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Dialogue influences Babraham Institute strategy

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The evaluation report on the public dialogue to inform the development of the Babraham Institute’s science and public engagement strategies was published late in December 2015.  The report shows that the main impacts are on the new draft of BI’s public engagement strategy, and potentially on decision making processes for BI’s science strategy.

The Babraham Institute (BI) focuses on life science research, generating new knowledge about biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health and wellbeing. The dialogue was commissioned by BI and BBSRC, with support from Sciencewise. The dialogue ran from May 2015 to December 2015. 43 public participants attended workshops in Birmingham and Cambridge. A broad range of stakeholders was involved in the process through an Advisory Group and an External Advisory Group; the evaluation report identifies substantial benefits from this engagement.

The evaluation concluded that a final dissemination event, designed to share the dialogue results with stakeholders and which included individuals from 10 different organisations, was

“an extremely useful meeting, one that engaged the attendees in constructive discussion about the findings of the process in particular and how they can have an impact for both BI and attendees’ organisations”

The most immediate impact from the dialogue was that the new draft of BI’s public engagement strategy incorporated recommendations from the dialogue process, informing BI’s activities at three levels: communication, consultation and participation – in contrast to BI’s traditional approach of one way communications with the public.

While the dialogue was expected to have limited potential to influence the content of the science strategy, the genuine interest from the public participants, and their support for curiosity driven science like that undertaken at the Institute, was expected to influence the decision making processes, including underpinning discussions with third parties and funders. In addition, the six scientific principles that were developed during the dialogue workshops were expected to be of most use in informing BI at a strategic level. These principles were that research should (in order of priority for the participants, with the first two the most important):

•       Be fundamental, in-depth and a ‘building block’ … with potential for greatest increase in knowledge
•       Be fair, helping the greatest number and/or the most vulnerable … and provide outcomes which are distributed fairly
•       Enable collaborations from internal to global / deliver good value for money … by engaging both the scientific community and the public
•       Help people control their health through giving them understanding / tools … to help future generations too
•       Work to increase quality of life … and health ageing through life
•       Bring commercial benefits to the Institute … to enable more research to be conducted.

The evaluation also identified activities that demonstrated the potential for further impact including gaining a positive response from the EU LIFE programme when the dialogue findings were shared with them; interest from the British Society for Immunology in using the findings in their own work; and a joint bid with Cardiff University for grant funding as a direct result of the project.

Recognising that BI’s priorities were strongly influenced by wider strategic frameworks, two key messages were identified through the evaluation to feed through to BIS, BBSRC and others:  

•      The public supports the use of public money to support fundamental research and values it alongside translational research
•     The public trusts scientists to take decisions about where their research priorities should lie.

Immediate impacts on public participants included that 90% said they would be more willing to come to another dialogue event as a result of being involved in these events; 82% said they would be more likely to take an interest in the science discussed; 77% said they had a much better understanding about the science and the key areas of research (a further 23% said they had a bit more understanding).

Evaluation of the public dialogue exercise to inform the development of the Babraham Institute’s science and public engagement strategies, by Icarus.

See related project page: Public dialogue about the future strategy of the Babraham Institute