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Marc Maesschalck

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The governance theories that have developed over the past twenty years offer a new framework to consider and examine the collective conditions of a "Responsible Research and Innovation - RRI" linked up with the policy challenges of a society in transition in all its modes of regulation. This book will recall the genesis of the reflexive point of view in the context of the development of the theory of governance. It will then develop the strengths of the model and finally, will show the fruitfulness of its application to the field of the RRI.

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Table of Contents







1 RRI and Governance Theory

1.1. Definition of a minimum concept of governance

1.2. RRI and governance theory

1.3. The case of neighboring fields

1.4. Lessons to be learned

1.5. Changing perspective

2 The Origins of Governance Theory

2.1. Old and new governance: a first shift

2.2. The neo-institutionalist hypothesis

2.3. The nodal governance approach

2.4. The move toward democratic experimentalism

2.5. Institutionalist change and reflexivity in governance theories

3 Exploring Reflexive Governance Theory

3.1. Reflexivity and the academic third party

3.2. Reflexivity and the imaginary third party

3.3. Reflexivity and the real third party

3.4. The increase in references to reflexivity

3.5. Reasons why this use of reflexivity is unsatisfactory

3.6. What remains out of scope

4 Key Strengths of a Reflexive Theory of Governance

4.1. Attention as “thematization”

4.2. Reflexivity in governance

4.3. Deconstructing governance narratives

4.4. Examples of

post hoc

thematization of relational decentering

4.5. Shortcomings of thematization

4.6. The five stages of reflexive governance in identity processes

5 Promoting Reflexive Governance of RRI

5.1. Co-constructing problems

5.2. Transformation of relational structures and negotiability of roles

5.3. Iterating identities

5.4. RRIs pathway for reflexive governance

5.5. Operationalizing reflexive governance of RRI

6 Intellectual Intervention in Society: The Key to Reflexive Governance of RRI

6.1. The destiny of rationality in the construction of common interest

6.2. The fragmentation of knowledge

6.3. Contradiction and pluralization of real interests

6.4. From intellectual intervention to the community of destiny

6.5. The possible role of political philosophy

6.6. Long and short cycles of RRI governance

6.7. A new model for the institution of knowledge?




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List of Tables

2 The Origins of Governance Theory

Table 2.1.

Old versus new governance

3 Exploring Reflexive Governance Theory

Table 3.1.

Integration of the third party in governance models

4 Key Strengths of a Reflexive Theory of Governance

Table 4.1.

Five steps of reflexive governance

5 Promoting Reflexive Governance of RRI

Table 5.1.

Top-down versus bottom-up governance

6 Intellectual Intervention in Society: The Key to Reflexive Governance of RRI

Table 6.1.

Short and long RRI cycles

List of Illustrations

2 The Origins of Governance Theory

Figure 2.1.

The new institutional economy according to Williamson

Figure 2.2.

Double retroaction cycle of neo-institutionalist governance

3 Exploring Reflexive Governance Theory

Figure 3.1.

Williamson’s neo-institutionalist model

Figure 3.2.

The reflexive production framework of neo-institutionalism

Figure 3.3.

The two reflexive loops of academic third-party intervention

5 Promoting Reflexive Governance of RRI

Figure 5.1.

Elements of RRI policy

Figure 5.2.

Operational cycle of RRI governance

6 Intellectual Intervention in Society: The Key to Reflexive Governance of RRI

Figure 6.1.

Interlacing of governance cycles (a)

Figure 6.2.

Interlacing of governance cycles (b)



Table of Contents

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This book would not have come into existence without the unfailing support of Nicolas Cuneen, Oleg Bernaz and Ewa Stasiak (CPDR).

I would also like to thank Professor Bernard Reber for his continued trust and Professor Jacques Lenoble for his inspiring force.

Responsible Research and Innovation Set

coordinated byBernard Reber

Volume 6

Reflexive Governance for Research and Innovative Knowledge

Marc Maesschalck

First published 2017 in Great Britain and the United States by ISTE Ltd and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms and licenses issued by the CLA. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside these terms should be sent to the publishers at the undermentioned address:

ISTE Ltd27-37 St George’s RoadLondon SW19 4EUUK

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.111 River StreetHoboken, NJ 07030USA

© ISTE Ltd 2017The rights of Marc Maesschalck to be identified as the author of this work have been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2016961587

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication DataA CIP record for this book is available from the British LibraryISBN 978-1-84821-989-2


