Responsible Research Innovation

The A.R.E.A Framework

This year we have implemented the AREA framework created by Professor Richard Owen. The framework was introduced to us by Dr Sarah Hartley, a social scientist at the University of Exeter. We wanted to use it to ensure that our project incorporates RRI (Responsible Research and Innovation).

AREA stands for Anticipate, Reflect, Engage and Act. This framework was designed to modify research and innovation in response to societal issues. The framework is both systematic and iterative to allow for continuously flexible decision making between stakeholders and innovators with a view on ethical acceptability, sustainability and social desirability. Initially we considered this framework to be a rigid structure and were following the steps in order of Anticipate, Reflect, Engage and Act. However, we realised that it may not be suitable to do this; a meeting with Dr Sarah Hartley confirmed this. For our project, it was important to work fluidly with the framework depending on the purpose of meetings and the progression of the project.


This involves continuous consideration of how you want the innovation you are designing and introducing into society to shape the future of society. It's important to question in what ways you want your research to change the future and pay close attention to the associated risk and implications for society and the environment.

It was important to gain information from stakeholders to help our understanding of the specific impacts of our project and then have internal meetings to discuss how we can act upon these. It also served a useful starting point for reflection. For example, interacting with Greenpeace allowed us to anticipate the issues surrounding the use of GM organisms in the field and the need for secure containment of any such organisms. We therefore began looking into methods for biosecurity. Click here for further information


Reflection is about considering the motivations behind a project to ensure the purpose of the research is fully understood. It involves thinking about the evolution of the project and most importantly ensuring that the research, and innovation, is still in line with the societal issue you want it to solve.

Meetings with stakeholders often stimulated reflection, such as our meeting with a representative from Plymouth Marine Laboratory which allowed us to reflect on some of our initial ideas for our filtration system and refine them accordingly (Click here for further information). However, we generally found reflection was an internal process that allowed us to make educated decisions and allowed us to consider the broader questions surrounding our project. It also made it easier to identify the relevant stakeholders.


This part of the framework is about identifying and communicating with stakeholders who have expertise in the areas required to influence your research. A wide range of stakeholders and members of the general public should be involved to get a full range of perspectives.

We found it important to find out as much as we could around our chosen research area before identifying the stakeholders who would be able to provide us with the knowledge we required. Maintaining a dialogue with stakeholders to ensure we continually engaged with them to utilise their expertise to help shape our project.

Visiting the Veolia water treatment plant allowed us to engage with directly with the current stakeholders involved with tackling metal ion pollution from the Wheal Jane site. Click here for further information


To act is to take on board advice from stakeholders and actively use this information to influence and make changes to the project. It's important for researchers to remain flexible in their response, considering all views before change the trajectory of the project

Throughout our project our decisions were highly influenced by direction gained from both academics and stakeholders.

By giving our own RRI lectures to current Bioscience students we are enabling future research to be governed by the principles of RRI. Click here for further information


Struck by the information we gained through our work into human practices we were disappointed to find that approaches, such as RRI, were not emphasised in the Biosciences courses at the University. We felt a responsibility to communicate and share the knowledge we had gained over the summer to our peers and so organised to give lectures to both college students and Biosciences undergraduates, click here to read about it!

To see how the use of the AREA framework into the project helped shape our project, see the pdf below which describes how it was continuously implemented in our stakeholder engagement and internal meetings.