Human Practices/How to Succeed

How to Succeed with Human Practices

On this page you will find: How does Human Practices fit into a successful iGEM project?, and Human Practices involves working with humans.

Before you pick up your first pipette, you should think about Human Practices. It is a vital part of iGEM.

Many of the most successful iGEM teams deeply integrate Human Practices work into their project— every finalist team in 2018 was nominated for at least one of the Human Practices Special Awards. The most impressive teams (see Exemplary Projects) engage seriously with societal values, public policy, and perspectives beyond the synthetic biology community.

How does Human Practices fit into a successful iGEM project?

Human Practices can be integrated into every step of the iGEM process. In addition to the Integrated Human Practices work described below, many teams conduct education and public engagement activities that are not directly related to their iGEM project. You can read more about the difference between Integrated Human Practices and Public Engagement in the Frequently Asked Questions in the introduction to Human Practices.

As you form a team and choose a project

1. DIVERSIFY your team skills

Consider integrating ethicists, social scientists, designers, law students, business students, and other experts into your team. The 2018 Grand Prize winners, Valencia UPV, were able to develop an advanced product design for their bio-printer in part because of the designers on their team.

2. FIND your context

Look for real problems to solve. Then explore the communities, institutions, or individuals affected by the problems that you want to work on. This is a good time to begin contacting them to understand the context of your project and how you can best help them.

3. BRAINSTORM societal issues linked to your ideas

Human Practices activities are a natural part of the project brainstorming. It’s time to think about what impacts you want to have on society and to address how society will influence your project!

Think about who will benefit and who might be opposed to your work. Also, think about who else, both inside and outside of iGEM, has worked on similar ideas before. Take full advantage of the diverse skills of your team members.

As you develop your project

4. DOCUMENT all your HP progress

Be creative with your Human Practices methods! Document how you will collect feedback from stakeholders (e.g. end-users, relevant communities, interest groups, industry contacts, policy-makers) or how you will manage societal impact. Consult (and reference!) publications related to your methods and approaches.

Good documentation means continually tracking not only the technical results of your project, but also results from your social or ethical research. Have you made progress in both areas? Help future iGEM teams and researchers build on your work.

Don’t forget to document your ideation and brainstorming process! This is a bronze medal requirement.

5. GO OUT OF THE LAB and split up the tasks

Keep an eye out for both synergies and incompatibilities between your project and society. You may find that other people have concerns about or objections to your project’s intended outcomes, or to the processes you use to achieve them. Take these views seriously— they often highlight important technical and social issues that you have missed.

For example, when the 2019 Calgary team spoke to stakeholders, they learned that their initial plan to remove chlorophyll from canola oil only addressed a small set of the problems faced by the industry, and expanded their project to impact every stage of canola production. Many other Exemplary Projects have been redesigned after the team considered issues raised by their approach.

Human Practices is a team effort. While assigning Human Practices tasks, make sure that many team members are involved.

6. ADAPT your project to what you have learned⁠— close the loop!

What you learn outside the lab may or may not alter the technical direction of your project. You should draw on your Human Practices work to construct evidence-based arguments in support of your team’s safety, ethical, and technical decisions.

Think about the people whom your project impacts, and those experts you spoke to as you were coming up with a solution. What happens to those viewpoints after you have that initial conversation? What about after your project is concluded?

A core tenet in Human Practices is the act of closing the loop between what is designed and what is desired by people. Remember that engaging with stakeholders does not happen in just one event! You will often find that you need to go back to your respective communities after you have gained new insights to seek clarification and discuss new details about your project and any adaptations you may need to consider.

As you prepare for the jamboree

7. PRESENT your results in a meaningful and creative way

Reflect on and present your HP work with the same rigor as your lab work. Demonstrate both the process and the outcome of your HP activities. Show evidence to support your claims. You can find many well-documented Human Practices efforts linked on the Exemplary Projects page.

8. SHARE your results with the iGEM community and beyond

Your project is complete! If you want to share it with the world (and why wouldn't you?) consider not only re-connecting with those that you planned to help in the start, but expanding to new individuals, institutions or communities that may be interested in your work. Documenting the setbacks you encountered along the way to your planned solutions will also be key to allowing others to build on all your efforts.

9. ATTEND the Virtual Giant Jamboree

10. BUILD on past iGEM success

Carry forward what you’ve learned into new synthetic biology projects! Consult your own experiences as well as iGEMers’ past accomplishments and experiences (hint: you can search all past team wikis!). Help Human Practices progress in the iGEM community and beyond.

Human Practices involves working with humans

Successful Human Practices work will typically involve interacting with people outside of your team. This could include:

  • Informal conversations with professors or other people at your institution
  • Structured consultations with communities that might be affected by your work
  • Visiting or touring places (industrial, governmental, or otherwise) where your work might have an impact
  • Collecting information using a survey and presenting the data before judges
  • Public engagement with people who want to know more about synthetic biology
  • and much more!

Often, these activities are a form of human subjects research. In doing your research, you should be mindful of how you interact with people outside of your team.

There are two iGEM policies that are directly relevant for human subjects research. One is the No Human Experimentation policy, which prohibits teams from testing their products on humans. The other is the policy on Human Subjects Research, which includes requirements for surveys, interviews and other types of engagements.

Your team must comply with all iGEM policies. Please review the policies closely as you design and conduct your HP work. Check out the Resources page for information on getting started with informed consent, conducting focus groups, writing valid surveys, and more.

The Education & Public Engagement Prize recognizes excellent efforts to engage communities in influencing activities in synthetic biology. For this prize, teams may cover topics that extend beyond their particular project and may focus on serving other communities. This more “outward facing” work is recognized through this prize as important but different from the project-focused work of integrated Human Practices. Education and Public engagement should also encompass the aspects of ethical social science. As an example, if comments, data and photos will be gathered, the appropriate country, and institutional permissions should be attained. Please refer to the Human Subjects Research policy for guidance.

Some Education & Public Engagement and Integrated Human Practices activities may be overlapping and contribute to both prize qualifications. However, because the goals of these activities differ they should be described differently on their respective wiki pages.

Best Education & Public Engagement
How have you developed new opportunities to include more people in shaping synthetic biology? Innovative educational tools and public engagement activities have the ability to establish a two-way dialogue with new communities by discussing public values and the science behind synthetic biology. Document your approach and what was learned by everyone involved to compete for this award.
How well did their work promote mutual learning and engagement? Education and engagement materials and programs should create a mutual learning process. Demonstrate that a conversation was established, then describe what each party learnt and how that was determined.
Does it serve as an inspiring example to others? Convince the judges that your approach to Human Practices reflects iGEM’s values, public interests, and should serve as a model for others.
Is it documented in a way that others can build upon? Clearly communicate the methods, process and results of your work in your wiki, poster and presentation. If you communicate your HP work elsewhere, tell us where, and why.
Was it thoughtfully implemented? Did they explain the context, rationale, and prior work? Explain why your choose your approach and reference prior work inside and outside iGEM that informed your methods.
Did they both understand and respect the rights, beliefs, and/or cultures of the communities they engaged? Show us how you have informed, designed and tailored your efforts to be appropriate to the communities and contexts you engaged with.
Did the team convince you that their activities would enable more people to shape, contribute to, and/or participate in synthetic biology? Demonstrate how your work has lead to substantial and effective improvements to who can influence activities in the field.