Volume 3 of the Responsible Research and Innovation Series (Volume 2 in French) From Ethical Review to Responsible Research and Innovation compares the various forms of ethics in research (integrity, protection of individuals and ethical review of projects to be financed) to the commitments of responsible research and innovation (RRI). Governance is an essential condition for the success of RRI. It contributes to a multiplication of perspectives that favor ethical deliberation. As one of the pillars of RRI, governance could enable a more active approach to ethical concerns, which are understood broadly as well beyond the individual ethics of researchers and engineers. Governance is tasked with regulating cooperation between actors with different identities, interests, care capacities and responsibilities. Their different backgrounds are also motivated by varying expansionary rationales that sometimes conflict with uncertain and contingent relationships to borrow an important term from the title of Volume 1, Ethics and Efficiency: Responsibility and Contingency. If RRI favors the inclusion of participating parties, interest groups or citizens in the processes of research and innovation, it must be concerned with governance to imagine accepting this inclusion, in line with various lists of international evaluation criteria.

The increased importance of governance is not only a consequence of globalization and the redistribution of tasks, and thus responsibilities, between state and private and public institutional actors. It is also at the center of the European integration. This space is a common site of experimentation with differing norms tested by crises and the solutions created in response. As early as 2001, governance was the subject of reports published by the European Commission. It highlighted new concerns associated with five principles: efficiency, consistency, participation, transparency and (the key element for RRI) sharing responsibilities. Thus, RRI is centrally tied to the entire European structure, not only in areas of innovation and research.

However, watchwords such as partnership and participation or even terms that were later associated with them, like transparency and responsiveness, strive for a concept of governance that goes well beyond mere regulation. Governance, as one of the pillars of RRI, can only be called ethical and thus truly responsible when closely associated with freedom – recalling the title of Volume 2 in the series, Responsibility and Freedom. This is another path that this new volume takes, which is certainly not incompatible. It asserts that we must explain what we mean by different additions or qualifiers associated with governance. They can cover very different practical realities depending on the theoretical orientations assumed. It is not enough to thematize the old modes of government that we claim to have moved past. We must still be convinced that the new ways of governing really are new and that they measure up as a responsible governance for innovation and research. Marc Maesschalck’s reflexive governance, which he identified after studying different models of governance over many years, is dynamic enough to accommodate this concern. In passing we will see that it is distinct from the project of meta-governance proposed by the European research project about RRI, ResAgora1. The Belgian philosopher begins his work with an epigraph chosen from the work of the famous science philosopher Georges Canguilhem: “to make use of data in the course of a pre-existing practice, that practice must be translated into conceptual terms; theory must guide practice, not the other way around.” There is thus no place in this volume for an approach that would be satisfied with a too comfortable descriptivism. This all too common approach reduces governance to an emerging public practice rather than approaching it as a collective action coordinated by normative guidance. In fact, when the question of a new approach to ways of governing in the public interest is necessary, and must be accompanied by new methods of regulation, the question cannot be reduced to a change of hand in the center of authority or a simple balancing act between self-regulating subsystems. The author opens the “black boxes” of identity and the frameworks of action, both individual and collective, to elaborate a comprehensive and critical approach.

Reflexive governance is very ambitious. It is an experimental process that transforms the roles and forms of normative production. The innovative interpretation of norms comes to modify the behavior of the actors involved, individuals and institutions alike. This form of governance, when realized, is built on action understood as the meeting process of different interests and competing methods and knowledge in accordance with a collective process of inquiry that tends toward the resolution of problems. At the same time, this action process has effects on the participating parties as soon as the action is completed. Such a model avoids the privilege accorded to secure representations that are fixed with the identity of idealized agents. Another advantage is that this model of governance passes the test of transferability between different environments with spontaneous references particular to formative and enunciative spaces. This is important because it is a condition of mutual learning and appropriation. Envisaged in this way, governance can better resist risk of capture, counteraction or dissolution by innovative propositions.

This depth of questioning is not a theoretical luxury. On the one hand, the practice of implementing elaborated modes of governance is paved with such problems, and on the other hand, these modes draw attention to the real learning of the participants. I would add that this type of governance makes it possible to face uncertainties. Yet, these often crystallize criticisms such as the limits of utilitarian or calculative notions of responsibility that come from some RRI analysts. We may rightly ask ourselves, why appeal for the inclusion of interest groups to teach them nothing and learn nothing from them? This learning process must be established as necessary and not simply as an artificial token of participation to appease citizens and consumers.

