Getting on the same page – Interview with Giulia Bubbolini

All of us have tried convincing someone of something in our lifetime. It can be tough. Now try getting politicians, businesses, academics, researchers, community members and their grandparents to all agree on the best way to conduct research. Cassi Camilleri sits down with Giulia Bubbolini to find out what we need to do to make that happen.

‘There is a language barrier between stakeholders when it comes to implementing Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI),’ Giulia says. ‘But it is nothing more than that.’ Behind all of the agendas, aims and intentions, innovation is about being better—a goal most share. ‘We don’t want to live in any of those dystopian TV series that we love to watch. So if there is something that can be done, I want to be a part of it,’ Giulia muses. And she is.


Giulia Bubbolini during the Alchemical Workshop

Working at the Italian Centre for Innovation and Economic Development for the last two decades, Giulia has been a champion for inclusivity in progress. She was there to push for corporate social responsibility from the late 1990s. She was there to sell the European Union concept to big enterprise when it was in its infancy. Now, she is at the forefront of integrating RRI into policy making at multiple levels. The common thread among all these challenges, according to Giulia, was collaboration.  ‘We all have to work together.’

To date, examples of where public policy implemented RRI principles are numbered. Referring to her knowledge from “Interreg Europ” MARIE, an EU project mapping the presence of RRI in policymaking, Giulia admitted that, ‘there is no policy instrument that embeds RRI as a whole.’ However, she was also quick to point out that a lot of service design elements are being introduced on local levels.

Being more down to earth may be something we need to do, Giulia points out. She notes how small and medium enterprises have, in the past, been dismissed and demonised for not contributing to RRI implementation. And this needs to stop. ‘You can’t set aside small and medium enterprises, dismissing them for not understanding, for not making time and calling them evil. No, no. They’re there. Small and medium enterprises make up 90% of the EU’s economy. They drive business,’ she emphasises. Instead, Giulia advises innovators to introduce new processes and products through concepts businesses already know. ‘You can be a gamechanger. Of course, you can. But you have to explain the new rules in their language. This is why I think there are ways to mainstream responsible innovation. Let’s start talking about accessibility. Start from what they know and have heard of before,’ she urges.

Giulia Bubbolini during the Policy Lab session

After all, researchers and businesses have a plethora of shared goals. A company wants to advance and continue to see to the needs of their clients. Failing to do so would see profits dwindle. And what is RRI about if not responding to the publics’ needs? ‘RRI from a company’s perspective is about being able to respond to customer’s needs, not in reference to the core features of a product or service, but what they expect in general about their quality of life now and in the future,’ Giulia explains.

And if you are speaking to a policymaker, the same concepts apply. ‘Their job is to engage with people. They’re under pressure due to their limited time in office, but local policy has a lot of impact on people, and it brings change. They need the people’s support to do their work. People won’t get on board if they’re not involved. If they don’t have a say on it.’

The main takeaway from all this? There are allies everywhere. We just need to find them.

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