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Responsible innovation

We are committed to ensuring that synthetic biology research is carried out responsibly.

Our aim is to ensure that the work of our academic and industrial partners provides innovative solutions to important societal challenges, and does so ethically and legally and with the safety of society and the environment as a priority.

We understand that some people have concerns about synthetic biology. We see it as our responsibility to foster dialogue between the public, scientists, engineers and policy makers. We are joined in this by the various bodies that fund research in the UK and as such are developing a comprehensive Responsible Innovation (RI) framework. In association with social scientists at King’s College London we have developed methods by which RI principles can be translated into governance of synthetic biology. The approach maps onto a framework, set out by the EPSRC called AREA:

Anticipation

  • We work with a variety of stakeholders to anticipate the economic, environmental and social implications of current research projects, and engaging with end users of emerging technologies at an early stage in order to understand their needs and concerns.
Reflection

  • We require our partners to reflect on the purpose of and motivations for their work, opening up to critical examination their assumptions and framings and analysing the impact that their work may have on society with an appreciation of the uncertainties, areas of ignorance, assumptions, framings, questions inherent to the innovation process.
Engagement

  • We engage with the public to discuss synthetic biology, its applications, possibilities, benefits and potential. We encourage our partners to engage in public dialogue and stress the importance of explaining clearly: what they are doing, why they are doing it, what the potential public benefits are, what the potential risks are, and how these are being addressed. We stress the need to avoid overstatements as to the benefits and timescale of their work.

Action

  • We inform our partners on the outcomes of these activities, so that they can direct their innovation towards achieving public benefits and meeting key societal challenges.

Regulatory bodies and advisory organisations that we work with on RI


How do we promote engagement?

  • Via our close links with the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College London and their editorship of the PLOS Biology Series on Public Engagement
  • Through participation in workshops organised by leading scientific and regularity bodies
  • Through high quality peer reviewed academic publications
  • Through comments in popular science media outlets.

Further information