Practically when reflexive learning focuses on modifying interpretive habits and routines, it makes it possible to better anticipate the risks of resistance and repetition. In this way, it can open up new possibilities and broaden traditional roles. Neither RRI nor other modes of governance are simply idle or ineffective stories, or simply a set of standards that must be obeyed by without interpreting, implementing and improving them. This reasoning is reminiscent of the philosopher Jean Ladrière, who provided useful insight on the subject of norms and their contexts of interpretation. The use of norms is modified depending on the needs of common experimentation and the fair sharing of knowledge about the conditions of their application. We go through a process of progressive reworking the normative expectations of different parties.

The governance supported by Marc Maesschalck is thus accompanied by a systematic and continuous organization of reflexivity in the monitoring of participation, action, modalities of conduct and even evaluation. Carrying out the processes of negotiated regulation, which he likens to deliberativism in political theory, must allow for a radical transformation of the relationships toward the norms as a pragmatic meaning of an inferential relationship to the norms, rather than in a singular and fixed expression. Norms produce their meaning progressively during the negotiated process of their application.

The recognition of conflictuality by Maesschalck is welcome if the expected governance falls within the political realm, the site of conflict recognition and treatment par excellence. This is just as true in the domain of emerging technologies and innovations that have come to reconfigure the identities and interests of the publics that are affected differently by resulting changes. This has been the case since the pragmatist John Dewey wrote his famous work, The Public and its Problems (1927), but is now more akin with the fertile field of institutional innovations in the participatory technology assessment (PTA). Volumes 4 and 5, Precautionary Principle, Pluralism and Deliberation: Science and Ethics and The Hermeneutic Side of Responsible Research and Innovation will go into more detail about the interdisciplinary and theoretical aspects under different generations and types of innovations: genetically modified organisms, synthetic biology, nanotechnologies, “enhanced” humans and animals, autonomous technologies, or robots.

This volume will also open a discussion with Volume 4 (Volume 3 in French), particularly concerning a double deliberation on the ethical and political level and the awareness of a double pluralism therein. The current volume highlights the ability of actors to participate in the transformation of their organization by mobilizing their respective capacities to combine a variety of perspectives with the common interest of finding a way to progressively modify how they contribute to its success. This goes beyond certain theoretical limits of a proceduralization of the theory of deliberative democracy and is also much closer to the conduct of real experiences, whether they are PTA, RRI, or other forms of cooperation. Responsible involvement is implemented under the authority of a governance that is itself continuously guiding a process of negotiating and applying both factual and normative significations. Note that the normative description of governance given here focuses on different understandings of responsibility, mentioned in Volume 2, notably as task, role and accountability. Subject to engagements with the process, these modifications permit not only an appropriate sharing of responsibilities but also the modification of them and their respective norms.

Echoing the Foucauldian distinction that invites us to step out of the episteme of government in favor of entering the episteme of governance, this work moves beyond functional versions of governance. It proposes a more structured version of this RRI pillar through the shifting of practices already practiced, translated into concepts and directed.

Bernard REBERDecember 2016


Governance Framework for Responsible Research and Innovation

, see:



“… to make use of data collected in the course of a preexisting practice, that practice must be translated into conceptual terms; theory must guide practice, not the other way around” [CAN 88, p. 110].

The theories of governance developed over the last 20 years provide us with a new framework for considering the collective conditions of responsible research and innovation (RRI) in conjunction with the political challenges of a society in transition in all of its regulatory aspects, including security, financial and environmental elements. However, governance falls short of the ideals established through reflections on RRI. Approaches in terms of governance theory remain marginal, and its fundamental aspects are poorly understood in the context of research work and recommendations on the subject. The functional aspects of decision implementation involved in governance are at play here, but not the critical fundamental approach that focuses on changing practices and reconstructing both roles and identities of action. We are faced with a paradox: relevant reflections on the governance of RRI, or even on governance as one of the pillars of RRI, are entirely satisfactory in functional terms; however, the connection between an approach constructed using a theory of governance of RRI and a shift in existing practice is lacking. This situation is all the more regrettable given the emergence of a reflexive governance model within the context of scientific debate in recent years [DES 10, BRO 12, BAU 06]. To take full account of this hiatus and the inherent risks for current injunctions in terms of RRI, we need to consider these elements directly from the perspective of different epistemic frameworks offered by different approaches in terms of governance theory, and to identify the ways in which they may contribute to the construction of an RRI policy.

