This article by researchers at the Athena Institute at VU Amsterdam, one of the foremost centres of RRI researchin the Netherlands discusses the application of some of their RRI methods to a very current issue of science society relationships.
The emerging field of synthetic biology has the potential to improve global health. For example, synthetic biology could contribute to efforts at vaccine development in a context in which vaccines and immunization have been identified by the international community as being crucial to international development efforts and, in particular, the millennium development goals. However, past experience with innovations shows that realizing a technology’s potential can be difficult and complex. To achieve better societal embedding of synthetic biology and to make sure it reaches its potential, science and technology development should be made more inclusive and interactive. Responsible research and innovation is based on the premise that a broad range of stakeholders with different views, needs and ideas should have a voice in the technological development and deployment process. The interactive learning and action (ILA) approach has been developed as a methodology to bring societal stakeholders into a science and technology development process. This paper proposes an ILA in five phases for an international effort, with national case studies, to develop socially robust applications of synthetic biology for global health, based on the example of vaccine development. The design is based on results of a recently initiated ILA project on synthetic biology; results from other interactive initiatives described in the literature; and examples of possible applications of synthetic biology for global health that are currently being developed.