The UK government commissioned a public dialogue on industrial biotechnology (IB). A two-part citizen jury involving 48 participants sought to assess and understand public perceptions of it, finding that IB is relatively unknown and conjured negative or intimidating connotations.
Problems and Purpose
Industrial biotechnology (IB) is the application of biotechnology for the processing and production of enzymes, chemical, materials and bioenergy for industrial purposes. The UK government’s department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) set up the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team (IB-IGT) which commissioned a dialogue project to explore public perceptions of IB. This project sought to understand what excites and worries people about this emerging technology. The key objectives were to:
- Enable BERR, together with other relevant departments such as the department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to make better-informed decisions on policy for the uptake of IB by the chemicals and chemical-using sectors that take into account public values;
- Test the water for a potentially larger cross-Government public communication exercise and public dialogue that would inform any refresh of the genetically modified (GM) crop policy;
- Provide a mechanism whereby a broader group of NGOs could be drawn into the IB-IGT process;
- Create greater awareness of IB amongst the public and an understanding of likely concerns and drivers for renewable chemicals;
- Help to build public confidence in the Government’s use, management and regulation of science and technology
- Draw out the wider relationship between IB and GM that could inform the Royal Society’s report on biological mechanisms for enhancing food crop production and work to take forward the Cabinet Office Study on the Future of Food and Food Policy.
- Enable the IB-IGT to understand public perceptions of IB and understand what, if anything, might raise public concern [1,2]
Background History and Context
Industrial Biotechnology (IB) is seen as a potential answer to a number of challenges, including limited resources of raw materials and energy, societal expectations and the challenges of globalisations and global warming driving a move to low carbon, knowledge based bio-economy. The European Union is seen as leading a drive for the transition to the bio-based economy of member states. The vision is that by 2025, increased use of IB will drive down reliance on fossil fuels for energy production and chemical and material production of will improve in efficiency and environmental sustainability.
The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team (IB-IGT) was set up in November 2007 by the UK government’s department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR). The IB-IGT had a remit to develop a strategic view, producing a comprehensive report in 2009 including an action plan and recommendations for Government, industry and others that will increase the use of IB by the chemicals and chemicals-using sectors. It aims to identify facilitators and barriers that will help or hinder the development of the full range of technologies and mechanisms required to capitalise on the opportunities of IB. The IB-IGT identified that public opinion could be a key barrier to the adoption of some aspects of this technology, as IB is both relatively unknown and is connected with the wider debate around GM. The IB- IGT believes that in order to effectively influence government policy and develop meaningful communication strategies it is key to have an evidence base which includes an understanding and appreciation of the public’s perspective of IB and its potential uses.
In August 2008, BERR, in partnership with the Sciencewise programme, commissioned a project to explore public perceptions of IB to contribute to the thinking of the IB-IGT. The project took the form of a two-stage citizen jury, taking place in London and Manchester. The project was supported by an advisory group and expert speakers ensuring the public had sufficient time and information to engage in informed deliberation and decision making. Opinion Leader and 3KQ were commissioned to deliver the project. The results of the project were reported in February 2009 to inform the IB-IGT report and action plan. 
This dialogue project was part funded by Sciencewise, a programme funded by the UK government to provide funding and support to organisations carrying out public dialogues to inform decision making on science and technology issues.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Commissioning Bodies: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) formerly the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR); commissioning team in the department was the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team (IB-IGT).
Department for Business Innovation and Skills
The department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), formerly known as the department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), commissioned the project. The commissioning team within the department is the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team (IB-IGT).
Sciencewise-ERC is a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funded programme to bring scientists, government and the public together to explore the impact of science and technology in our lives. It helps Government departments and agencies commission and use public dialogue to inform policy making, involving science and technology issues. Its core aim is to develop the capacity of Government to carry out good dialogue, to gather and disseminate good practice, have successful two-way communications with the public and other stakeholders, and to embed the principles of good dialogue into internal Government processes.The programme provided £60 000 of the £110 000 cost of the project. 
Delivery Contractor: Opinion Leader
Opinion Leader is a research-based consultancy. Opinion leader were commissioned by IB-IGT to deliver the public dialogue.
3KQ works in the field of facilitation and stakeholder engagement. They provide facilitation, convening and engagement services. Along with Opinion Leader, 3KQ were commissioned by IB-IGT to deliver the public dialogue. 
