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What to Expect in India’s Scientific Social Responsibility (SSR) Policy

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Scientific Social Responsibility (SSR) will be in the spotlight in 2020, going by Union Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan’s latest declaration. He announced at the 107th Indian Science Congress last Friday that his ministry is in an advanced stage of developing a formal policy on scientific social responsibility.
Through the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the govt. had released a draft of the new Scientific Social Responsibility (SSR) Policy on 9th September 2019 for public comments. The Policy is intended to promote social responsibility in the scientific establishments on the lines of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
It encourages S&T institutions and individual scientists to discharge their social responsibility through proactive engagement with society, and through sharing of knowledge and resources for bridging the gap between science and society.

If enacted, India would be possibly the first country in the world to implement a national policy on scientific social responsibility.

What is Scientific Social Responsibility?

Scientific Social Responsibility is ‘the ethical obligation of knowledge workers in all fields of science and technology to voluntarily contribute their knowledge and resources to the widest spectrum of stakeholders in society, in a spirit of service and conscious reciprocity’, according to the draft document.
Here, knowledge workers include anyone who participates in the knowledge economy in the areas of human, social, natural, physical, biological, medical, mathematical and computer/data sciences and their associated technologies.

Where the Idea for Scientific Social Responsibility in India Came From

The Constitution of India (Part-IV, Article 51A(h)) mandates for developing the scientific temper, humanism and spirit of enquiry as part of the fundamental duties of a citizen. This idea has been carried forward in earlier science policies of India (Scientific Policy Resolution 1958, Technology Policy Statement 1983, Science and Technology Policy 2003 and Science Technology and Innovation Policy 2013) that propagate for taking the message and benefits of science to society and for bridging the gap between the two.
The new SSR Policy is an effort to make scientific institutions and individual scientists more responsible to society and other stakeholders. Scientists have an ethical obligation of ‘giving back’ to society when they use taxpayers’ money for doing science, says the draft.

What to expect in SSR Policy

The main objectives of this Policy are to harness the unexploited voluntary potential of the scientific community in India to strengthen the linkages between science and society, and to make the S&T ecosystem in the country more vibrant.
The Policy is directed towards developing an enabling knowledge ecosystem for ensuring easy access to scientific knowledge and sharing of ideas and resources, transferring the benefits of science to meet the existing and emerging societal needs, promoting collaborations to identify problems and develop solutions, and inculcating social responsibility among S&T (science and technology) institutions and individual scientists.

Government mechanism for SSR

A central and nodal agency would be set up at DST to supervize, monitor and implement SSR activities in the country. Once formalized, the policy requires all the Central Government Ministries, State Governments and S&T institutions to make their own plans to implement Scientific Social Responsibility in India according to their mandate.
Each S&T institution would be required to sensitize its knowledge workers about their ethical responsibility toward society, to have an SSR monitoring system to assess institutional projects and individual activities, and to publish an annual SSR report.
Appropriate indicators would be developed for monitoring SSR activities at both institutional and individual levels, while measuring their impact on short term, medium-term and long-term bases.

Individual scientists or knowledge workers would be required to devote at least 10 person-days of SSR per year for activities related to scientific social responsibility.

Such SSR/science outreach activities at the individual and institutional levels would be recognized and incentivized with necessary budgetary support. At the individual level, scientists would get due credit for their SSR activities in their annual performance-based appraisal and evaluation system.
At the institutional level, a knowledge institution would not be allowed to execute its SSR activities through any outsourcing or sub-contracting. This provision would have a direct impact on all the institutions to create an encouraging environment for all their knowledge workers to engage in SSR activities, and to sensitize and mobilize their scientists to proactively engage in such activities.
To effectively implement the SSR Policy, a national digital portal will be set up to identify societal needs requiring scientific interventions, and as a platform for implementers and for reporting SSR activities. It also requires the funding agencies to support SSR through
(a) funding individual SSR projects,
(b) fixing a certain percentage of every project for SSR, and
(c) recommending appropriate SSR requirements for any given project received for funding.

Plans for Scientific Social Responsibility

If implemented, the Scientific Social Responsibility (SSR) Policy, while strengthening the existing efforts in science outreach, would play a transformative role in bringing scientific and innovative solutions to societal problems, uplifting the life standard of marginalized sections of society through capacity-building, skill development, facilitating rural innovations, empowering women and weaker sections, helping industries and start-ups, etc. It will also contribute in achieving Sustainable Development Goals, environmental goals and Technology Vision 2035.