This paper contributes to the sustainability debate by analyzing the inclusion dimension in the responsible research and innovation (RRI) process. RRI is claimed to be an important tool for addressing global challenges and achieving sustainable development goals. While stakeholder involvement is considered to be imperative for the RRI process, there is little empirical evidence on (1) who the stakeholders participating in the RRI process are; (2) when stakeholders participate; (3) how stakeholders’ inclusion contributes to the sustainable innovation process; and (4) who the agents are who orchestrate stakeholders’ inclusion. This paper addresses the issue of stakeholder involvement through the lens of innovation management literature by attempting to link the innovation process to the responsibility concept. We employed a meta-synthesis of empirical studies of RRI to develop a deep understanding of stakeholder inclusion. After screening 139 articles, we identified seven empirical papers highlighting RRI process, mainly from projects nested in academic contexts. The findings indicate that multiple stakeholders are included at a late stage of the innovation process—during the market launch. To some extent, this allows for the adaptation of the solution, but such adaptations are limited in nature. This study also identifies the agents who stimulate stakeholder inclusion as being mainly academic researchers and researchers linked to multi-institutional projects. Our findings indicate that innovation management thinking is rarely applied in the governance of research and innovation projects ‘born’ in academia. We suggest enhancing RRI theoretical development by incorporating elements of innovation management such as early inclusion of users in the innovation process. For practitioners, this means an extension of the design space to allow early stakeholder inclusion in the innovation process to ensure responsible outcomes. We also identified avenues for future research. There is a need to systematically investigate which tools and frameworks for deliberate stakeholder inclusion are relevant at the various stages of the innovation and development process.
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