The paradoxical element that, we feel, requires the most urgent attention lies in the fact that practical interest for governance mechanisms deflects attention from the fundamental questions of governance theory and the benefits they may confer. On the one hand, any theoretical approach to RRI, and any proposal of a coherent framework for the implementation of RRI, must take into account governance questions that are intrinsically linked to the conditions of success for this approach. The simple fact of promoting increased cohesion in current research processes, holding them accountable and increasing sensitivity in this area, making them more reactive or even proactive in this respect, inevitably leads us to consider how commitments may be evaluated, including the procedural elements relating to their governance. Increasing the legitimacy and social relevance of commitments in research and innovation also involves increasing their interaction with stakeholders in civil society, promoting more participatory models for problem solving, and improving monitoring of these practices using indicators that are more directly linked to the quality of commitments made in this direction. In this respect, there is an ideal opportunity for new approaches to governance to take a front seat in the field of added value created by socially responsible research practices.

However, alongside this movement, which has indisputable social implications, we also see that the theoretical aspect of current developments in the field of governance is completely absent from the RRI sector. While many innovative proposals have been made involving a pragmatic shift in governance toward increasing participation, co-construction of solutions, co-design and the comparison of best practices, the theoretical choices that guide these shifts and help us to understand potential risks and areas of incompatibility are noticeably absent. More fundamental epistemological issues are also involved in this proliferation of ideas and practices, notably in terms of their ability to take account of certain assumptions concerning the adaptation of actors to these new conditions of action, the collective anticipation of new risks, the contractualization of these risks, the assessment of possible effects of social resistance, free riding, suboptimality, etc. An approach based on governance theory would allow us to envisage all of the implementation mechanisms involved and to translate expectations expressed in terms of operationalization. Above and beyond avoiding a minimalist execution of bureaucratic injunctions, support is also needed for the transformations of action identities that implicitly result from this type of approach. A collective experimentation framework will not suffice.

In theoretical terms, reflexive governance offers a model centered on the collective construction of responsibility, with the aim of accumulating new knowledge resulting from the organization of partnerships between researchers and those on the ground [LEN 03, DED 14]. This model attempts to prioritize the effects of actors’ engagement in cooperative actions, shared in such a way as to create the conditions for accumulation of new knowledge via collective testing of solutions. These reflexive mechanisms for self-confrontation of knowledge and the self-assessment of norms provide a collective action framework that enables a better understanding of the benefits obtained from networking and partnerships in the production of research and innovation. In order to develop an RRI approach from the reflexive theory of governance, we must use certain theoretical resources that are not particularly well known to authors active in this area. Alongside organizational theory and political science, particularly neo-institutionalism, we must also make use of different philosophical theories of the “norm” and collective action, legal theory, and the advantages gained from a pragmatist turn taken in the field of the humanities, particularly via the development of the concept of social learning.

In order to clearly define this theoretical shift, we have chosen to begin this introduction with a brief quotation from Georges Canguilhem, a philosopher and historian of science: “to make use of data collected in the course of a preexisting practice, that practice must be translated into conceptual terms; theory must guide practice, not the other way around” [CAN 88, p. 108]. This extract hints at a certain dialectic shift, from practice to the action of governance, via theorization. Following this movement, there are two major prerequisites for the efficient governance of research. First, we must reconsider the identity tied up in an existing research practice, and defined principally by this practice; second, research must be conceptualized as a process of action that may be understood in terms of the meaning and social added value of its organization. If we wish to direct research, it is not enough to accompany and create mechanisms for monitoring practice. We must also conceptualize its potential for self-transformation, and for challenging its assumptions in terms of its interest, role and identity, in order to anticipate benefits that may initially appear irrelevant or outside of current usage.

The extract from Canguilhem also highlights the idea that specific stakes are involved in creating a capacity for research governance, which moves beyond assumptions on the basis of current practice. Furthermore, it hints at the mediating role that theorization may play in establishing the conditions for governance of this type. Reflexive governance theory may, moreover, constitute the only means of avoiding, in terms of research processes, something that Canguilhem had already noted and criticized in terms of the relationship between behavioral experts and human individuals. Canguilhem deplored the epistemological poverty of disciplines that were unable to “situate their specific behavior in relation to the historical circumstances and social circles within which they propose their methods and techniques and aim to gain acceptance for their services” [CAN 02, p. 377]; at the same time, he feared that this shortcoming might conceal an unconsidered choice, which was even more problematic, based on utilitarian behaviors1. This choice would involve putting questions of utility before questions of meaning, and treating the relationship with the social context in terms of an organizational science, aiming to optimize the learning and adaptation performances of collective intelligence. This approach to science contains an implicit idea of intelligence as measured by social utility; developed to its fullest extent, the function of research and innovation in sciences would be to guarantee the adjustment of human systems for the production of means to interact with their environmental context.