Evaluation Contractor: Kathryn Rathouse, KRSRE
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Individuals involved in the project included 48 members of the general public invited to take part in the citizen juries, 12 stakeholders invited to take part in the Project Advisory Group (PAG), and 18 experts invited as speakers for the citizen juries.
Participants for the citizen juries were recruited to reflect the composition of the wider public, with regards to gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic group and/or education/work status. Participants were not informed of the exact nature of the topic in advance to avoid introducing bias, they were told they would be discussing new scientific developments. Participants were screened to make sure they were not working in the scientific field in order to ensure that the jury started from a similar position in terms of prior knowledge.
Recruitment took place using a network of independent recruiters, they followed a screening questionnaire and sample quota. Participants were paid an incentive of £250 at the end of the final jury (£85 at the end of the first stage) to thank them for their time and cover incidental expenses.
The PAG was a group of stakeholders invited to take part in the project on a voluntary basis. The purpose of the group was to contribute to the development of materials for the public, providing information sources, suggesting expert speakers and ensuring the material was accurate and representative of the breadth of viewpoints. A range of stakeholders from different organisations were invited by BERR and 3KQ to take part to ensure a range of different perspectives. The evaluation report notes limitations in recruiting participants, with common reasons being time commitments or stakeholders feeling they did not hold fully developed views on IB. 12 stakeholders, representing 9 organisations attended at least one of the PAG meetings. The report provides full details of who was invited and who attended .
Expert speakers represented a mix of academic bodies, policy makers and the IB-IGT. 18 expert witnesses were involved in the juries. Full details of the expert speakers are provided in the evaluation report .
Methods and Tools Used
The project was qualitative in nature, using a citizens’ jury approach. A citizens’ jury involves intensive discussion over a number of days using deliberative methods to stimulate in depth discussion, such as the use of expert witnesses.
The purpose of the jury was to explore and identify the perceived concerns and areas of interest that arose amongst the group, as an indication of the perceptions of the wider public . The jury was convened in two stages, the first being an introductory meeting explaining basic concepts and the second involving expert speakers discussing uses of IB. This allowed participants to digest information, and also allowed for support from the participatory advisory group.
Given the complex nature of the subject and the need for a balanced approach, the jury was supported by a project advisory group, who also met in two stages. The structure and function of the stages of the dialogue is set out below.
1st Project Advisory Group Meeting
- Understand the process
- Input into the design
1st Citizens Meeting (in London and Manchester)
- Familiarisation with material
- Identify questions
2nd PAG meeting
- Hear initial response
- Respond to information requests
2nd Citizens meeting
- Debating issues
- Expert Q&A session
- Come to an informed view
Following these events, the project reported back to the BERR in December 2008 and to participants, speakers and members of the PAG in February 2009.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
First PAG Meeting
A Project Advisory Group was convened, made up of Government, industry and NGO representatives. The group met to discuss the objectives for the work and oversee the information public participants would need to begin to debate the issues. The meeting was facilitated by 3KQ.
1st Citizens Meetings
The first citizens’ meetings took place over two locations, London and Manchester, during early November 2008. The meetings involved 24 members of the general public in each location. The event lasted a day and a half. It was designed to be exploratory, bring participants up to the same basic level of knowledge about biotechnology and allow them to set the structure for the second stage of the process by identifying key question areas for further deliberation and required perspectives.
Day 1 consisted of an introduction to the topic, purpose, and process as well as a brief discussion about science and technology in general followed by allowing participants to get to know each other. Day 2 consisted of a neutral briefing on IB, with specific applications, a briefing on the context of the discussion and introduction to some differing opinions around IB. An independent scientist was present at each meeting and was able to respond to participants’ questions. Argument cards were used to provide brief scenarios that exposed participants to a variety of views on IB, a pub quiz was used to introduce concepts such as ‘what is a chemical?’, and a ‘true or false’ game introduced environmental concepts. The session ended with participants identifying the questions and knowledge gaps that they felt should be addressed at the next meeting.
2nd PAG Meeting
The Project Advisory Group met to discuss the outcomes of the citizens’ group meeting and offered guidance on the agenda for the next meetings. 3KQ facilitated these meetings and invited expert speakers identified from this meeting to attend the second group meeting. BERR and Opinion Leader also invited expert speakers.
