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Science and technology policies around the world are placing new pressures on laboratories to address broader societal dimensions of their work in ways that have the potential to influence the content of science and engineering activities themselves – presumably for the better (Fisher and Mahajan, 2006).
Despite longstanding calls for collaborations between natural and human scientists to achieve this goal, neither the capacity of laboratories to respond to such pressures nor the role that interdisciplinary collaborations may play in enhancing responsiveness is well understood or empirically supported. It is crucial to overcome these limitations in order to design, implement and assess effective programs aimed at responsible innovation.
To address these limitations, the Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) project is conducting a coordinated set of 20 laboratory engagement studies to assess and compare the varying pressures on – and capacities for – laboratories to integrate broader societal considerations into their work. A core group of ten doctoral students each conduct two paired laboratory studies that extend more traditional ethnographies by engaging researchers in semi-structured interactions designed to enhance reflection upon research decisions in light of broader considerations.
"Initial results from STIR project field studies are in some cases strongly suggestive of both the possibility and the utility of conducting hands-on, lab-based socio-technical integration activities between social and natural scientists,” according to Erik Fisher, STIR PI.
The objectives of the STIR project as a whole, as well as each paired study, are to:
Doctoral students base their studies on a protocol developed by PI Fisher during a previous 33-month laboratory engagement study. This study provides preliminary evidence that such activities enable laboratory work to become more sensitive to its potential societal implications, without compromising laboratory research, education or strategic goals. The STIR project is investigating whether these results are applicable across a diverse and globally distributed range of labs and in a less time- and labor-intensive manner.
The intellectual merit of the STIR project consists in its extension of the laboratory study as a basis for interdisciplinary collaborations; its timely and comparative investigation of emerging international pressures on research; its multi-sited investigation of the capacity for a diverse set of laboratories in 10 different countries to participate in responsible innovation; and the globally engaged and communal form of graduate education that it will pilot and for which it will establish a platform.
The STIR project:
The STIR project is co-funded through the NSF programs in Science, Technology & Society; Biology and Society; Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Society; Science of Science and Innovation Policy; and Office of International Science and Engineering. The project is administered through CNS-ASU.