How to make research and innovation more responsible

Research Lives: Caitríona Mordan, RRI projects officer for Dublin City University

Caitríona Mordan, RRI projects officer for DCU

Caitríona Mordan, RRI projects officer for DCU

 

You work in the area of RRI, or responsible research and innovation. What does that mean?
RRI is about developing research in a reflective way. Universities and other research institutions don’t exist in isolation, and it is important to engage with the people you are developing research for. That involves communication, ethics, trust, values and engaging with journalists, policy makers, industry and citizens. Science is making rapid advances and it is important that researchers can work with society to better address the issues we face.

How are you helping to make that happen?
At the moment I am involved in co-ordinating several RRI projects, and the biggest one of them is Nucleus, which includes 27 partner institutions across Europe and also in Georgia, South Africa and China. The first phase of that project looked at attitudes and barriers to RRI and now we are in the second phase, where we are looking to build structures and frameworks to support the changes in culture that’s needed to encourage RRI.

What kinds of issues are you looking to address?
One is time frames. Research takes time, and sometimes industry and the media expect answers quickly. So, it’s important to have conversations and build trust and awareness around the processes and time-scales of research. We also see that in many cases researchers consider outreach as something they do after their research project has generated results, rather than using outreach as a way to inform how they design and carry out research projects.

So, what kinds of steps can you take to enable RRI?
We want research institutions to be able to change their cultures so that RRI is built into the culture. We are looking at steps such as setting up a steering committee, and ways to ensure that researchers get recognition and reward for practising RRI, so they can see the benefits and the impacts. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but by setting up these frameworks and evaluating them we can see what works well.

What does your day-to-day work involve?
A lot of meetings, many of them online because the partners are international. We have to provide the milestones and papers to the European Commission, so my life is driven by deliverables but I really enjoy it. This is a new area, you have to think on your feet quite a lot, and I love the brainstorming involved in coming up with new strategies.

How did you get into this line of work?
I studied business and human resources initially, then I managed outreach programmes with Engineers Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland. I was always interested in the policy and education side of science and engineering, and I did a masters in science communication in Dublin City University. My thesis was on what motivates industry to engage in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) education. From there I moved into working on RRI.

What do you do when you are not paving the way for more responsible research and innovation?
I have two kids and they keep me busy, but I like to go to the gym. Doing CrossFit feels great after sitting at the desk and commuting, and I enjoy running too. This year I want to get back into squash, it’s a great form of stress relief.