Research and Scientific Advice in the Second Modernity: Technology Assessment, Responsible Research and Innovation, and Sustainability Research
2. First and Second Modernity
…a shorthand term for modern society, or industrial civilization. Portrayed in more detail, it is associated with (1) a certain set of attitudes towards the world, the idea of the world as open to transformation, by human intervention; (2) a complex of economic institutions, especially industrial production and a market economy; (3) a certain range of political institutions, including the nation-state and mass democracy. Largely as a result of these characteristics, modernity is vastly more dynamic than any previous type of social order. It is a society—more technically, a complex of institutions—which, unlike any preceding culture, lives in the future, rather than the past. (p. 94)
3. Problem-Oriented Research in the Second Modernity
3.1. Technology Assessment
supporting, strengthening and enhancing reflexivity in all epistemic and social fields of reasoning and decision-making on shaping the scientific and technological advance, on the usage of its outcomes and on dealing with the consequences to present and future society.
- Anticipation: TA creates and assesses prospective knowledge about future consequences of technology in a future society, whether intended or unintended, in various forms providing different types of orientation . Enhancing reflexivity means broadening the range of futures considered and making the underlying assumptions, narratives, convictions, values, etc. explicit in order to strengthen reflected and enlightened reasoning, deliberation and decision making.
- Inclusion: TA’s mission includes involving the perspectives and values of affected actors and groups on the technology under consideration [27,28]. Inclusion in TA consists of a social process with legitimization-creating properties with an epistemic process, which integrates knowledge from different sources. Enhancing reflexivity with respect to inclusion means broadening the perspectives and pieces of knowledge to be involved, and uncovering possible winner/loser configurations and trade-offs in a transparent manner across perspectives.
- Complexity: Enhancing reflexivity on anticipation and inclusion has no in-built stop rule. Therefore, TA must include strategies to prevent complexity overload. Reflection is required on what is regarded as relevant, and why, in the respective context. Enhancing reflexivity over issues of relevance means uncovering the arguments behind propositions of relevance, scrutinizing them, and making them transparent to the actors involved in order to arrive at a legitimate balance between the needs for operability and the wish to enhance reflexivity in anticipation and inclusion.
3.2. Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)
a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view to the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability, and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products in order to allow a proper embedding of scientific and technological advances in our society.
- Actor level: Reflexivity applies to responsibilities and their distribution among actors involved in innovation processes. What “responsible” means in a specific context will strongly depend on values, rules, customs, etc. . The assignment of responsibility follows social rules based on ethical, cultural, and legal considerations and customs  (p. 173) but also needs dialogue and negotiation to take place in particular social and political configurations. Accordingly, three dimensions of the concept of responsibility have to be observed: the empirical dimension of the social actors involved, the ethical dimension reflecting normative criteria for denoting actions as responsible or not, and the epistemic dimension referring to the knowledge available about the object of responsibility.
- Process level: RRI supports second modernity via emphasizing and reflecting the procedural dimension of innovation, i.e., procedures of making innovations, of their spread as well as of the responsibilities involved. TA in large parts is dedicated to addressees in democratic institutions, highlighting its function as policy advice, which is reminiscent of first modernity ideas on representative democracy but enriched by ideas from deliberative democracy. RRI prefers the supporting self-organization of civil society and, in particular, the economy, for arriving at right impacts by proper innovation processes (cp. Section 4).
3.3. Sustainability Research (SR)
- Cybernetic learning cycles: Any sustainability policy is confronted with—often highly—uncertain knowledge and provisional assessments (e.g., ). It cannot be taken for granted whether and to what extent a political measure, a technological innovation, or a new institutional arrangement will really contribute to sustainable development when actually applied. Therefore, every sustainability policy has to become—in a certain sense—experimental  and reflexive . It is crucial to exploit the widest range of opportunities for learning in implementing practical measures, and to avoid irreversible effects and path dependencies as far as possible. To this end, careful monitoring of the factual effects of measures is required, as well as the willingness to modify, further develop, or even replace the previously implemented measures. In this sense, the road to a more sustainable future is incremental ), in spite of the magnitude of the challenge. It must allow for learning by empirical evidence during the series of incremental steps against the normative sustainability framework guiding the process. In this reflexive way, monitoring, learning, adaptation of measures to new insights, i.e., forming cybernetic learning cycles, are at the core of sustainability governance , and these are also typical elements of second modernity.
