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  • Periodic Report Summary 2 - SYN-ENERGENE (Synthetic biology – Engaging with New and Emerging Science and Technology in Responsible Governance of the Science and Society Relationship)

SYN-ENERGENE Report Summary

Project ID: 321488
Funded under: FP7-SIS
Country: Germany

Periodic Report Summary 2 - SYN-ENERGENE (Synthetic biology – Engaging with New and Emerging Science and Technology in Responsible Governance of the Science and Society Relationship)

Project Context and Objectives:
Synthetic biology (SynBio), “the engineering of biological components and systems that do not exist in nature and the re-engineering of existing biological elements”, signals a new area of research and development in the life sciences. It raises questions in the context of responsible research and innovation (RRI) relevant to many different stakeholders, policy makers and the general public. Since 2013, the SYNENERGENE Mobilisation Mutual Learning Action Plan (MMLAP) is mobilising a wide variety of stakeholders and members of the public, bringing them together and facilitating an open-ended, sustainable and fruitful dialogue with a view to promoting societal discourse on SynBio. Designed as an open outcome process, SYNENERGENE has developed into a large-scale and innovative ‘science in society’ activity dealing with an emerging field of science and technology in a European RRI context, with a high degree of international visibility and a wide variety of impacts on societal discourse on SynBio and the related innovation trajectories.
SYNENERGENE has the following six main objectives: (1) to make existing practices of RRI in SynBio socially more robust, (2) to mobilise new stakeholders to participate in discourse on SynBio, (3) to involve the general public and specific “publics” and improve the quality of public participation by a wide variety of means, (4) to analyse and to make available the results of all public dialogue and stakeholder-oriented activities to policy makers, other stakeholders and the public, (5) to promote mutual learning processes between a wide variety of established and new stakeholders in discourse on SynBio, stimulating reflection and activities on novel and innovative avenues to an inclusive governance framework in accordance with a European concept of RRI and of high international visibility, and (6) to help develop sustainable agendas for RRI in SynBio which systematically take into account the views of citizens involved in public communication activities.
In order to reach these goals, the SYNENERGENE consortium has first formed – together with the existing networks of the consortium partners, including seven members of ECSITE, the European network of science centres and museums, and representatives of the iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine competition) community – a major SynBio in Society network. The consortium itself encompasses a wide range of stakeholders and expertise (e.g. SynBio researchers, companies, civil society organisations, technology assessment experts, ethicists, and artists). Furthermore, an organisational structure was devised which is tailored to the specific needs of an MMLAP, combining vertical and horizontal elements, facilitating a process of continuous mutual learning, and allowing for a high degree of flexibility when it comes to requests of external partners for cooperation and with regard to opportunities to support relevant activities of others.
The project entails four phases: In Phase 1 (completed mid of 2014), a high-profile activity on RRI in SynBio was conceptualised and the ground prepared for it, mainly by means of consortium-internal interaction, including ECSITE partners, representatives of the iGEM community and others. In Phase 2, which ran until end of February 2016, the broader SYNENERGENE network established itself as a temporary institution of transnational mutual learning highly visible among relevant stakeholders and increasingly active in public participation and outreach activities. In the current third phase (March-October 2016), collective experimentation in RRI and agenda-setting for RRI in SynBio will be continued. In Phase 4 (November 2016 - June 2017), SYNENERGENE will aim to further contribute to societal discourse on SynBio, including the international dimension, and project results will be widely disseminated and made use of.

