Meta-responsibility in corporate research and innovation: A bioeconomic case study

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The term "responsibility" embodies many meanings, also in the context of corporate research and innovation (R&I). The approach of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) has emerged as a promoter for responsible conduct of innovation but so far lacks a systematic framework for describing, inventorying, and eventually managing different responsibilities that R&I units hold in companies and further in society. In this paper we take forward the idea of developing RRI into a "meta-responsibility" approach, for orchestrating responsibilities in corporate R&I. First, we introduce a frame for defining responsibility, which is inclusive of four elements (care, liability, accountability, and responsiveness), and is attentive to the intrinsic uncertainty of the R&I setting. Drawing on empirical data from interviews, we then examine how these responsibility elements become operationalised in an actual R&I project. As a result, we develop a meta-responsibility map for corporate R&I, bringing various and sometimes contradicting principles, expectations and obligations under the common terminology of responsibility. We suggest that such integrative outlook on responsibilities increases theoretical solidity and practical applicability of RRI as an innovation management approach. Regarding R&I practices, we conclude that the meta-responsibility map can support R&I units in exploring their co-existing and sometimes conflicting responsibilities, and in managing those responsibilities in the highly uncertain R&I setting. In particular, meta-responsibility shows applicability in (i) balancing risk and precaution, (ii) exposing and addressing concerns about the goals and impacts of innovation, and (iii) accelerating sectoral transition whilst securing one's own competitive advantage in it.

Original languageEnglish
Article number38
Pages (from-to)1-22
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Bioeconomy
  • Biorefineries
  • Industry
  • Innovation management
  • Responsible research and innovation
  • RRI

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