Canguilhem considers that even if this organicist approach to the social performance of science was twinned with a mechanistic approach, aiming to isolate a specific function of collective programming and directing the functional adjustment process from the exterior, it would not be possible to overcome the initial reflexive shortcoming, which would limit the whole of the approach to its interest in terms of utility. There is an illusory idea of an assumed state of social utility, allowing proponents to enter into the context of a tendering process formulated by the market or the state, without looking beyond or overcoming a perceived sense of urgency, requirement or necessity, which determines the relationship with the common interest. The real question to be posed concerns the placement of an intellectual disposition in relation to social interest. This question requires us both to know what form this social interest may take and to understand the relationship that a certain form of scientific organization might have with this interest. The only way to answer this question is to create a distinction between science and the ways in which it is organized. There is no way to guarantee a convergence of social interest and science in a strictly immanent way by supporting and promoting the capacity for self-regulation, just as this convergence cannot be ensured by programming results from the outside.

As our brief extract from Ideology and Rationality in the History of the Life Sciences demonstrates, the problem needs to addressed from another angle, that of reflexivity, which explicitly defines the meaning of a “relation to historical circumstances and social circles”, allowing us to envisage a suitable form of governance for research and innovation processes. In this case, we do not simply consider research in terms of its utility for the mechanisms of governance, as a function to invoke and control in order to increase collective aptitude to produce solutions. Instead, the aim is to initiate a collective process to transform the relationship of all of the actors concerned with their action identities, creating favorable conditions for the implementation of new forms of cooperation in the co-construction of social interests.

The hypothesis of reflexive governance, which we intend to develop within the framework of an RRI policy, is thus based on a bipartite theoretical shift. First, the hypothesis translates the question of RRI onto the plane of a theoretical approach to governance; giving a direction for research requires us to conceptualize the action involved in this research as a process where different and competing interests, methods, and knowledge meet, according to a collective process of enquiry for the purpose of solving problems. Second, the hypothesis shifts the theoretical focus onto a problem of reflexivity that is inherent in the operation of governance, i.e. the specific process by which an action acts on itself during its own implementation. The idea is that elucidating this particular relationship of the action to itself, resulting from the task of governance, gives us a greater ability to anticipate the risks of resistance and repetition that arise when attempting to modify interpretative habits and routines in order to expand the relationship to possibilities and expected roles.

We shall take a progressive approach to this hypothesis and its consequences, starting from the first shift. From this starting point, we shall consider (Chapter 1) why an approach in terms of governance theory has been lacking in the field of RRI, although the subject of governance is used in describing the modes of implementation. We shall then explain (Chapter 2) how the theory of governance has developed, and how reflexivity in relation to a second mode was included from the outset in order to complete an organizational action plan. Following this, we will examine this first “genealogy” of governance theory, which leads on to our second shift, concerning reflexivity. Our objective is to demonstrate (Chapter 3) the advantages to be gained from a more rigorous treatment of reflexivity considered as a front-line operation, allowing us to explore an internal zone of development within action. This forms the basis for a discussion (Chapter 4) of the main aspects of a reflexive governance theory. In Chapter 5, we shall demonstrate the advantages of this approach when it is used explicitly to tackle the conditions for implementing an RRI policy. Chapter 6 is devoted to a reconsideration of the proposed approach, this time from the perspective of the political philosophy of intellectual intervention in the surrounding society.


Canguilhem’s work is particularly relevant to this context due to his willingness to question the social function of scientific practices, even at the risk of being misunderstood. Some of his arguments against the misuse of psychology in administrative recruitment and selection processes [CAN 02, p. 376] continue to have an impact to this day in the assessment of his work. However, these efforts to gain the clearest possible understanding and to challenge the conditions of governaning scientific reason have led other researchers to see his work as, essentially, a radical critique of the technicist construction of the social [GUC 10, p. 260–261; MAE 15a].

1RRI and Governance Theory

For the moment, we shall provide a simple and operational definition of governance, alongside a brief summary of the history of its success in the language of the social sciences. These questions will be considered in greater detail in Chapter 2. Our purpose in this chapter is to demonstrate the lack of consideration of the perspective of governance theory in responsible research and innovation (RRI) and to consider both the reasons and consequences of this shortcoming. From this starting point, our aim is to promote a shift in the axes of reflection and to convince our readers of the interest presented by an approach to RRI constructed in terms of governance theory and reflexive governance.

