HBP Ethics Support team in Uppsala, Sweden, May 2019

How does the Ethics Support work package in the Human Brain Project (HBP) work? What are the aims and main activities of Ethics Support? Who are our main collaborators within and outside the HBP? What are future challenges for Ethics Support? 

To answer these and other questions and facilitate exchange of information and ideas on these topics, the Ethics Dialogues blog was launched approximately one  year ago. Over the past year, the blog has published more than 30 posts about our activities, publications and events. This post provides an overview of Ethics Support tasks and activities. 

Who we are?

Ethics Support is one of the five work packages in the HBP’s Ethics and Society Subproject. It closely collaborates with the other four Ethics and Society work packages: Foresight Lab & Researcher Awareness, Neuroethics and Philosophy, Public Dialogue and Engagement, and Scientific Coordination. The name ‘Ethics Support’ is limited to the current HBP funding period that started in April 2018 and will end in March 2020. Previously this work package was known under the name ‘Ethics Management’ but the word ‘management’ was replaced with ‘support’ as more suitable for addressing complex ethics questions. It is planned that in the future Ethics Support activities will be incorporated in a number of strands of the new HBP structure.

The Ethics Support team has developed a dialogical approach as a more contextualized and sensitive way to address ethical issues. This ethics dialogues approach is very central to the identity of Ethics Support, which also explains why this blog is called Ethics Dialogues. The work package combines a broad range of research and practical activities within the HBP. In a nutshell, Ethics Support:

  • facilitates research-based ethics dialogues with HBP scientists, Ethics Rapporteurs and the Ethics Advisory Board to support reflection, good practice and compliance; 
  • develops good practices for ethics support processes, combining empirical research and practice as part of the HBP’s approach to Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI).

What do we do?

Ethics Support consists of seven tasks. To introduce these tasks, over the last year we have published Q&A with all our task leaders. Since the publication their Q&As, some of the task leaders have left the HBP and they have been replaced. However, their explanations of their respective tasks remain relevant. You can find Q&As for all our tasks here:

The Ethics Support team provides HBP Ethics Director, HBP Data Protection Officer, Chair of the HBP Data Governance Working Group and Co-Chair for HBP Dual Use Working Group. An important service provided by our team is the Point of Registration of ethical issue PORE which allows any person within or outside the HBP to make an online submission of ethical concern.

In our research and practice we collaborate with many scientists and practitioners within and outside the HBP. A recent example of our successful collaborations within HBP is collaboration with Neurorobotics Platform on ethics of neurorobotics. We also regularly share our good practices with relevant networks outside the HBP including with the International Brain Initiative.

Our research and practice is mutually beneficial, namely our research addresses questions inspired by practice and our practice feeds into future research. We regularly publish and present our research at scientific conferences. Our recent scientific publications have focused on RRI, data governance and gender. More publications are under preparation.

What’s next for Ethics Support? 

In April 2020, the final three-year HBP funding period will start. It is envisaged that the current Ethics Support team will contribute to a broad range of future activities dedicated to RRI, dual use, ethics of Artificial Intelligence, and data governance. One of the overarching future challenges will be preparation of ethics and RRI framework for the new EBRAINS research infrastructure that is expected to succeed the HBP.

Recent publications:

Fothergill, T., W.Knight, B.C.Stahl and I.Ulnicane (2019) Intersectional observations of the Human Brain Project’s approach to sex and gender. Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society 17(2): 128-144 doi: 10.1108/JICES-11-2018-0091. 

Fothergill BT, Knight W, Stahl BC and Ulnicane I (2019) Responsible Data Governance of Neuroscience Big Data. Front. Neuroinform. 13:28. doi: 10.3389/fninf.2019.00028

Stahl BC, Akintoye S, Fothergill BT, Guerrero M, Knight W and Ulnicane I (2019) Beyond Research Ethics: Dialogues in Neuro-ICT Research. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 13:105. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00105  

Rainey, S., Stahl, B., Shaw., M., Reinsborough, M. (2019) Ethics Management and Responsible Research and Innovation in the Human Brain Project. In: R von Schomberg and J. Hankins (Eds.), International Handbook on Responsible Innovation: A Global Resource. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, pp.379-392.

Stahl, B. C., Timmermans, J., Rainey, S., and Shaw, M. (2019) Ethics in Innovation Management as Meta-Responsibility: The Practice of Responsible Research and Innovation in Human Brain Simulation. In: J. Chen, A. Brem, E. Viardot, and P. K. Wong (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Innovation Management New York: Routledge, pp. 435–454.

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