Responsible research and innovation has come to represent a change in the relationship between science, technology and society. With origins in the democratisation of science, and the inclusion of ethical and societal aspects in research and development activities, RRI offers a means of integrating society and the research and innovation communities. In this article, we frame RRI activities through the lens of layers of science and technology governance as a means of characterising the context in which the RRI activity is positioned and the goal of those actors promoting the RRI activities in shaping overall governance patterns. RRI began to emerge during a time of considerable deliberation about the societal and governance challenges around nanotechnology, in which stakeholders were looking for new ways of integrating notions of responsibility in nanotechnology research and development. For this reason, this article focuses on nanotechnology as the site for exploring the evolution and growth of RRI.