1.1. Definition of a minimum concept of governance

From the mid-1990s onward, different intellectual approaches aimed to respond to the debates created by deregulation practices and proposed pathways for a positive redefinition of the roles of public and private actors in order to balance the markets. This trend may be seen in work by authors such as Braithwaite and Ayres [AYR 92] Freeman [FRE 97], Ostrom [OST 97] or Rhodes [RHO 97]. These studies are focused on the emergence of new types of cooperative behavior, blurring the traditional separation between regulator and regulatee. When the traditional procedures used to control exchanges in the marketplace are modified, new questions appear, particularly due to the fact that policies guaranteeing the best interest of the public may no longer be guaranteed using the same methods as before. If we deconstruct the model of an authority that operates using orders and sanctions, issued from a dominant position, then we need to define new strategies to represent the interest of third parties, treat external implications resulting from contractual activities, imagine new means of external or remote control, and share and evaluate missions of public interest. The White Paper of the European Commission, published in 2001, is an excellent illustration of these new concerns. This can be seen simply by looking at, and considering the links between, the five principles of “good governance” found within the White Paper: we need to identify the means of establishing a new division of responsibilities, ensuring the efficiency and coherence of the established mechanisms, while remaining vigilant regarding the development of participation within a framework of transparency. We thus see a progressive development of how the requirements resulting from a fundamental reorganization of the modes of market regulation are understood: collective responsibility must be reconstructed from new bases, with new legislative and operational tools, conserving its aims of extrapolating and including the interests of the greatest number, while maintaining legitimate authority with the power to control and sanction. Rosanvallon expressed this structure of producing generality simply as a combination of three specific forms of legitimacy: impartiality, reflexivity and proximity. In a recomposed and globalized commercial society, the authority of public interest can no longer be exercised by a technical bureaucracy proposing generalist measures in combination with contextual requirements and particularities. The neutrality of the commons must, instead, be constructed on the basis of reflected interactions with particular situations.

Several large-scale crises during the years 1995–2015 finally led to an awareness of the constraints imposed by the new order of the globalized economy in attempts to reconstruct, within this context, a true policy of public interest. We shall analyze this development in greater detail in Chapter 2. However, it is important to note that researchers at work in the 1990s already had a relatively clear idea of coming challenges, even within their minimalist approaches to the concept of governance. They identified two fundamental aspects: first, the need for new types of relationships between public and private actors, and second, a transformation of the modes of organizing collective actions involving these different actors. There is, therefore, a need not only for new types of collaboration – with the implication of new roles – but also for innovation in the forms of action allowing interactions between these roles. Upholding the idea of governance in the place of market regulation and economic government challenges not only action identities, but also the action structures that make it possible to create a collective regime. We may reconsider a definition put forward by Renate Mayntz in this light:

“Governance is the type of regulation typical of the cooperative state, where state and non-state actors participate in mixed public/private policy networks” [MAY 02, p. 21].

Using this minimal definition, roles are characterized by the idea of participation, which creates a symmetry between the actors involved. The State is an actor involved in regulation processes and, as such, is placed on an equal footing with other, non-State, actors. This situation modifies the action identity of the State, which is, furthermore, labeled “cooperative State”. This new collective regime is also dependent on a new action structure in order to function. This structure is the network specifying how a combination of private and public actors may be made up to allow it to operate in the field of regulation.

Evidently, there are many areas that still require clarification. These essentially result from a generally descriptivist position with regard to governance, considered, using this definition, as a sort of emerging public practice, rather than as a coordinated collective action with normative guidance. In order to go further, we must open the black boxes of identity and action structures in order to create a critical and more specific approach. Studies of this type only started to become systematic in the mid-2000s, notably in legal theory, which had lagged behind other areas with regard to governance. Initially, governance was only seen, in this domain, as a specific form of interaction between judicial and economic normativity1.

However, the question of a new approach to means of governance in the public interest, with the proposal of new methods of economic regulation, can never be reduced to a shift in the center of authority (governance without the State), nor to simply abandoning attempts to further the general interest in order to create a balance between self-regulating subsystems. The notion of governance is therefore more ambitious, aiming to identify new combinations in order to extrapolate general interest and produce suitable normative frameworks [BRO 11]. This is why we have focused on the aspect of action identities and action structures, the key element of even minimalist and mostly descriptive approaches. Governance is an experimental process, aiming to transform roles and forms of normative production. The aim is to try out new forms of actor behaviors, displayed by actors who are themselves guided by an innovative use of norms.