2nd Citizen Meeting
At Stage two, half of the London participants and half of Manchester’s participants were then reconvened for a two-day event in London in the interests of maintaining an appropriate size of Jury. At stage two, a panel of “witnesses” were convened for participants to question to enable them to attain a deeper understanding of the issues. Building on the first stage of the Jury and the second PAG meeting, three particular case studies were identified by the PAG to act as vehicles for the Jury’s discussions on IB; these were bio-plastics and polymers, specialty chemicals and bio-refineries. A number of witnesses were identified across industry, government and the third sector and invited to provide information and answer questions according to their expertise and points of view. The witnesses were selected from recommendations by the PAG to enable the key areas of interest identified by the Citizens’ Jury in the first stage to be explored. They were recruited from industry, academia, and charities to allow a balance of perspectives and range of expertise.
Participants heard evidence from 18 experts (approximately 5 minute presentations each), and were then given the opportunity to question witnesses directly chaired by Opinion Leader. At the end of each case study session, participants went into discussion groups facilitated by Opinion Leader in order to respond to the information they had just heard and reflect on how it made them feel about IB overall. At the end of the final day, participants were invited to pull together their thoughts on IB and to present back to the stakeholders in the process, namely representatives from BERR, Sciencewise and the IB-IGT.
According to the Opinion Leader report, the dialogue process highlighted the following issues:
Drivers of public perceptions
Public perceptions of IB are informed by a variety of attitudinal and contextual factors. These primarily include: concern about the economic climate, concern about climate change, levels of understanding and misinformation about science and technology; and levels of trust in Government and industry.
Those taking part in this research often struggled to focus on IB per se. Its use in a variety of contexts raised a wide variety of questions, not least of which was about “our way of life” generally. Participants’ first and preferred response to the challenges was to re-evaluate modern life, before embarking on anything new.
However, the economic downturn has given rise to an appetite for technologies that are efficient, produce less waste and can even do something useful with that waste, such as produce fuel. Yet people are also concerned about cost and seek reassurances that the use of IB will not mean higher prices for the consumer.
While suspicious of “Government” people are supportive of “the national interest”. People are particularly protective of the UK’s position in relation to global economies and interests; keen to get our “fair share” by gaining economically from developing IB, whilst not making disproportionate efforts (relative to other countries) in areas such as reducing carbon emissions.
Some participants were reassured that government was looking into solutions to resource shortages and that strong safeguards were in place regarding the use of GM. However, other participants’ general views about government dominated their thinking and were unsurprisingly unchanged by the dialogue process.
What worries the public about IB
Those taking part have a number of issues and concerns with IB, both overall and in relation to specific examples (such as Bio-plastics and Bio-refineries). Following a dialogue with a range of scientists, many of these issues were addressed and no longer presented significant concerns.
The main concern running through deliberations on the different aspects and applications of IB was the use of GM in any application. This was also the ‘scientific story’ most on their radar after exposure in the press in recent years. As many understood more about the science of GM their concerns where more specifically focused on genetic modification of crops as used in feedstocks, rather than GMOs being used in IB processes. Of key concern was the natural/unnatural dichotomy which many taking part struggled to reconcile. For some, the issue was one of principle; is GM right? But for others of greater concern was how GM crops and GMOs can be contained and, if it was not, what the implications are for people, the environment and ecosystems. Further, there are questions surrounding just how ‘green’ IB really is. Participants in the research sought to understand the balance and scale of its impact not just on climate change but also on the physical environment and ecosystems
Perhaps unsurprisingly, people were concerned to know how the growth of this new technology and economy might impact on their lives. There was concern and confusion about cost, with many misunderstanding the role the consumer would play in driving demand and prices. Some also questioned the relative quality of IB products against products made via conventional processes. Further concerns emerged around how the development of IB would actually be achieved on a realistic and workable scale both in the UK and globally; with many anticipating that the challenge in converting to a bio-economy would be significant, requiring global and political co-operation.
What excites people about IB
There was limited awareness about the availability of fossil fuels. Once informed about known fossil fuel reserves, many of those taking part expressed high levels of concern about both the availability of and reliance on these reserves for fuel and other products. Given this, there was a desire to seek alternatives to fossil fuels and to find these alternatives quickly.
IB is perceived as potentially offering “hope” to some of the key challenges the world faces, provided the implications are properly managed and IB is adopted on a larger scale. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for the idea of Britain as leaders in new science and technology fields which appeals to people’s sense of national pride.
