Topic: Implementing Responsible Research and Innovation through Ethical Codes: an application to digitisation
Digitisation brings deep repercussions on people’s lives and generates winners (who benefit from the change), losers (who are marginalized by the changes), opponents (who resist and elaborate alternative rules of the game). In the current debate on digitisation in agriculture and in rural areas, opportunities are by far more mentioned than threats. Threats are generally associated with unequal distribution of physical, social and human capital necessary to get access to digital opportunities. We identify two other threats of digitisation: design-related risks and system complexity. Design-related risks refer to changes (work, consumption, house life, care) technology design aims purposedly to generate. In this category fall obsolescence of human skills (and consequent losses of jobs), threat to privacy, surveillance, discrimination based on profiling, and concentration of data ownership. System complexity refers to the integration between technologies and social organization. The more that data, digital platforms, applications, tools and controls permeate our lives, the more legal and organizational skills, as well as leadership and social adaptation are required. The more the system is ready for adaptation, the better the outcomes of innovation. Failure of adaptation may generate unintended socio-economic consequences, which we will call digital traps. Examples of this are information overload, digital addiction, virality of fake news, cyberbullying, cybercrime, and loss of human control over machines.
To reap the benefits of digitisation while minimizing its costs, these conditions need to be governed. The key to success in this endeavor is to understand the mutual influences between technological systems and social organization. Technological systems can be designed having already an awareness of possible unintended consequences, and legal and social systems can anticipate them and improve their adaptive capacity. Research and Innovation are keys to this challenge. With this paper we want to discuss the implications of the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) with regard to digitisation of agriculture and rural areas. RRI implies “anticipating and assessing potential implications and societal expectations with regard to research and innovation”. Within the strategies to embody RRI principles into current research and innovation organizations, Ethical Codes, sets of principles that guide members of organizations in taking the right decisions, are here discussed as a tool – to be adopted on voluntary basis – that would help enterprises and researchers to identify technological solutions coherent with their social responsibility profile. The paper will provide a literature review and will identify the critical points of the food system and of rural areas that may deserve attention in the code.