- Meaning of sustainable development: The Leitbild of sustainability does not provide a fixed and operable set of criteria ready for application. Rather, it consists of a discursive framework full of ambivalences and conflicts. While this includes a normative core with the imperatives of responsibility for the future and equity in the present, which serves as an orientating compass, it cannot simply be applied as an axiological frame for assessment and guiding action. For example, the Brundtland definition  does not determine how to act in a specific context, e.g., to restructure public transport in a region, or to re-organize an industrial production process. Instead, this definition gives rough orientation for determining appropriate assessment criteria and developing action strategies. Thus, while deducing or deriving appropriate actions directly from the sustainability definition is not possible, careful reasoning, deliberation, and negotiation are required. These necessarily involve questions about the specific meaning of sustainable development beyond the orientation provided by the Brundtland definition, in particular, for dealing with trade-offs and determining priorities. Reflecting sustainable development meaning also relates to the necessity of learning mentioned above, because practical experience can give rise to modifications of the previously determined substantial understanding of sustainable development in order to better fit the abstract Brundtland principle. Therefore, reflection on the meaning of sustainable development must accompany the governance and management of sustainability strategies.
4. Comparison along Cross-Cutting Issues
- Anticipation: The necessity of anticipation as well as the necessity of reflexivity on anticipation is common to TA, RRI, and SR. It may address issues such as unintended consequences, desired impacts, transformative effects, and uncertainties involved in different composition and accentuation. Reflexivity on anticipation probably has a stronger tradition in TA and SR compared with RRI, but the overarching necessity for reflection on futures and over time [7,41] holds for all three.
- Inclusion and engagement: For different reasons, the involvement in projects of stakeholders, citizens, people affected, etc. is a conviction common to TA, RRI, and SR. Co-design of the research agenda and co-production of knowledge in transdisciplinary research, user integration in innovation processes, and participatory TA (e.g., ) follow similar ideas of empowerment and deliberative democracy.
- Complexity management: Complexity is an issue in TA, RRI, and SR, concerning the systems to be analyzed, options to be explored, actors to be involved, knowledge to be taken into account, etc. Reflexivity regarding relevance, e.g., to determine system boundaries, is crucial, particularly in TA and SR, e.g., in performing prospective Life Cycle Assessments.
- Epistemology: TA, RRI, and SR add to traditional scientific epistemology by involving extra-scientific knowledge and by anticipating futures. Social epistemology provides an adequate theoretical framework for knowledge created under conditions of anticipation and inclusion [1,45]. It treats cognition as result of social interaction and collective achievement, oriented by requirements of cognitive quality and, as far as possible, of scientific evidence.
- TA, RRI, and SR as well have to cope with the necessity of contextualization in order to be able to come up not only with analytic knowledge but also with knowledge for action, e.g., for problem solving in the respective fields. This necessity leads to the well-known tension with the scientific imperative to achieve transferable and generalizable knowledge. All three research approaches have accumulated knowledge regarding how to deal with this tension. It would be highly valuable to explore opportunities for mutual learning, e.g., at the level of methodology .
- While TA has its roots in national governance regimes, according to history , and while RRI emerged out of highly industrialized countries, SR had to cope with global and intercultural issues from its very beginning . Further research could explore opportunities for mutual learning in order to support reflexive modernization at the global level and intercultural respect by scientific research, supported and underpinned by e.g., comparative country studies. Recent activities toward a global TA  could be taken as point of departure.
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Conflicts of Interest
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|Outcome||advice to policymakers and society||social and technical innovation||transformation measures and strategies|
|Empirical objects to be reflected||socio-technical futures (e.g., along assumed consequences of technology)||processes of innovation governance and roles of actors||socio-ecological and socio-economic systems and their dynamics over time|
|Main target of reflexivity||opening up and assessing options as well as reducing complexity||responsibilities and their distribution for innovation governance||measures, effects and cybernetic learning loops|
|Meaning to be clarified||societal meaning of socio-technical futures||meaning of responsibility||meaning of sustainable development|
|Governance: primary actors||democratic institutions and the public||innovators, companies, managers, citizens||policymakers, industry, consumers|
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Grunwald, A. Research and Scientific Advice in the Second Modernity: Technology Assessment, Responsible Research and Innovation, and Sustainability Research. Sustainability 2021, 13, 10406. https://doi.org/10.3390/su131810406
Grunwald A. Research and Scientific Advice in the Second Modernity: Technology Assessment, Responsible Research and Innovation, and Sustainability Research. Sustainability. 2021; 13(18):10406. https://doi.org/10.3390/su131810406Chicago/Turabian Style
Grunwald, Armin. 2021. "Research and Scientific Advice in the Second Modernity: Technology Assessment, Responsible Research and Innovation, and Sustainability Research" Sustainability 13, no. 18: 10406. https://doi.org/10.3390/su131810406