Science and Technology Studies


STS offers degrees at each university level: undergraduate, masters, and PhD

Dr Cian O'Donovan

Dr Cian O'Donovan

Researcher UKRI Ethics Accelerator grant

Dept of Science & Technology Studies

Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

Joined UCL
21st Aug 2018

Research summary

I'm a social scientist working on science, technology and innovation policy. Two questions drive my work:

  1. How can the benefits of innovation and technology best contribute to a flourishing world?
  2. What kind of knowledge, systems and human capabilities are required to imagine and build these worlds?
I try to answer these questions using qualitative and quantitative social science described below. I also do my best to ensure this research contributes to building capabilities and movements that can challenge powerful interests in order to achieve a more sustainable and fairer world. With that aim, in 2014 I co-founded Uplift, Ireland's largest people-powered organisation for change, where I advise on strategy and governance.

Teaching summary

I teach the core first year STS module, HPSC008 Science Communication and Public Engagement. This course introduces the public dimensions of science and technology. It explores the relationship between the professional world of science and the social, cultural and personal spaces in which science contributes to the shaping of society.

Research project information:

Personal information:


University of Sussex
Doctorate, PhD. Science and Technology Policy Studies | 2016
Royal Holloway, University of London
Other higher degree, MSc. Sustainability and Management | 2010
Trinity College Dublin
First Degree, BA (Mod) Information and Communication Technology | 2001


I research three overlapping areas:

1. Science, technology and innovation policy

My work is about finding ways in which innovation can be directed towards social progress, and figuring out why it is so often pointed in the opposite direction. I work on innovation in technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence and renewables; in areas such as digitalisation in social care and sustainability; and using ideas from the fields of Innovation Studies and Science and Technology Studies.  

2. Infrastructures and human capabilities

In this work I try to show what goes on behind the scenes of science, technology and innovation. How access conditions, rules, cultures, biases, race and class often limit the potential of the people innovation is supposed to benefit. With colleagues, I do this by using ideas about Human Capabilities, Science and Technology Studies, and pluriversal politics. This means paying attention to how capabilities and ethics are actually practiced on the ground by technology users, designers and researchers.
This work is important when thinking about the training and research practices of scientists, technologists and roboticists; for how funders plan and evaluate inter- and transdisciplinary research; and for efforts to steer our economies towards environmental sustainability.

3. Participation and democracy

Research and policy are not silver bullets. They are too often the means by which unsustainable and irresponsible innovation is maintained. And so much of my work takes the form of building collective capabilities to hold powerful firms and political interests to account through combining research and advocacy.
In 2014 I co-founded Uplift, Ireland's largest people-powered organisation for change. Uplift have shown that when people have the means and resources, they actively engage in democratic processes for change. I've written about this work here. I chair Uplift's board of directors where my role is focused on governance and strategy. I have also worked with 38 Degrees, the UK's leading digital advocacy organisation.