Project Results:
While the consortium had made every effort to define in detail a plenitude of planned activities and has already, according to plan, carried out a large number (100+) of them, it has also, in line with its flexible approach, used a wide variety of opportunities for un-planned cooperation within the consortium and, more importantly, with external partners. The very large number of so-called “extra” activities – activities which have not been announced in the project plan and most often have been initiated by external partners aiming for RRI in SynBio and closely related fields – are testament to the high profile the SYNENERGENE project has gained among relevant stakeholders in Europe and beyond.
While the focus at least of the early phases of the SYNENERGENE project was on stakeholder activities and interaction, a wide variety of public participation and outreach activities have already taken place in SYNENERGENE, including a significant number of extra activities, often at local level, in which external partners has suggested a cooperation with SYNENERGENE.
A key feature of the SYNENERGENE project has been the fostering and use of art-science interfaces in which these were mainly conceptualised as means of an exchange involving two different approaches to reality, but also, to some extent, as means of creating awareness among citizens and of fostering public participation. Some of these activities have been exceptionally successful, leading to a much larger number of activities than originally planned and creating more public, stakeholder and media attention than expected at the start of the project.
Another main aim of the project, namely the intensive and broad cooperation with the international iGEM community has likewise very successfully been realised. In the course of the project, these activities targeted at the next generations of SynBio researchers, have continuously grown, and the project as well as the European understanding of RRI and the related US concepts are now strongly present in the iGEM community.
Due to the successful SYNENERGENE Open Forum activities and other measures, the same is true for other crucial stakeholder groups targeted by SYNENERGENE such as civil society organisations and science journalists; and in line with a decision taken in agreement with the responsible EC staff during the project, the project has also helped foster discourse on RRI in, and with regard to the DIYBio community (aka biohackers).
All these activities have a strong international dimension and thus complement other SYNENERGENE activities which were specifically designed for this purpose, such as diverse transatlantic exchanges which included policy actors and a wide variety of stakeholders.
As regards the broader contextualisation of its work on RRI and SynBio, the SYNENERGENE project conducted a wide range of activities, including but not limited to activities dedicated to the emerging bioeconomy which has been discussed in events on EU, national or local levels. These three levels are also targeted in a wide variety of other SYNENERGENE activities, including various European regions (mainly Central, Southern, South-Eastern and Western Europe, but with significant activities also in Northern and North-Eastern Europe). The other SYNENERGENE activities have mainly taken place in North America but some activities have also been conducted in other continents. The work of SYNENERGENE has been relevant to a variety of national activities concerning the governance of, and societal discourse on RRI and SynBio in European countries, the US and other countries.

Potential Impact:
After having carried out its more than 120 planned single events and a plenitude of other activities, including many conducted at the initiative of, and in cooperation with external partners, SYNENERGENE hopes to have made significant impacts on public discourse and major contributions to the raising of public and stakeholder awareness of SynBio. Among the specifically addressed stakeholder and other groups will be scientists, industry representatives, civil society organisations (including religious ones), policy makers, education professionals, artists, the DIYBio community journalists, and young people (e.g. students from a wide variety of fields, including the iGEM community).
Designed as an iterative mutual learning process, we expect SYNENERGENE to continue to realise unforeseen collaborations with external partners. Already now, SYNENERGENE has developed into a quantitatively and qualitatively unprecedented as well as procedurally innovative activity of public learning about and engagement with SynBio and a truly transnational mutual learning process. In the remaining time of the project, we will aim to continue these processes and make their results more socially robust. For this purpose, the SYNENERGENE consortium will try to create additional incentives for external partners to get engaged in SYNENERGENE activities or to make use of SYNENERGENE results.
The SYNENERGENE consortium will also continue to feed the project results into national, international and other EU level research, policy and societal activities and, possibly, local level activities. As regards all these levels, the in-depth analysis of the SYNENERGENE activities, to be carried out mainly in the first half of 2017, is expected to create a robust basis for future activities concerning the discourse on RRI and SynBio as well as concerning RRI activities in related or similar fields of research and technology development, including future activities on the EU level (e.g. in H2020). Many SYNENERGENE partners have also already made plans to continue after June 2017 some of the work started in SYNENERGENE, or to develop new activities inspired by the SYNENERGENE experience.
The online resources created by SYNENERGENE as well as the project’s network will continue to be useful for RRI activities in SynBio and related or similar fields, including activities targeted at, or conducted by key stakeholder groups of SYNENERGENE such as the iGEM community, science journalists, facilitators of public engagement in science and technology, and a wide range of civil society organisations. We also expect that future activities at the intersections of art and science will be able to take advantage from networks created in SYNENERGENE and be inspired by their activities.
Last but not least, we expect the work in SYNENERGENE to be relevant to various academic communities, such as the community of researchers working in the field of science and technology studies. Making use of the already achieved visibility of the project in such communities and profiting from targeted outreach activities in the remaining time of the project, SYNENERGENE partners aim to make a wide variety of impacts on academic discourse on RRI and SynBio. This will include the continuation of strongly interdisciplinary cooperation between SynBio researchers and experts from the social sciences and humanities.

List of Websites:

Reported by

Karlsruher Institut fuer Technologie
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