reports, information material, including factsheets of the case studies, policy briefs and videos, as well as the RECIPES end-product, the Guidance for future application of the precautionary principle are publicly available on the RECIPES website (https://recipes-project.eu/).The RECIPES Guidance on the future application of the precautionary principle is also available on Zenodo (https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7015025).
RECIPES partners published (sub)results in academic journals and presented the project results at high-profile events, as for example key notes at European events. Furthermore, RECIPES partners integrated the research findings in teaching curricula. The RECIPES guidance has also been picked up by key actors who distributed the Guidance among their networks. Finally, recent or new projects are already building on RECIPES findings and approaches (BeeCaution and REAL DEAL).
RECIPES’ transdisciplinary approach put societal stakeholders center stage. The RECIPES consortium has co-creatively engaged with societal actors during the entire project. The consortium has built an extended epistemic community around the precautionary principle and the concept of Responsible Innovation. Most importantly, RECIPES has reconfirmed the precautionary principle’s political and societal importance and has reinstated its innovative potential, by stressing its role as legal principle and safeguard as well as policy principle and compass. By setting out the double role of the precautionary principle and linking this double role to the concept of Responsible Innovation, RECIPES has introduced a reframing of the precautionary principle that provides good reasons for researchers, innovators, and actors of technology governance to apply the precautionary principle already at the early stages of technology development. The results from RECIPES demonstrate that the precautionary principle is a key guiding principle for risk assessment and the consortium provided suggestions for organizing and collecting and co-creating actionable knowledge required for applying the precautionary principle early and throughout the innovation process in a timely manner.
RECIPES researchers expect that their research will improve evidence-informed risk governance in the EU by providing a useful tool to help regulators and decision-makers when dealing with new and emerging technology-related risks well beyond the RECIPES case studies.
RECIPES Project Logo
RECIPES Project citizen meetings
RECIPES Project visualisation
RECIPES Stakeholders reached