The SYNENERGENE Approach
To address its objectives, SYNENERGENE (1) has a strong orientation towards the future and its shaping (‘open futures’), (2) involves citizens and societal stakeholders as real co-creators of RRI (‘from responsiveness to society to real societal shaping of science and technology’), (3) takes scientific research and development seriously as cultural activities crucial for RRI, (4) involves a wide range of stakeholders and various disciplines, (5) has a strong international dimension with a focus on global players in US but also including perspectives from the global South, and (6) makes use of online communication in many ways.
- The organisational structure of the project reflects this orientation with its four thematic platforms and its two cross-cutting core dimensions. Each thematic platform represents an area that appears constitutive for the comtemporary debate on snythetic biology:
- Discourse is shaped particularly by visions of the future that focus on socially relevant issues such as energy, health and the environment (Platform 1 on SynBio Futures).
- There exists considerable public interest in genetic engineering and the life sciences that forms a basis for enhancing public engagement in research in a broad sense of the notion (Platform 2 on Public Involvement).
- Scientific research and development are major cultural activities and societal and artistic imagination are important both to innovation and to our understanding of life (Platform 3 on Art and Culture).
- Policy makers and other actors shape research and innovation and can work together to jointly identify and encompass societal needs and concerns (Platform 4 on Research and Policy).
- The European approach to RRI in synthetic biology has raised interest in regions such as the US, Latin America and other world regions, opening space for intercontinental mutual learning processes and supporting the international visibility of European approaches (Core Dimension 1: International Dimension).
- Finally, the Internet and online communication already plays an important role in shaping the discourse on new emerging technologies and bringing together various viewpoints (Core Dimension 2: (Online-) Communication and Dissemination).
The activities within the platforms and core dimensions allow for a deepening of exchange among stakeholders who are already closely interacting in the discourse, adding fresh perspectives, but they also provide ample opportunities for new interconnections and for a deepening of exchange between stakeholders who have not yet been in close contact so far. The design is oriented towards a convergence of the relevant (established and mobilised) stakeholder groups and the facilitation of broad mutual learning processes between these groups as well as towards the civil society at large (i.e. the voices and views of citizens).
The SYNENERGENE consortium itself represents a wide variety of stakeholders and competencies relevant to discourse on synthetic biology. It encompasses a unique combination of competencies and backgrounds, represents a large number of European countries, includes European networks and also integrates a focus on the USA as the most relevant other player in this context. Furthermore, it will collaborate closely with the international Genetically Engineered Machines competition (iGEM), an annual worldwide contest between student teams which contributes significantly to the development of synthetic biology as a new engineering community. However, SYNENERGENE will also mobilise policy makers and other key stakeholder groups to participate in discourse on synthetic biology.
SYNENERGENE actions are the “smallest” unit of the proposed MMLAP. The consortium will conduct a wide variety of actions relevant to RRI in synthetic biology, including for example (1) Public engagement in research activities, such as informal dialogue and discussion activities, hands-on activities and science cafes or science shows and science theatre, etc.; (2) Young people's participation in science and the promotion of RRI among young researchers; (3) Joint production of common communication and informal education materials; (4) Actions on ethical issues; (5) capacity-building through training; (6) Activities concerning topics and opportunities for future research funding policy issues; and (7) The development of expertise in support of policy making. The SYNENERGENE consortium expects that the MMLAP will inspire and be related to activities other than the SYNENERGENE actions.
Three SYNENERGENE agendas will be the major expected outcome of the project:
- Participation Agenda (framework for future public science and participation activities, including models of good practice concerning RR in synthetic biology and, potentially, beyond)
- Policy Agenda (interconnection and improvement of policy and governance activities on various levels and internationally), and
- Research Agenda (identification of promising research doirections with a view to societal ends and potential funding policy priorities).
These agendas are intended to help realise a sustainable and comprehensive strategy for RRI in synthetic biology, and should by no means be only the products of the SYNENERGENE consortium and the involved third parties. It is the aim of SYNENERGENE to develop these agendas together with all relevant stakeholders on the basis of the results of public participation and stakeholder and expert discussions realised in SYNENERGENE and beyond. Ultimately, these agendas should form a sustainable yet flexible basis for more long-term activities concerning RRI in synthetic biology and its societal embedding.
'Responsible research and innovation’ (RRI) is a nascent governance concept developed in the context of the European Commission's 'Science in Society' programme. RRI means that a wide variety of social groups, stakeholders and citizens collaborate throughout all stages of research and innovation in order to better align both the processes and its outcomes, with the values, needs and expectations of society. Societal challenges like sustainable food production, ecosystem restoration, optimized biofuel production, and improvement in human health will have a far better chance of being tackled if all societal actors are fully engaged in the co-construction of innovative solutions, products and services.
The SYNENERGENE project combines instrumental, relational and reflexive learning and an orientation towards the creation of a democratic dialogue on research and innovation policies to strengthen RRI – in terms of both its practice and concept – by establishing new mobilisation and mutual learning processes and by looking for alternative pathways to synthetic biology.
Mobilisation and Mutual Learning Action Plan (MMLAP)
MMLAPs are a funding instrument in the context of the European Commission's 'Science in Society' programme. They are designed to bring together actors from research and the wider community (e.g. civil society organisations, ministries, policymakers, science festivals and the media). These actors will collaborate on action plans that will connect research activities for a chosen societal challenge. An MMLAP encompasses a series of science-in-society actions, such as public engagement, investigating ethics and governance, two-way communication, women in science, and science education. The emphasis is on mobilising all relevant actors and on mutual learning in order to pool experiences and better focus their respective efforts on finding solutions that develop and use scientific and technological knowledge in the public interest.
SYNENERGENE is one of several MMLAPs funded by the European Commission. Its consortium represents a wide variety of stakeholders and competencies relevant to discourse on synthetic biology, and it strives to involve further stakeholders. It organises numerous events that foster public dialogue and help to develop the SYNENERGENE agendas to help realise a sustainable and comprehensive strategy for RRI in synthetic biology. The project combines mutual learning efforts with mobilisation efforts by interconnecting existing players and initiatives of RRI and discourse on synthetic biology, by raising awareness for synthetic biology among other key players of the innovation system and among citizens with different backgrounds, and by stimulating and organising input of policy makers and key stakeholders very early in the process.