Multi-Site Public Engagement with Science: The Building with Biology Project

Sunday, February 19, 2017: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Room 306 (Hynes Convention Center)
Elizabeth Kunz Kollmann, Museum of Science, Boston, MA
The Multi-Site Public Engagement with Science: Synthetic Biology project encouraged conversations between synthetic biology scientists and public audiences at nearly 200 informal science education (ISE) sites across the US. The purpose of these conversations was to create mutual learning between the scientists and the publics. The publics could learn about synthetic biology and some of its societal and ethical implications, and the scientists could learn about the publics’ viewpoints about synthetic biology. It was also hoped that both of these audiences would come to value these kinds of conversations and interactions through their participation.

To enable these conversations, the project team created and distributed kits for two kinds of public engagement, public events and forums. At the events, scientists facilitated hands-on activities and discussions about synthetic biology and its societal and ethical implications. These events lasted from a few hours to a few days, and members of the public were expected to engage for as long or as short a period as they wished at the events although it was likely that publics spent a relatively short time at each of the activities. The forums were longer and more deliberative, one- to two-hour programs composed of short presentations about synthetic biology and dialogues between publics and scientists about issues such as:

  • Should we edit the genome? When, why, and how much?
  • Should we engineer the mosquito?

A summative evaluation was conducted at 43 event sites and 31 forum sites to understand how participation in these activities impacted the scientist and public participants across a number of factors.

This presentation will describe the goals of the Multi-Site Public Engagement with Science – Synthetic Biology project and the design of its public engagement activities. It will also describe what evaluation results tell us about what scientists and publics learned through the activities and from each other. The presentation will also include evaluation results about what these audiences valued about their participation in the activities. Finally, the presentation will touch upon some of the differences in impacts seen across the activity types.