AFINO: A network and learning centre for responsible research and innovation in Norway

AFINO is a Norwegian center for responsible research and innovation, which also incorporates futures literacy thinking and practices.

By Lisa Scordato, NIFU, and Giovanni de Grandis, NTNU

Innovations capture our imagination, our hopes and our fears. Innovation may spur economic growth and transform societies but are they bringing about the world we want?

Are we directing research and innovation towards desirable goals and a more sustainable future? Are we involving everyone who is affected, and who can contribute towards reaching these goals?

These are some of the critical questions which will be explored in AFINO, a newly established network and learning centre in Norway.

The aim of the centre is to establish broad dialogues and shared commitments to ensure that innovation contributes to a more just, inclusive and sustainable society. It explores how research and innovation may better address future societal challenges through research and learning laboratories.

AFINO organizes activities and events to promote better integration between researchers, the industry, the community and policy makers to build an understanding of responsible innovation in Norway.

Headed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), AFINO consists of a network of university and research institute partners. The Centre was launched in November 2019 and receives funding from the Research Council of Norway for five years. 

The Research Council of Norway

The Research Council of Norway (RCN) is a government agency that that allocates funds to research and innovation within all fields. RCN advises the authorities on research and research policy and is also tasked with creating meeting places for researchers, trade and industry, public actors and other users of research.

RCN is currently experimenting with 3rd generation research and innovation policy, or Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP).

It can be noted that the experiments represent aspirations for learning and development in the research and innovation system broadly enough understood to encompass the research council level. TIP is motivated by a failure to engage grand societal challenges in constructive ways.

Following on from science policy generations motivated by 'market failure' and 'systems failure', the diagnostic and prospective motivating the 3rd generation relates to 'transformation failure'. RCN has initiated two virtual, national pilot centres for "excellent transformation" trying to foster a modality, knowledge, skills and capacities conducive to partnerships and crossover (disciplines as well as societal sectors) collaborations. AFINO is the second pilot. 

As an offshoot of a Transformative Innovation Policy orientation, AFINO is facing the challenge of understanding how better to interpret and realise innovation that is transformative, responsible and sustainable. In a recent Webinar the policy orientation and strategy of the project was discussed and while a clear position has not yet been officially formulated clear directions are emerging. 

The first is that the context of innovation policy is not limited to the traditional arenas of policy making, but should be understood broadly to include the practices, the aspirations and the ethos of all the organisations and people developing and being affected by innovations. 

The second is that AFINO is especially positioned to learn ‘on the field’ which challenges and creative solutions need to be brought to the attention of the policy making community and of relevant organisations. It will be interesting to see how this ‘learning by doing’ and transforming from the shopfloor level approaches will be actually realised and how transformative they can actually be.

AFINO research projects and working groups

The activities of AFINO are defined by a number of working groups and satellite research projects. In several of these foresight and futures literacy are important components.

Building learning arenas through Futures literacy laboratories

As an associated partner to AFINO, the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) has the task to develop new learning arenas by using future literacy laboratories as tools and methods in the research projects and activities.

The futures literacy labs will support us developing scenarios of alternative futures. These scenarios will identify important challenges, possibilities, drives and critical junctions that may affect innovation, market developments and policy-choices in the future in several critical sectors. Moreover, the labs will help participants free themselves from preconceptions and mental lock-in.

NIFU will also arrange a national future laboratory, exploring the use of responsible research and innovation and research and innovation policy in the transformation of Norwegian economy and society. The special role of oil and gas in the Norwegian economy, at the same time as the world is facing dramatic climate change and needs the development of clean energy production, will be one of many factors that needs to be considered.

Futures literacy laboratories will be organised in collaboration with four research projects about responsible innovation and governance:
  • Responsible strategies for tackling food waste 
  • Responsible innovation in the Norwegian salmon farming industry 
  • Governance for responsible digital transformations 
  • Responsible innovation in digital health and welfare sectors 

The Nordic Sustainable Innovation Dialogue series

In this work group, the BI Norwegian Business School will involve both academics from the Nordic countries as well as representatives from business, policy and civil society in deliberating about whether a particular Nordic way of facilitating and anticipating the necessary sustainability transformation exists.

