Synthetic Biology - lessons learned from a 4 year mutual learning process

June 2017 marks the end of the EU-funded Synenergene project that facilitated mutual learning processes on synthetic biology-related societal issues between scientists, politicians, representatives of industry, educators and other stakeholders.

Seven Ecsite members - science centres and museums - participated in the project involving more than 2.500 participants in 9 countries in Europe and abroad in mobilisation and mutual learning activities.

The project partners tested and organised more than 10 various formats of public engagement activities: participative theatre, the
theatrical performance student science parliament, informal dialogue activities - workshops with public opinion survey, science cafes, laboratory activities, installations and artistic performances. Activities included not only offline events, but also online discussion and an on-line learning platform. The Virtual Learning Platform – an online repository containing materials and resources for formal and informal educational settings to facilitate an open dialogue about synbio-related issues with students.

Some of the key takeaways from the project included reflections on what can be learned from all the public engagement activities that took place during the 4 years of the project and were analysed by the Institute of Technology Assessment of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. To summarize some of them:

1) It is important to keep the discussion during engagement activities specific and relevant avoiding meta-debates;
2) Invite participants to reflect and introduce various framings to stimulate multi-dimensional debate;
3) Focus on two-way communication: avoid organising events and engagement activities focusing on the 'deficit model' of communication;
4) Encourage creativity and emotions by introducing artistic performances and discussions.

These are just a few lessons that were learned over the course of the whole project. More materials and project outcomes are accessible via the Virtual Learning Platform, as well as on the official website of the project


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