New ways to opening up life sciences research 

How can you establish cultural change?  How best to implement and embed Open Science and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in your organisation? Those are the questions that the ORION Open Science project aims to answer.

Screenshot of the ORION Team at the Annual online meeting in April

From the start of the project in 2017, ORION has been exploring how to establish an open dialogue with society on relevant research topics, such as genome editing, and has been developing new ways of collaborations between researchers and the general public. The ORION project is now entering its last year and will collect and showcase the good practises and lessons learned generated by all the partners. 

More than 40 people including ORION project partners, representatives of the ORION advisory board and associated partners met online for the 3rd annual project meeting on 28-30 April 2020. The main focus was to share progress of the ORION project activities, to brainstorm how to showcase the myriad of activities that have been conducted, and to discuss sustainability beyond the end of the project.

From public dialogues to citizen science and gamification  

How do we actively involve the public in science and disruptive technologies? During the first year of the project, we investigated the public’s attitudes towards life sciences and genome editing. The 6.000 respondents from the six countries that participated in the survey were also asked in what way they would like to be involved in scientific research. The reasons that would encourage most people to get involved are an interest in the research topic itself, and a belief that the research would help society. Some of the most attractive ways on how to be involved were to collaborate in data collection and to give opinions on research questions and topics. Fifty percent of the respondents had previously heard of genome editing and the three most accepted purposes of genome editing in all countries were related to the medical field: prevention or cure of diseases, prevention of disabilities and organ transplantation.

Building on these findings, the project has developed and tested a set of different methodologies and activities on how to bridge the gap and increase collaboration between life science researchers and the general public. One of these activities is the series of public dialogues on genome editing that took place in the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden and the UK during autumn and winter 2019-2020. The objective was to explore the challenges and opportunities the public sees, as well as their hopes and fears regarding the use of using genome editing techniques​ and how the ORION partners should communicate about new disruptive technology. 

The artwork ÆON – Trajectories of Longevity and CRISPR showcased at the the National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm © Emilia Tikka and Zuzanna Kaluzna Photo: Ben Libberton/VA

120 people from the four partnering countries participated in eight national public dialogues and discussed together with national experts their concerns on the use of genome editing. The public dialogues were managed by the ORION partner Babraham Institute, together with CEITEC, MDC and VA. During the dialogues, the Stockholm participants were also shown an art exhibition,ÆON – Trajectories of Longevity and CRISPR, by the artist Emilia Tikka. The artwork stages a potential future scenario, based on new techniques for genetic engineering and is a result of an artist residency at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association, MDC.

Some initial findings from the dialogues shared by David Hills from Ipsos Mori are that participants were positive about research being carried out by ORION partner scientists. However, there were concerns about fairness and the potential for inequality in access to the new technology. When it came to future uses, acceptability was linked to the direct benefits to human health. A full report, including the evaluation and analysis by the ORION partner CRECIM, will be published. The findings will be used to further develop the methodology for involving the public in science engagement activities and how best to communicate disruptive technologies.

Members of the general public discussing genome editing Photo: M Hagardt

Exploring Citizen Science in Life Sciences 

During the third year, two citizen science projects were initiated within ORION. Juan Rodriguez and Elisabetta Broglio of CNAC-CRG in Barcelona presented the Genigma game which has been co-created as a joint effort between scientists, gamers, game developers and citizens. The game will help the researchers exploring genomic alterations in cancer cells. Genigma will be launched at the beginning of autumn 2020 and will be available in Spanish, Catalan, Italian and English.

Gamers and researchers working together to develop the Genigma app Photo: Genigma

SMOVE – “Science that makes me move” is a citizen science project that aims to study physical activity and sedentary behaviour of 300 German high school students. The students teamed up with a scientist to develop a questionnaire to assess potential factors influencing physical activity and sedentary behaviour​.

Katharina Nimptsch is the project manager of SMOVE at MDC in Berlin. She shared that 10 schools encompassing 21 school classes have agreed to participate in the data collection as well as the analysis and interpretation of the data​. The field tests started in February 2020 but had to be paused due to COVID-19 and schools closure​. The project design is now being reconsidered regarding how best to incorporate the impact of COVID-19.

Co-creation is at heart of the ORION project

Co-creation is an open process that allows active participation from different stakeholders to create new ideas or new knowledge. Within ORION, different co-creation experiments that engage multiple stakeholders to explore different ways to make scientific research more participatory. have been conducted. In the Czech Republic, the ORION partner JCMM launched a regional call for Open Science projects on local societal challenges. The call was open for master and doctoral students from local universities in Brno, and 45 project proposals were received, covering areas such as medicine and animal diseases, reduction of heavy metals, reduction of pollution, water cleanness and addressing socio-economic issues.

Micheal Dolezal, project manager at JCMM, explained that for many of the grantees this was their first “real” scientific project and they learned important lessons in project management, collaboration and interaction with public, colleagues, research teams and third parties. The competition gained national attention and one of the winners was interviewed in the Czech television national news. The television team interviewed the grant holder  Ms. Klara Vaculikova, from the Technical University of Brno, Faculty of Civil Engineering, manager of the winning ORION project ”Pollution entering the Moravian Karst via surface streams”. 

Ms. Vaculikova explains how water samples were processed Photo: M Dolezal

Another example of co-creation was presented by Victoria Ramos, the project coordinator of MELTIC, “Ideas MELting pot for TIC and Health Science for Citizens in Small communities”, at Instituto de Salud Carlos III, ISCIII. The MELTIC project brings together two disciplines, health and information and communication technologies (ICT), and will improve the quality of life of European citizens in small communities through co-creation activities with stakeholders including government entities, funders, educators, charities, civil society organisations, patient groups and citizens. ​

The MELTIC team at the Instituto de Salud Carlos Team Photo: CRG

ISCIII illustrated the co-creation activities that led to the launch of a call to award RRI Health Awards to the health-accredited research institutes in Spain. The aim of the call is to recognise, support, promote and disseminate best practises of RRI by Spanish health research institutes. 26 proposals from 18 different research institutes across Spain were received, including projects on Open Science, gender equality, social collaboration, new healthcare models, scientific dissemination to patient and family participation, among many others. The winner of the award will be announced in June 2020. The RRI Health award call has contributed to promote RRI awareness in Spanish research institutes.

Training to implement cultural change

To enable cultural change, organisations also need to empower their staff and researchers with new skills and knowledge. The ORION training team at MDC has developed new educational materials on Open Science and run a series of face-to-face workshops across Europe, training scientists in Open Science. All training materials are now available to use and download from the open source platform Zenodo.

Until now more than 300 people have completed the ORION MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Open Science within the Life Sciences. This course, which includes modules of the different Open Science aspects, is now available for anyone to attend via the Open Learn Create platform. The ORION Open Science podcast series is in its second season and has gained considerable recognition and listeners in Europe and North America. 

ORION Researchers training on Open Science Photo: MDC

Ways forward to implement Open Science

With one year to go before the project comes to an end, the ORION project will continue to collect the results from the multiple co-creation and participatory activities, to elaborate on lessons learned, methods and processes to stimulate mutual learning and cultural change within research performing and research funding organisations.

– At the same time, we are also looking into ways of making the ORION project sustainable and how to include the experience gained in the strategies of the participating partner organisations, and hopefully even beyond our consortium. says Michela Bertero, Co-ordinator of the ORION project at Centre for Genomic Regulation.

More information

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For more information please get in touch with Maria Hagardt, Project manager of ORION Open Science at VA

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