Creating conversations between scientists and publics that both value and learn from
The Building with Biology events and materials have been designed to move interactions between scientists and the public around synthetic biology towards the public engagement with science model, which emphasizes multi-directional learning between scientists and the public. In our Building with Biology activities, we hope that scientist will recognize the importance of, and listen to the public's ideas, values and recommendations about the societal implications of synthetic biology. "Public Engagement with Science (PES), in terms of informal science education, refers to activities, events, or interactions characterized by mutual learning—not one-way transmission from experts to publics—among people of varied backgrounds, scientific expertise, and life experiences who articulate and discuss their perspectives, ideas, knowledge, and values."1
The aim of this project is to create conversations in science museums among scientists, engineers, and public audiences about an emerging research field, synthetic biology. Synthetic biology applies science and engineering to create new biological systems, and re-design existing biological systems, for useful purposes. This is an important new area of research and development that raises societal questions about potential benefits, costs, and risks.
Dietram Scheufele, advisor to the project and a professor of science communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, makes a case for public engagement on synthetic biology in this video produced for the project launch meeting. Building with Biology events convened conversations around the societal implications of engineering biology, first at eight pilot sites in 2015 and then at nearly 200 sites around the U.S. during the summer of 2016. Through hands-on activities and public forums, conversations between researchers and public audiences focused not only on what synthetic biology is and how research in the field is carried out, but also on the potential products, outcomes, and implications for society of this work. Through these conversations researchers and publics explored personal and societal values and priorities, as well as desired research outcomes so that both groups were able to learn directly from each other.