Initiation of cross-learning efforts


Cross-learning is an important cornerstone of PRO-Ethics. It aims to release the full potential of the pilot projects through the mutual exchange of experiences and learnings by the participating Research Funding Organisations (RFOs). The first steps of this process were taken earlier this year with the first of three cross-learning workshops, which focused on the ethical practices and challenges of the participating RFOs.

The workshop, arranged by DBT and ZSI, was conducted online over the course of two days, with each focussing on a different aspect of the RFOs’ experiences with implementing both the Phase I and future pilots. The first day centred on the exchange of experiences and challenges of applying ethics and participatory methods. Building on these reflections, the second day focused on collectively reviewing and providing input for the Reporting and Assessment Tool crucial for fostering further analysis, review, and thus future learnings during the PRO-Ethics pilots of Phase II.

Joint reflection on ethical challenges

Throughout the first day, several topics such as the anchoring of a participatory approach and engaging stakeholders and citizens in practice were discussed amongst the RFOs. Additionally, some time was allotted for RFOs to present concrete challenges experienced within their pilots and have them discussed with their peers in breakout sessions. The day thus offered discussions on both shared and unique challenges, as explained by Marie Louise Jørgensen, Senior Project Manager at DBT:

“What we wanted for this first day of the workshop was for the RFOs to reflect jointly on some of the challenges present in the pilots. On the one hand, this means the general issues encountered of which most RFOs are already aware, but more importantly also in terms of those not so universal issues found in the different contexts in which the RFOs and their projects operate. The sentiment being that these might resonate with others going forward.”

Ultimately, the talks also led to several recommendations being brought forward by some RFOs. For instance, one key recommendation referred to the need for highly flexible planning of projects, to enable them to consider and potentially address unexpected findings and inputs from stakeholders as they emerge. Another recommendation called for careful consideration when engaging citizens. For while it may seem viable to involve citizens across a broad demographic spectrum, this is not the case for all participative processes. Early reflection and screening of the types of knowledge and groups that are relevant to a given question may instead help sharpen the overall discussions and quality of a given process.

Securing future learning

Most of the second day went towards fine-tuning the Reporting and Assessment Tool with which pilots will be documenting and reflecting on their progress going forward. As this tool is essential for several other aspects of PRO-Ethics, the joint evaluation aimed to ensure that it pursues both meaningful and answerable inquiries for RFOs to consider as they move forward with their pilots. Thus, RFOs got together in groups to discuss how the practical dimensions of ethics and participation could best be reported on in practice.
By doing so, RFOs could reflect on their own experiences while contributing to the development of the Reporting and Assessment Tool. The ZSI moderation team Ilse Marschalek and Maria Schrammel emphasised:

“Within these discussions it was important not only to define main requirements to be evaluated and reported by the pilots, but also to discuss how to turn them into “doable demands” which can be met by the RFOs and which are replicable in other contexts, too.”

This resulted in a good amount of input which will lessen frustrations and ensure the quality of reporting in the future. All in all, the outcome of the two days will thus be one that will enrich the remainder of PRO-Ethics as Kristoffer Rekve, Project Manager at DBT, adds:

“While the issues that the early pilots were dealing with might not be equally relevant to all at the moment, the collected insights of the workshop activities will certainly prove valuable as the participating RFOs move forward with the planning and enactment of their future pilot activities.”

It will be some time before the next cross-learning workshop takes place in the summer of 2022. The RFOs of PRO-Ethics will have time to plan, initiate and carry out a great deal of their upcoming pilot activities in the meantime, giving them plenty of new insights and experiences to share then.

Published 04.09.2020