The advantage of this minimalist approach is that it highlights the strong connections between a theory of governance, still in its infancy in the 1990s, and organization theory. This essentially relates to the capacity of the actors involved in an organization to participate in its transformation, making use of their collective ability to combine a plurality of points of view on the common interest, resulting in a progressive modification of their ways of furthering this common interest. Charles Sabel, notably, insisted on the fact that one of the major characteristics of post-Fordist organization is its ability to capitalize on extreme cases requiring a change from routine practice [SAB 89]. Earlier, theorists such as Argyris and Schön had already highlighted the power of questioning the basic beliefs of actors involved in institutional operation [ARG 78, ARG 96]. Systematic and structural reconsideration of these experimental shifts does not take place of its own accord, but it is possible to create favorable conditions, organize and create processes for them in such a way as to provide additional input regarding the development processes of an organization. The spotlight is thus on the ability of a system to organize and direct change, and to couple this ability with certain specific resources, including actors, their interactions and the norms that determine these actions.

Taking this reflection further, we see why researchers who have used this paradigm of change governance have attempted to broaden the field of actors who may be involved in this type of process. In the field of healthcare, for example, this has resulted in a greater focus on the potential roles of patients and operatives in the more “auxiliary” medical professions within major care establishments.

While the minimalist approach to governance involves an extension in the definition of actors involved in the process, it also creates additional demands in terms of understanding roles in relation to norms. Their use may change according to a shared experimental need, a desire for fairness and for knowledge sharing regarding conditions of application. Developing contacts between actors, involved in the activities concerned by a regulation in different ways, is dependent on the use of suitable tools, making use of uncertain regimes and suboptimal approaches, with new markers and indications of satisfaction. In Agir dans un monde incertain, Michel Callon, Pierre Lascoumes and Yannick Barthe showed the extent to which innovative and participatory approaches to a problem involve a multiplication of hybrid and decentralized forms of negotiation, in complete contrast with conventional forms [CAL 01]. At the same time, there is an increase in the quality of debate and in the variety of information sources [CAL 01, p. 223], as in many cases where the involvement of local residents or users has resulted in the refinement of an analysis and a consideration of solutions lying outside the scope of an approach based exclusively on parameters available to experts. However, the added value provided by what Americans have come to call regulatory negotiation processes or negotiated rule making, which is more fully fleshed out in deliberativist approaches to political philosophy and democratic theory, can only be fully exploited when accompanied by a radical transformation of the relationship to norms, toward something which pragmatists have referred to as an “inferential relationship”. Using this approach, instead of being considered as fixed and delimited truths, norms only acquire their full meaning progressively via the negotiated process of application. Hence, in the absence of externally defined certainties, constituting a benchmark of truth and guaranteed by an authority with the capacity to validate interpretations, a new action structure is needed in a regime of uncertainty. This seems to take the form of the authority responsible for guiding the process of negotiating the continual meaning of common truths, the responsibility inherent to participation in a process of this type and finally the reconstruction of a collective relationship to norms resulting from the process.

Consider, for example, the involvement of patient collectives in reforming the services offered by a health insurance company with relation to chronic conditions. Up to what point should the mechanism, and, furthermore, the collective itself, continue to operate? Might this be simply a variation of consultation processes in a representative system, or a means of reinforcing the assertiveness of some of the stakeholders in a system, in order to increase the collective intelligence of its governance function? Is there, then, a need to transform the governance of the system itself, and, if so, how?

Limiting our discussion to two elements, action identities and action structures, the field opened by governance theory in the 1990s is vast. However, it took almost 20 years for the full intellectual implications of this development to be clearly understood within the social sciences. To use a Foucaultian expression, this constitutes a change in épistémè, leaving behind the épistémè of government in order to enter the épistémè of governance. This radical change, we feel, explains the difficulty inherent in understanding the development from a specific field; as there is a fundamental modification of all representations of power relationships, the change can only truly be understood from a point in the past or the future. It must either be reinterpreted using the terms of the old model, or seen in the light of a new model, used to analyze problems and reformulate old questions along these new lines. In this case, the question of analysis in terms of governance is particularly complex: using the terms of the old model, it does not exist; using the terms of the new model, it is explained in terms of itself. Returning to our “minimal” definition, does it make sense, in the épistémè of government, to speak of a change in the role of the public order responsible for making and applying rules in order to create rules differently through cooperation? No. Does it make sense, in the épistémè of government, to imagine mixed action structures connecting actors from the private sector with those from the public sector? No. A gray area emerges. Clearly, the outdated épistémè will attempt to adapt and to expand its vocabulary, using all possible means of self-preservation and maintaining control over the description of what it is undergoing. However, acting in such a way prohibits it from grasping this transformation.

