What is Human Practices?
"Human Practices is the study of how your work affects the world, and how the world affects your
— Peter Carr, Director of Judging
Which problems can synthetic biology best help to solve? The process of developing solutions to real-world problems in ways that are socially responsible, sustainable, safe, and inclusive, is what we call Human Practices.
These issues are complex, and real-world problems don’t have a single or simple answer, so Human Practices work requires looking beyond the lab. Inviting stakeholder input, building interdisciplinary collaborations, and understanding relevant regulations and codes of conduct are just a few ways to begin developing a responsible and impactful research project. Stakeholders can have different and sometimes conflicting values that can be equally valid.
Human Practices therefore requires you to think critically, be able to appreciate different views, and to co-develop solutions that best serve the concerned communities. By reaching out to and learning from diverse communities, iGEM teams are also creating opportunities for broader publics to help shape the practice of synthetic biology.
Questions you might consider
Human Practices involves investigating what it would mean for your project to be responsible and good for the world. Here are some questions you might consider:
- How might your team’s solution to one problem lead to other problems (e.g. social/political/ecological)? Could your project be misused?
- How can your team anticipate and minimise the impact of these concerns?
- What’s your plan to inform and work with relevant authorities or stakeholders of potential risks related to your project?
- How might current policies and regulations apply to your project? Are they sufficient, and if not, how might they be changed?
- How does the iGEM community expect your team to be safe and responsible, both inside and outside of the lab?
- In what ways might your project benefit society?
- Which communities may be most interested or most affected by your project?
- Which communities may be left out or negatively impacted if your project succeeds?
- How might you get feedback on the viability and desirability of your approach? How will you adapt your project based on this feedback?
- How might your approach compare to alternative solutions to the same or similar problems (including approaches outside of biotechnology)?
Getting Started with Human Practices
Human Practices activities take many shapes and forms. In trying to develop projects that are responsible and good for the world, iGEM teams must look beyond their lab.
- interviewed stakeholders who might make use of their work, like farmers, fashion designers, and factory workers
- conducted environmental impact analyses
- created museum exhibits and creative public engagement activities
- written intellectual property guides
- facilitated "white hat" biosecurity investigations
- held forums with local legislators
- spoken at the United Nations
- developed tools to help other teams examine questions of ethics and responsibility
- and much more!
Through these activities teams have engaged with topics and issues including ethics, safety, risk assessment, environmental impact, social justice, product design, scale-up and deployment, public policy, law and regulation, and much more. In each case these activities have helped to shape the goals, execution and communication of their projects.
The Human Practices Hub
We’ve put together this Human Practices hub to help you with your work. You can:
- Learn how to succeed by incorporating Human Practices into every stage of your project
- Watch our introductory video.
- Read the answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Human Practices.
- Check out exemplary projects from previous years.
- Explore resources that can help guide your thinking.
- Learn about the history of Human Practices in synthetic biology and iGEM.
- Contact the Human Practices committee with any remaining questions!
If you have questions or suggestions please check out the FAQ
or email us at humanpractices [AT] igem [DOT] org
We love hearing from teams as they explore he Human Practices issues that arise during their iGEM season. Best of luck with your projects!