Related to this is an interest in what IB developments in the UK might mean for regional labour markets and ‘British’ jobs. Processes which are efficient, produce little or no waste and use sustainable or renewable feedstocks are very much welcomed. This is particularly powerful in the context of an economic downturn and climate change, which together, have led some to question ‘our way of life’ (the amount we consume, waste, etc).
There was particular excitement around medical advancements which could bring many benefits ‘for the greater good’ as well as potentially impacting on people’s everyday lives and needs.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Influence on Policy and Policy Makers
The results informed the IB-IGT action plan for the industry to 2021, and led to a specific recommendation for further public and stakeholder engagement in the future. The dialogue led to BIS establishing a group with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to look further at IB. The dialogue process created a mandate and space for this work, and started to build new relationships around policy development.
The dialogue provided hard evidence of public views and underlying public values on the topic, which enable BIS to make better informed decisions on policy relating to IB. Government’s decision to open up dialogue with the public increased transparency around a potentially highly contentious subject. The dialogue helped policy makers understand the values that underpinned public views and, therefore, provided insights to guide future work on IB. It helped policy makers understand the level of public knowledge on the subject and, therefore, to plan future education work better. Policy makers are now better able to formulate future messages and develop future communications strategies.
The dialogue helped policy makers understand where they could use public dialogue in the future, and provided an opportunity to spread awareness and understanding about IB.
Policy makers valued the role of the dialogue in bringing different interests in the policy-making process together, including the private sector meeting with the public.
Impacts on public participants
This initiative impacted public knowledge and attitudes. For instance, 100% of public participants said they had learnt something they did not previously know and 29% said they wanted to learn more. 49% of public participants at the first event and 100% of those at the second event said they had changed their views as a result of taking part.
Participants trusted that policy makers were listening to their views. More than half thought the Government would take the public’s views into account. Just over half said the meeting had boosted their trust in the Government’s decision about these issues.
The dialogue stimulated interest in IB among some participants that continued after the events, and they found out more and discussed what they had learnt within their own social circles.
After the event, 96% of public participants thought it was very important to consult with the public about issues such as IB.
Impacts on Scientists/Experts and other Stakeholders
The dialogue provided opportunities for scientists to develop communication skills and to try out messages directly with the public, so gaining instant feedback.
Additionally, the project enabled experts to hear public views, fears and aspirations first hand. The experience helped some expert speakers overcome fears of public hostility to the extent that they were more willing to take part in similar events in the future.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The evaluation report observed the following overall issues with the research.
IB is a broad area covering many different applications, making it difficult to grasp. The link between the different elements of IB is not intuitive to the lay public and is often not helpful, causing confusion about where and how they overlap. For example, GM is a feature in some but not all IB applications. A lack of understanding about market forces, global economics and the public’s role as consumers leads to confusion about IB’s role and impact in their lives. Specifically, the drive to make a profit was seen to be irreconcilable with an environmental agenda. There is a desire for a solution to the challenges of climate change and depletion of fossil fuels that would present no issues and give no rise to concern; people are less keen for ‘difficult’ or complicated solutions. There is a tendency in the first instance to reject IB on the basis that it presents issues and implications which need consideration and regulation.
There was some concern about the trustworthiness of the findings because of the focus on the benefits of IB and the small number of participants. The latter could be addressed by explaining the purpose and value of qualitative research.
It proved very difficult to engage environmental and consumer organisations that might be expected to hold less positive views about in the dialogue process, let alone the IB-IGT. This was mainly because they did not cover IB or it was not high priority for them, or they were short of time .
The findings uncovered the following “Key Barriers” to public acceptance of IB according to the final report. The main barrier to public acceptance of IB is fear of the unknown, based on a limited knowledge of science in general and a fundamental lack of understanding of IB specifically. This vacuum of information is currently being filled with stories about the more controversial developments, namely GM and biofuels, thus creating immediate emotive associations which will need to be overcome.
Therefore, there are some very complicated messages to communicate around IB in order to gain public understanding and potentially acceptance. Furthermore, there are elements of IB that the public find worrying, even with greater understanding. Namely GM crops, cost, quality and land use in developing countries.
