The RRIght approach to scientific and technological advancement? A legal perspective on Responsible Research and Innovation and synthetic biology.

  • Peter Byrne

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the role of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in the regulation of science and technology, using synthetic biology as a case study. While advances in science and technology create opportunities to address some of the world's greatest challenges, they often come with significant risks and uncertainties. We need only turn to the well-rehearsed public concerns around the development of GMOs to capture a glimpse of how this can impact on technological development. It is therefore important that societal views are recognised and understood from the earliest stages of research and innovation as this may enhance both the acceptance and legitimacy of scientific development. RRI, defined in this thesis as "a holistic upstream approach to research and innovation characterised by anticipation, inclusion, reflexivity, and responsiveness", provides one possible approach to the integration of societal views in research and innovation. Using a 'whole of legal system' analysis, this thesis considers the role of law in supporting the implementation of RRI. It focuses specifically on the development of synthetic biology, a rapidly advancing science whose potentiality presents issues related to risk and uncertainty. Following a detailed analysis of the literature, the thesis proposes a definition of RRI that is used to assess its presence in the legal regime of synthetic biology. RRI also has a legal basis in Horizon 2020, the EU's primary research and innovation Framework Programme. Through Horizon 2020, RRI may be indirectly applied to synthetic biology R&D projects. An in-depth analysis of the law, policy and guidance related to Horizon 2020, and an examination of a sample of funded projects is conducted to better understand the place of RRI in the Framework Programme and, in turn, the extent to which it promotes the inclusion of societal views. The thesis concludes by offering a broader assessment of RRI through the lens of juridification. RRI is not found to be present in the legal regime which governs synthetic biology, and it can only be said to occupy at best a marginal position within Horizon 2020. Despite these findings, RRI represents an evolution and shift in the approach which is taken towards research and innovation processes more generally. While the immediate future of RRI is dependent on how it is represented in the next EU Framework Programme, Horizon Europe, on the basis of currently available documentation the shift it represents will continue to evolve even when we stop referring to 'RRI'.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSoren Holm (Supervisor) & Carolyn Abbot (Supervisor)

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