More specifically, they will look into issues such as innovation and whistleblowing, and how such a Nordic approach might be competitive in a global landscape.

In an ongoing series of primarily stakeholder dialogues, but also talks, lectures and workshops, AFINO wants to deliberate on how far such a function of the Nordic model might inspire a third way of including larger parts of the population into the anticipatory innovation process itself. This work will be based on the value of freedom of speech, inviting groups that usually do not participate in the public debate.

Illustrative Nordic cases on sustainability

In this work group, AFINO develops case-studies that highlight sustainability challenges and solutions in industries of importance to the Norwegian economy. The cases will be used as input in two of AFINO’s other work groups: The Nordic Sustainable Innovation Dialogue series and Learning arenas through Future Literacy Laboratories. They will also be applied in teaching in Bachelor, Master and Executive programs at the BI Norwegian Business School.

In close collaboration with our partners from the industry, public sector and civil society, AFINO will develop one to two new cases each year. When selecting relevant cases related to sustainability, innovation and whistleblowing, we will focus particularly on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The work is specifically concerned with “the Nordic model”, and to what extent and how it can combine social and ecological sustainability with productivity and innovation.

Quality and foresight in responsible research and innovation

The Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities at the University of Bergen will utilize a so-called “post-normal science” framework to elucidate and deliberate the concept of quality in science. Given this background, they want to help linking good science to good policies, in particular in terms of designing our common futures.

Implicit in this effort is the recognition that the sciences as we currently see them practised, are not really fit for purpose. We see too many silos that do not communicate with each other; we detect too many reward mechanisms that maximise vacuous or even badly flawed scientific outputs; we note too many power mechanisms in the struggle for influence and funding, and we notice too many communication breakdowns between the sciences and their publics, i.e. potential users.

AFINO Research School

The AFINO Research School will develop and run interdisciplinary courses for PhD candidates from varied research cultures, on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

The courses will address themes such as history and philosophy of science, research ethics, the social contract of science, the triple/quadruple helix model of innovation, and the interactions between science, society and policy (for instance, the challenges of doing RRI for SDGs and the challenges related to models and numbers for policy).

The research school will be articulated around one-week summer schools and shorter lectures series by Norwegian and international scholars (including members of the AFINO international committee).

The objective is to create a networking platform for Norwegian PhD candidates where participants learn about and critically discuss aspects of RRI and CSR and their concrete implementation in their own research projects.

Building blocks for enhanced societal responsibility

In this work group, the Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet) and the Centre for Biosafety (GenĂ˜k) are jointly working on advancing the conceptual development and implementation of societal responsibility, encompassing RRI and CSR as well as perspectives from the arts and humanities. The activities will engage all actors involved in the quadruple helix of innovation.

This work group is also to develop a sustainability model for AFINO and facilitate an inclusive discussion with AFINO partners to determine the optimal organizational model and mandate for a continuation of AFINO. The main outcome will be a set of recommendations for how to integrate RRI and CSR in organizations in different sectors. 

Co-creation and anticipation through the pilots

Besides managing and coordinating the project, NTNU is responsible for the organisation of a series of pilots, i.e. responsible innovation labs especially focused on testing different foresight tools and in co-creation of knowledge by promoting small scale collaboration involving people from different disciplines and sectors. 

The pilots will involve the AFINO-associated projects and other partner institutions, including the Danish Board of Technology that has extensive experience in citizens and stakeholders involvement, as well as working closely with other parts of the projects, most notably the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education, so as to create synergies in the foresight activities. 

The pilots’ ambition is both to experiment with innovative and context-specific forms of co-creation and foresight, and to create new knowledge and skills. These pilots point towards a broad understanding of innovation that emphasises new and more inclusive and far-sighted processes of innovation, thus challenging the emphasis on scientific and technological advances as key drivers, and opening up to social needs, sustainability and new visions of a good life.


AFINO is associated with the UNESCO network for futures literacy in several ways. Per Koch from NIFU and Rune By from the University of Stavanger are members of the network and coordinate an application for a Norwegian UNESCO Chair in futures literacy. Riel Miller, the leader of UNESCO’s FL activities, is a member of the AFINO international advisory board.

AFINO web site:

Top photo: Getty

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