Negative messages in the public domain about these issues could have a dramatic impact on public acceptance. People are keen to hear what green groups, such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, think about these emergent technologies. Indeed, the views of these organisations, and others independent of government and industry, such as think tanks, are largely perceived as credible sources. An opposing view from these organisations is likely to be given weight by the public. 
The findings uncovered the following “Key opportunities” according to the final report.
Despite low awareness levels, the public have the potential to become enthused about scientific developments. The overriding need is for a greater level of factual information; to dispel myths and to address misinformation.
Factual information is compelling and can change views. Some areas of information about IB in particular have a considerable impact. These include:
- Knowing the ‘generational’ story of IB: getting over the reticence about ‘new’ developments by demonstrating that it is not something new but is part of an evolution
- Understanding the science behind IB processes: overcoming the fear of ‘scary science’ and in particular dispelling myths about GMOs
- Knowledge of the alternatives; to put the concerns and benefits in context
- Information about regulation: who, why and to what degree are different aspects of IB regulated? Giving the impression of an excess of regulation, to the extent where IB is so restricted it can barely happen in the UK, gives a signal that IB really is something to worry about. This was particularly in evidence, for example, in relation to information about the restriction of GM crops in Europe. It begs the immediate question, if it wasn’t so bad, why have they banned it? An apparent lack of or inconsistent regulation on a specific application prompts concerns about safety.
Delivery of this information is crucial, with the equal potential to motivate or alienate. In order for this to be successfully received as ‘factual’ and understandable, delivery must be carefully considered and measured in terms of:
- Relating IB to ordinary life: gaining buy-in and understanding via tangible examples, rather than alienating by talking about abstract scientific concepts
- Providing the right amount and weight of information: achieving a style that presents nothing that is too overwhelming but equally not too nominal or condescending
The source of the information is also important; using scientists, academics or ‘expert’ views help to demonstrate that information is balanced and informed. This may also help to tackle the wider image of scientists operating ‘alone’ and not communicating with the public. Equally, getting the help of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) would greatly aid communication of the issues. 
Lessons for future practice
In order to discuss complex scientific issues effectively, public participants need sufficient background information and sufficient time to explore issues in appropriate depth.
It is important for the negative as well as positive implications of a new technology to be clearly articulated for the public. Without this, public trust in the process can be reduced and the findings can be of less use to policy makers who want to know public views of negative arguments.
New ways need to be found to engage NGOs that may not see the topic as an immediate priority. It can be particularly important to include NGOs among those providing input directly to the public participants to ensure there is an appropriate balance of perspectives. It takes time to develop the individual relationships that will encourage participation of key stakeholders in these sorts of public dialogue projects.
This dialogue was seen as the first stage of continuing public and stakeholder engagement on IB, and this approach was agreed to be an integral part of the IB-IGT action plan for the industry to 2021. 
Lessons for good practice (Evaluation Report)
With careful design and delivery of Citizen's Meetings, the team managed to successfully make a complex scientific issue accessible and engaging to a wide audience. As a result of good communication between the delivery team, policy makers, and experts on the Project Advisory Group, the material and structure of the Citizens Meetings ensured that key policy questions were addressed.
However, difficulty engaging organisations that hold less positive views about some of the uses of IB was a serious problem. Their absence meant that some participants either had nagging doubts or concluded that the problems of IB were minimal, and that policy makers did not know how the public would react if arguments against IB should surface in the future. There are three main lessons for the future:
- The public is able to have a sophisticated debate around complex scientific issues, provided that information is given in an engaging and accessible way.
- Close involvement between delivery team, policy makers and experts, through a well facilitated mechanism such as the Project Advisory Group, helps ensure that findings are of value for policy and decision making.
- It would also be useful to find ways to present both sides of the argument throughout the dialogue process, in the absence of speakers with serious concerns about the technology under discussion .
 Opinion Leader (2009). Public perceptions of Industrial Biotechnology: A report prepared for the department for business, enterprise and regulatory reform (Feb 2009).
 Sciencewise (2009). Case Study: Industrial Biotechnology- A dialogue on the public views, aspirations and concerns around the use and potential development of industrial biotechnology,
 Kathryn Rathouse Social Research (2009). Evaluation of public dialogue on perceptions of IB (June 2008).
 Sciencewise (2017). Public perception of Industrial Biotechnology- Background [ONLINE] Available at [http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170110132447/http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/public-perception-of-industrial-biotechnology/