6 December 2021, Royal College of Physicians, London
The first award of the evening was presented by Clare Standford, Professor of Translational Neuropharmacology at UCL and the 2021 Paget Lecturer, to Agenda Life Sciences for its Discovery Park Vlog series, an innovative video series that presents a side to animal facilities that we haven’t seen before.
Agenda has recorded the refurbishment of an old animal facility as it is modernised to meet the high standards of 2021 and has captured the processes of transforming it over time. The judging committee was impressed by the honesty of the piece, showing that everything is not perfect all the time and that sometimes there is a need to update and change spaces and practices.
While the audience for these videos will largely be from the bioscience sector, the decision to place them in the public domain to provide people with insights into the expected conditions for housing animals, how welfare measures are considered in practice, and the role of an establishment licence holder is original. Previously this type of information would have been available to a few insiders, but these videos have shown that it can be made openly available to anyone who is interested in how animal facilities are designed and run. It may even have a role to play in supporting people who are new to animal research and getting to know the licensing process, such as new technicians, AWERB members or establishment licence holders.
The second award was presented by Rachel Lambert-Forsyth, Chief Executive of the British Pharmacological Society and Managing Director of BPS Assessment Ltd to The Pirbright Institute for their internal engagement practices.
The Pirbright Institute has exemplary internal engagement practices, and a joined-up approach to research that ensures clarity, and that no one in the organisation is unaware of the research that goes on there.
Not only is the institute’s research widely discussed and disclosed, but there are ample opportunities for staff to voice concerns, find out more, and be involved with oversight. The judges were particularly impressed by the fully open-door policy on AWERB meetings, which enables all staff to engage with and take responsibility for the regulated research carried out. The judges were also impressed to see posters that display animal work undertaken at the institute, ensuring awareness of this type of research, even for those who don’t read the institute’s website. The Institute’s whistleblowing process is also clear and well-considered to ensure that staff feel comfortable raising concerns.
While these individual practices are not unique to this institute, the joined-up approach to put new recommended practices in place is exceptional and deserves recognition. The judging committee felt that while others should be taking these bold steps towards connecting openness and animal welfare, no other approaches, so far as they are aware, are so cohesive.
The third and final award of the night was presented by Jan-Bas Prins, Director of the Biological Research Facility of the Francis Crick Institute to the University of Cambridge for its animal research website and continuing to raise the level of challenge in the stories they tell about their research.
This university’s website remains the best example of a website about the use of animals in research.
The animal research webpages are so comprehensive and prominently placed on the university’s website, that it would be extremely difficult for a website visitor, whether a prospective student, a current member of staff or a member of the public to remain unaware that the university uses animals in its research.
Research organisations are developing their websites all the time and the bar is now high, but what makes this website exceptional is its use of media. The videos on the websites provide real insights into this organisation’s research. The level of challenge they present includes imagery that goes well beyond showing stock animals in cages, but rather shows clinical signs of OCD and how it affects the animal models. They talk through how, when and why animals are used in detail and do not shy away from potential areas of concern or controversy.
While the university has previously won an Openness Award for its use of video, the judging committee felt that the recent articles added to its website were equally impressive. Again, the university chooses a visually challenging area but was not afraid to show the realities and potential benefits of their research.
Many thanks to all our presenters and a huge congratulations to all the Openness Award winners.