2021. 09. 15.

A Brief Talk with Tecnalia’s Change Lab

The Change Lab of the Spanish applied research and development centre, Tecnalia, was established to start the institutional discourse of responsible innovation. The so-called Shape Lab aims to systematically introduce and implement RRI principles in the functioning, contributing to developing practice policies and understanding this concept. We are talking about the steps they made on the long road towards organizational changes with three members of the Lab, Ezekiela Arrizabalaga, Antonia Bierwirth, Lucia Polo.

How popular is RRI at your organization?

Ezekiela: I think that it's becoming more popular, especially due to the European Commission. The most developed RRI key is gender equality at Tecnalia, which we worked on for about ten years. Here, most of the researchers participate in EU projects, so they have heard about RRI before. But looking at the concept, I think they don't know what it means, and they feel it’s more like an administrative burden. So now, our Shape Lab is focusing on other RRI keys. Last year we organized an internal training, we invited interested researchers to participate in an RRI module. More than 30 persons participated. Their focus is different: people working on health questions link RRI with ethical concerns. Others in ICT relate it more to data management issues. They align it more with ethical issues as they work in the field of technology. And we also organized specific meetings with departments where we did some particular presentations about the possibility to participate in Co-Change, and we started some collaborations based on that.

Lucia: People around us are asking us nowadays about science education. Because they think we’ll have to focus on that in the future, they feel they have to spread their results other than publications. So we are talking about developing some kind of training for that perhaps in the following months.

Antonia: I think that the primary outcome so far is that we gained an identity as a working group. Now we have a core unit, which means the three of us and also other people. We have regular meetings, and we have a name and a growing voice in Tecnalia. Now we have this sense of purpose and identity that we didn't have before the Co-Change Project. There were only sporadic efforts of one project or another. And now we have a structured team with team spirit. However, it may not seem so important as an institutionalization step, for the group's enthusiasm it is.

Do you feel some barriers when you talk to people about RRI?

Lucia: Yes, there is a barrier because most of our researchers are overwhelmed with the work in their projects. They are focusing on the latest tasks. And if you add more things to the project, most people say, “I would like to, but I don't have time”. But, on the other hand, I feel that little by little, people have shown more awareness about the RRI keys in the last few years. Due to that, they ask us to help them introduce this aspect in their projects or even proposals. So we could destroy this barrier by doing the training about the RRI aspect.

Ezekiela: Researchers have values as individuals, and they would like to apply them to their daily work. For me, it was pretty surprising to find out their perception of RRI. We directly ask them, “what RRI is for you?” And we got many, many answers that were related to the ethical point of view: “We are using public resources, and we will need to do things linked to the societal needs”.

Antonia: I think that the main image of RRI comes from its relation to ethics. Usually, it’s not related to internal values, but rather it is by the end of checklists and obligations. In this sense, ethics have never helped people advance but are somewhat frustrated with extra reports and things they have never understood. I know that this is a negative connotation, and that is what we are trying to break and change. What we offer in our Change Lab are demand-based services. We try to change the culture of collaboration. When people fear that by collaborating with them, we’re going to screen their work, and say “you’re missing this and that”, they will see just extra work, and they avoid us. So we have a very gentle approach, and we’re cautious and try to gain trust by explaining what we do. And we let them know that “if you feel that it’s interesting and that it’s something that will enrich your work, we’re here for you”. This helped a couple of times. For example, the virtual reality team is very focused on education, and they do virtual reality for education. But then, when we started to work with them, we suggested adding social values. For example, let’s do virtual reality from the perspective of a disabled person or immigrants, then virtual reality becomes an empathy machine. And they were very interested in this aspect! They saw that we brought the missing element to an innovative product. And their product can be more competitive.

And do you think that you will have a specific impact on the strategic plan of Tecnalia?

Ezekiela: Yes, but you should know that it's a massive and hierarchical organization with around 1,300 researchers. So it's pretty challenging to have an impact. Still, there's an exciting debate about the new strategic plan launched by the end of this year. Until 2022 the organization was focusing on the GDP. And with a radical change, the new strategic plan will take the growth of the society as focus. There is a considerable debate everywhere in the organization associated with this social aspect. Many people proposed social indicators. But still, the organization is divided.

Let's talk about your external work. You are coaching a small company, QiArrow.

Antonia: As they are a new company, they're still in the process of creating their portfolio. So we started with brainstorming about their objectives, their vision, and we saw that their strategy is pretty much in line with RRI. The first stage of work was crucial to know that they didn't get disappointed because RRI is a very theoretical concept coming from a rather academic scene, from research, it’s not a commercial product. But luckily, they liked it very much, and they saw that they could create something for companies based on RRI. We helped them analyze the market and the tools, and we provided them with all the tools that we had recommended from WP6. So they are creating their services for SMEs based on RRI principles and mechanisms. We provide them with information about how the other labs are doing. They transfer this information to their clients or potential clients. They're also checking in real-time what could be helpful for them. They also participated in our Co-Change workshops as well as in one of the consortium Forums. The coordinators liked them so much that they invited them to become an associated partner of Co-Change, which QiArrow accepted.

We also work closely with the Change Lab of Novi Sad, supporting them with advice and network. For example we started exploring how citizen science could be used in meteorological measurements.