The group primarily discussed public/supporter engagement in relation to events and open days. A couple of useful themes arose when considering future engagement around animal research:
- It was generally considered not appropriate to deliver activity based solely around the topic of animal research, which can end up feeling a bit odd and the science out of context.
Rather, we should embed conversation around our animal work into activity and ‘normalise’ it. Framing discussions around the scientific method can warm audiences to exploring experimentation on animals. With press activity it was considered important to highlight successful case studies and impact/pay-off of animal work where appropriate. Further, it was suggested that organisations have standard responses and case studies ready to go for fast responses to potentially difficult press stories.
- Always be sure to ground discussion in the 3Rs.
- Don’t be afraid to showcase animal husbandry teams who care for the animals so well.
- Where animal research is used for basic research and the impacts are not readily apparent, we could draw comparisons with, for example, the work on jellyfish that discovered GFP – a fluorescent protein that is commonly used in research practice today. Again – case studies and metaphors are the order of the day!
- It was correctly pointed out that all of our discussion around public engagement was somewhat futile without internal acceptance. It seems there’s still a lot of hesitation when it comes to communicating about animal research within some institutes, particularly charities who rely on generous donations from the public – an artefact perhaps of previous decades. And so it was suggested there may be a body of work for some organisations to complete internally, wherein we get scientists and staff up to speed and confident talking about animal research before approaching the public/supporters.
- There were also some discussions about how to take the concordat forward and what to do if one of the signatories had an incident/was attacked – i.e. do we all rally behind them in support and openness or shy away? The rallying only really works if everyone who’s signed speaks out in support (obviously depending on the context of this hypothetical scenario!)