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Connecting Science and Technology with Society

—The Role of URA—

Kaori Mita
University Research Administrator (URA), Research Promotion Office, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Political Science, Comparative Politics, and Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy

For the special feature "The Relationship between Science, Technology and Society"

The growth of science and technology brings about changes in human and society. For example, historically speaking, the First Industrial Revolution (industrialization) and the accompanying technological development increased the efficiency of work that humans had traditionally done by hand. At the same time, it transformed the concept of time, as well as individual values and behaviors. Naturally, it caused a wide range of changes in areas such as social conditions and economic activities. When people worked as farmers, they woke up with the sun. Their work was affected by the seasons and the weather, and their income was uncertain. The First Industrial Revolution shifted their lifestyle to the one in which people woke up with an alarm clock, went to the designated workplace, such as factory, worked regular hours and earned steady income.

Today, the convenience of daily life has been further improved by the utilization of AI, IoT, and big data, and by the development of other cutting-edge technology. Every year since 2014, the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) has been conducting the survey entitled "Public Attitudes to Science and Technology." The surveys have clearly shown that the acceptance of science and technology depends on the demographic attributes of the respondents, the technology itself, and the awareness of policies for science and technology. Furthermore, the survey conducted in August 2019 indicated expectations for future development of science and technology; in particular, interest is high in all age groups for themes such as protection from natural disasters, AI (artificial intelligence), energy development and storage, and life and medical fields.

On the other hand, we are now faced with new ethical, legal, and social implications that were never been envisioned before. According to the aforementioned NISTEP survey, IT crimes such as cyberterrorism, global environmental problems, the safety of nuclear power generation, and ethical issues due to genetic manipulation are ranked high in all age groups as concerns associated with the development of science and technology.[1] Specific examples include ethical issues associated with the study of human genetic information in medicine, responsibility for issues that may be caused by the implementation of AI, product liability for self-driving cars, issues with behavior tracking apps and personal information, accountability in personal information, marketing using data such as face recognition technology, histories of online purchasing behavior and Internet searches which are a part of daily life, behavior recording with location function, and SNS. As science and technology develops, we have come to question its safety and reliability, and its relationship with humans. As we delve into this question, we also face the inherent question regarding the meaning and essence of human beings.

Responsible research and technological development

The 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan (2016 to 2020) espouses Society 5.0[2] defined as "a human-centered society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by a system that highly integrates cyberspace (virtual space) and physical space (real world)."[3] The revision of the Basic Act on Science and Technology, which originally came into effect in 1995, was passed and enacted in June 2020. In particular, in regards to the addition of sections on "science and technology related only to the humanities" and "the creation of innovation," these sections were given an important position during setting and review of the 6th Science and Technology Innovation Basic Plan, which seeks to achieve a link between achievement of Society 5.0 and realization of an ideal futureimage.

In terms of achieving a link between achievement of Society 5.0 and realization of an ideal future image, we must implement science and technology in society while adhering to the principle of a human-centered perspective. To achieve this goal, we must observe changes in the values and norms of people who realize continuous change through a collaboration with science and technology, and of the societies which are a conglomerate of people. We must also obtain knowledge related to humanities and social sciences which specialize in identifying social issues and setting issues. In addition, in order to prevent science and technology from developing independently from the aforementioned human-centered principle, it is important to ensure safety, receptivity, and sustainability through participation by a variety of stakeholders including the scientific community, industry, government, and general society in all stages from R&D to social implementation. In Europe, these movements have been implemented since 2014 as part of policy agenda under the name of "Responsible Research and Innovation."[4] These efforts make it possible to have a larger and deeper social impact on the social significance.

When creating responsible research and innovation, and during the social implementation of science and technology beyond that creation, transdisciplinary research that includes stakeholders other than academia has become mainstream. This new type of team-based research is achieved not only by researchers but also by various professionals. For example, the term "University Research Administrators (URA)" refers to research management personnel who work at research institutes such as universities in Japan. URAs fulfill a role in the fund acquisition support, drafting of plans, and project management necessary for research.

URAs connect science and technology with society

The University Research Administrator System aims to cultivate and ensure human resources related to science and technology. The system started as part of a project entitled "Development of Systems to Cultivate and Secure University Research Administrators (URA)," which is operated by the Science and Technology Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in 2011.[5] Research support positions similar to URAs already existed prior to the start of the system; however, according to a survey by Kanazawa University, approximately 1,400 URAs are now active at research institutes such as universities. In recent years, URA is considered as one of the diverse career paths for doctorate degree holders in the "Comprehensive Package to Strengthen Japan's Research Capability and Support Young Researchers." There are high expectations for professionals who combine their expertise and management capability. These professionals are expected to handle research planning/management and project management for transdisciplinary research teams with participation from various stakeholders.[6]

URAs also fulfill various other roles such as enhancing the research environment at research institutes, invigorating research activities, planning and creating research strategies, strengthening cooperation with industry, and strengthening organizational functions.[7] The position of URAs also differs depending on the organization they belong to; for example, research support and promotion for obtaining external funds, industry-government-academia collaboration, and research strategy and strategic management. Moreover, URAs have wide-ranging roles from individuals who possess a doctoral degree and have expertise in specialized fields to one who work mainly on research management in general, with a focus on pre-awards and post-awards for obtaining and spending funds. There are professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds; for example individuals who gained experience at corporations after working as a researcher or faculty member at a research institution, one with experience working at a fund allocation institution or think tank, one who held a position at an international organization, and one who changed jobs from a public relations corporation to become a URA.


The relationship between science, technology, and society is not completely unexamined. When new science and technology has been implemented and introduced in society or when it has affected people, dialogue has normally been held in the form of questions to researchers who developed the technology.[8] Nowadays, science and technology is an increasingly intimate part of our daily lives. In addition to researchers, various stakeholders in society participate in the research and the creation of innovation, and the dialogue between science, technology, and society is becoming more important. During these processes, URAs usually do not directly engage in research with researchers. However, they understand the research well, are able to connect the research to industry, and disseminate the research results to the general public. They are also expected to fulfill the roles of communicators that connect science, technology, and society through diverse human resources; for example, facilitating coordination between researchers, communities and governments, improving the research environment at organizations, and fulfilling the functions of strategic management.

[1] August 2020. National Institute of Science and Technology Policy; Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Public Attitudes to Science and Technology--Social Acceptance of New Technologies, Survey Material-296.
[2] Cabinet Office Society 5.0.
[3] 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan.
[4] Regarding implementation at Horizon 2020--Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI).
[5] Science and Technology Policy Bureau; Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Development of Systems to Cultivate and Secure University Research Administrators (URA).
[6] Cabinet Office. Comprehensive Package to Strengthen Japan's Research Capability and Support Young Researchers.
[7] March 2020. Kanazawa University, report on results of the "Survey Research on the Construction of a Quality Assurance System for University Research Administrators."
[8] November 2019. Center for Research and Development Strategy; Japan Science and Technology Agency.
Deepening Relationships with Society in Policy for Science and Technology Innovation--Building and Establishing ELSI/RRI in Japan.

Kaori Mita
University Research Administrator (URA), Research Promotion Office, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Political Science, Comparative Politics, and Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy

Kaori was born in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Master of Arts in Political Science, California State University, Northridge.
Doctoral Student at National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Major in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy.
Kaori worked at California State University from 2007-2013.
She served as an Advisor/Assistant Director at Kuwait Cultural Office, Scholarship Division of the Consulate General of the State of Kuwait from 2013-2018.
Kaori has held her current position at Chuo University since 2018.