1.2. RRI and governance theory

While scientific literature on RRI is a recent development, given the context of the subject’s political emergence, work in this area has benefitted from the results of studies in the areas of technology assessment [KLI 96, BER 91] and research ethics [DOU 02]. Furthermore, the choice of a strong legal concept, such as responsibility, present in the corporate world for several decades and also assists in identifying doctrinal foundations in connected domains. However, these resources have not contributed to considerations of RRI in terms of governance theory. Admittedly, the issues involved in this approach were not particularly present in existing practice within disciplines. Researchers noted, in the late 1990s [STO 98, PET 98], that governance questions needed to be treated in a less descriptive manner according to the different processes of collective action in the fields of both private and public management. However, the use of theory is essentially limited to the creation of analysis grids used to compare different ways of applying of these practices in the light of the situation of implementation [EWA 01]. Additional general reference to theoretical questions is often limited to listing principles of “good governance” as a series of axioms or umbrella terms, covering the value of stakeholder involvement, the role of collaborative assessment or the contributions of participative design [JEL 16]. In the best of cases, these umbrella terms reflect a global form of production of democratic existence, following the model of deliberative democracy [BOE 04, p. 2] so as to highlight the functions of both participation and expansion of interaction between all parties concerned with finding a solution. The loop may appear to be closed when the theoretical question is limited to a simple formalization of the underlying attention process; the action of organization is no longer centered on the results to obtain, but on the manner of “proceduralizing” the way in which they are obtained [SCH 14, p. 25–26]. Following this functionalism, which is sometimes implicit, institutions then simply require support in self-adapting to their new environments, helping them to define their priorities and to avoid falling back into old routines. However, authors who wish to select coherent mechanisms following a specific teleology cannot subscribe to these functionalist fictions and must explore more complex levels of theorization, for example by defining a type of rationality, such as “collaborative rationality” [INN 03], or a form of institution-specific collective action, such as democratic experimentalism [SAB 12]. Elucidation of the type of rationality being used is, in fact, the only means of elucidating the mass of principles and values, adjusted from time to time to suit current practice and collected in a sort of recipe book, in order to identify a coherent perspective regarding their notions of action, norms, and the institutions involved in shared living [APE 88, LAD 77a].

A systematic approach to RRI issues in terms of governance theory finally emerged within the framework of European scientific policy in 2013. We shall begin by giving an outline of this fundamental change, before discussing the reasons why it did not occur earlier, and why it is still far from universal in work on RRI.

1.2.1. The transition toward questions of governance in RRI policy

It may appear strange that the modes of governance used in major European projects linked to the framework programme (FP) only became the object of specific reflection and assessment, in terms of their effective capacity to articulate the production of scientific knowledge and its potential social uses, from the 2010s. It seems that a clear connection between the social principles promoted by the FPs and the capacity to develop other forms of research governance, with the ability to convert these principles into collective commitments, was only made at this point. However, odd this may seem, the European Commission only recognized the need for true reflection on possible modes of governance for research and on the underlying paradigms in the wake of problems and challenges identified within the 6th and 7th Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development, alongside the adoption of RRI in the Horizon 2020 programme. This resulted in the creation of the Governance for Responsible innovation (GREAT) project in 2013, with the aim of “developing a model (…) of the role of RRI governance” with the capacity to inform political decision makers regarding the integration of responsibility or responsible innovation in future research activity. We shall now attempt to trace the history of this change.

In 2009 and 2010, the team responsible for evaluating FPs 6 and 7 highlighted three aspects for improvement, all of which concerned different facets of research project governance. The first concerned the limited involvement of industrial actors with regard to the articulation of knowledge production and technological innovation practices [EVA 09, p. 46–47]2. The second aspect took account of certain progress that had already been made to encourage female participation in research, but noted that current results in this domain remain unsatisfactory3. The third aspect questioned the transparency of the knowledge production process and innovation practices. Once again, further progress is needed4. Moreover, the FP evaluations did not simply highlight the progress needed in terms of transparency in knowledge production, but also indicated the need for education