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Does openness necessarily change attitudes?

Clarifying the question

  • The group began by discussing the title question, and whether it is intended to cover specifically public opinion, or also other stakeholder groups like research and security staff, politicians, and funders, and decided to keep the question open to apply to all groups.
  • An early debate covered whether the intention of our openness under the concordat was to specifically seek to change attitudes, or whether it was enough to ensure that we give people the right information to allow them to make informed decisions.

What evidence do we have that attitudes change?

  • The group shared anecdotal evidence of interventions they had used to try and change opinions of particular groups, from interacting directly with campaigners protesting outside an institute, to providing talks for school students.
  • Anecdotes shared suggest that in many cases, those who were neutral are often swayed towards supporting animal research by interventions, but those who are strongly against animal research are less likely to change their minds. The group noted that sharing factually correct information with this group is still beneficial, even if their opinions don’t change. The group also debated whether there was a possibility that openness could turn people who were neutral and would rather not think about it against animal research if you engage with them.
  • The group discussed how changes in attitude could be measured. On a local scale, doing opinion surveys before and after events can be a way of measuring the impact of a specific activity/intervention, and much of the anecdotal evidence was based on this sort of evaluation.
  • The IPSOS MORI survey is used as the wider evidence base for public opinion on animal research. It recently showed a small dip in support, but as the questions were different in the most recent survey it is difficult to compare with previous survey results.
  • Overall the group felt that the evidence base on the impact of openness on opinion was mostly anecdotal. They suggested that UAR could take a lead in developing a strong evidence base.

What sort of openness could change attitudes?

The group had a wide and varied discussion! A few areas touched on include:

  • Since the Concordat had launched there was a lot more information publicly available, and that when you searched for information on the internet the balance was now falling in favour of factual information rather than opinion.
  • One discussion raised how the sector will need to change the way it communicates with people – social media means that photos and videos are going to come into their own. Short 90 second videos are popular.
  • The group discussed animal research stories which seemed particularly popular with the media and the public, including several ‘before and after’ stories which used visual images and video (for example daschunds with spinal problems and mice with dementia). They felt that these were good news stories but weren’t particularly typical and wouldn’t actually represent all the research that had gone in to making this breakthrough happen.
  • The group discussed communicating about basic research and applied research which had clearer impact, and felt it was harder to explain the benefits of some basic research, but suggested using long term case studies which demonstrate a tangible impact from initial basic research.
  • The group discussed whether increasingly being more open is likely to increasingly change more attitudes, but felt that after a point there would be diminishing returns.
  • The group discussed being open about historical animal research where the science and welfare may not have been as rigorous and felt that it’s a complex topic to communicate about in a fleeting engagement encounter, and opens questions about how we may look back on current practice in future years.

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