The ETHICSWEB is an initiative of European Ethics Documentation and Information Centres, Ethics Networks, and International Organisations. It emerges from various previous initiatives to set up infrastructures on a regional and national level. These are particularly regional and national networks in the UK, Scandinavia and in Germany, and the foundation of Centres like the regional UNESCO Centres. Further associations and organizations of institutes and experts have been founded in the past to enhance communications concerning applied ethics (EACME, SPT etc.). The European Commission and the Council of Europe supported networking activities among various European institutes, organisations, centres, committees (EURETHNET, PRIVIREAL, NEBRA, EULABOR, EUDUREC, COMETH etc.). International organizations like UNESCO, WHO, CoE or FAO and national centres like ISS, DRZE or INSERM created databases (literature, research projects, experts etc.) which have led to many bilateral and multilateral co-operations.

Although advanced retrieval functionalities do exist, many providers developed different tools and search engines which are not yet connected and lead to a lack of transparency or interaction in the field of ethics. Missing is an infrastructure embracing these different infrastructures and initiatives and thus giving a clear perspective of sustainable networking and opportunities for easy access and communication. The experiences of networks like EURETHNET, PRIVIREAL/PRIVILEGED, BioT-Ethics etc. have shown how many partners can be involved in excellently running networks of infrastructures.

In 2004 the “Feasibility study for an advanced systematic documentation, information and communication tool in the field of ethical issues in science, research and technology” (FASTER) was undertaken. The findings of FASTER were presented at the EC Workshop “Setting up an information and documentation system for ethical issues” on October 21, 2004, in Brussels. It became clear that the “Databases should be sustainable and continue over time and that filtering information is an important issue”. In order to provide transparency as well as neutrality information systems need to create a “filter mechanism based on competence and neutrality. Thematic regional or national focal points for a European information and documentation system should be established”. An information and documentation system on the ethics of science should be interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary”. There is a strong need “to create common standards” and protocols. This is a “basic prerequisite for the creation of an information and documentation system on ethics and science. A key effort should be made to integrate existing information and documentation systems in a platform which is ‘modularly’ established but ‘dynamically’ open to future partners,” technologies and systems.”

ETHICSWEB build upon the recommendations of FASTER. It is funded by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme. It started in June 2008 and has ended in August 2011.