Fraunhofer Ethics Committee for Security-Relevant Research (REC)

In the context of its commitment to corporate responsibility, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is dedicated to its responsibility whenever its activities have an impact on the economy, on staff, the environment or society. In the case of research with major ethical implications, the Fraunhofer Ethics Committee for Security-Relevant Research (REC) provides guidance and promotes reflective practice.

In addition to the Fraunhofer ethics consultancy set up in 2015, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s Executive Board established an Ethics Committee for Security-Relevant Research (REC) that will commence its work in 2019. This REC will address research activities associated with considerable risks for human dignity, life, health, freedom, ownership, environment and peaceful coexistence. Security-relevant risks are inherent above all in scientific work where it can be assumed that knowledge, products or technologies will be created that may be used to the detriment of, or damage to humans and the environment.

Help with decisions in place of obstacles

“With many of today’s ethical challenges in application oriented research, there is no panacea for clearly differentiating between right and wrong. Instead scientists need to gain a certain competence in dealing with ethical questions. The Fraunhofer Research Ethics Committee will provide guidance for action in the relevant fields of research and make a contribution to overcoming normative uncertainties. Dealing with ethical questions should not become an obstacle barring innovation, but should encourage reflection on the scope for action and potential use of our research results,” says Fraunhofer President Prof. Reimund Neugebauer.

The Research Ethics Committee is not designed to counteract fields of activity, but to sensitize scientists to ethical questions and encourage them to actively address these issues in their projects.

Guidance instead of voting

As an internal advisory body, the Fraunhofer REC also advises the Executive Board as well as the employees of the Fraunhofer Institutes once the relevant application has been made. It can be convened on an ad-hoc basis by the REC office and, in coordination with the REC Steering Committee and the Presidential Council, draws on experts depending on the case in hand. REC works on the basis of the prevailing law and the pertinent scientific standards, as well as in accordance with the REC’s articles of association. It does not grant any votes but provides orientation in the form of position papers, guidelines or recommendations.

Fraunhofer REC Steering Committee

Fraunhofer REC Steering Committee
© Fraunhofer / Markus Jürgens

EU JERRI (Joining Efforts for Responsible Research and Innovation) Project

Fraunhofer is also committed to responsible research in the European area: Together with TNO, the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, Fraunhofer has been working since 2016 in the context of the JERRI Project funded by the EU on the organizational anchoring of the five Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) dimensions: ethics, gender, open access, public engagement and science education. Under the umbrella of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, activities forming part of the Ethics sub-project are currently being developed as a procedural model for ethics scanning to be applied to internal research programs, along with ethical reflection formats across institutions, and implemented as a pilot scheme.

Freedom of science and scientific responsibility

In founding its own REC, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is responding to impetus from outside. With the “Freedom of Science and Scientific Responsibility” recommendation, all German research establishments and universities were required by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)) and the Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in 2014 to create the conditions for ethically responsible research, preferably through establishing an ethics committee in security-related research.