08 November, 2023
At the Babraham Institute, we take pride in our commitment to openness on animal research. As one of the 125 UK organisations that have signed the Concordat on Openness, we believe in sharing our work and fostering a better understanding of the crucial role animal research plays in scientific advancements. This year, we celebrated the 9th anniversary of the Concordat in a unique way, giving the public a behind-the-scenes look into our animal research unit, the Biological Support Unit (BSU), through a takeover of Understanding Animal Research's (UAR) Instagram account. This blog will walk you through our process, my experience and some tips if you would like to plan a similar event.
The aim of the Instagram takeover was to invite the public to ask questions and directly interact with people whose job it is to care for animals used in research. As a Small Animal Facility Supervisor at the BSU, my commitment to transparency in animal research and my advocacy for animals have shaped my journey. Throughout my career, I've encountered numerous misconceptions and worries about using animals in research. These experiences have strengthened my belief that sharing insights, debunking myths, and educating the public can lead to informed judgments and a deeper understanding of the significance of our work, especially the dedicated care we give to our mice. My role provides me with a unique opportunity to help bridge the gap between the scientific community and the broader public and therefore when I was approached by one of our Co-facility Heads and the Head of Communications to see if I would be interested and I jumped at the chance!
We knew that to make this content come to life we’d need support from across the Institute. Our passionate team was led by Louisa Wood, Head of Communications, who has been a driving force for openness in animal research, and with the unwavering trust of Paul Symonds, our Co-Facility Head, we embarked on this endeavour to share our passion and vision. Without our incredible team of people bringing different skills and suggestions, the Instagram takeover would not have been possible. We wanted to captivate Understanding Animal Research’s audience and give a representation of the technical expertise, daily tasks, and people behind our facility. Therefore, we formed a team of people who were committed to openness around animal research and had varied experiences and roles within the BSU.
A key highlight of the campaign was the involvement of Serena, an Experienced Animal Technician, who shared her in-depth knowledge of our aged mouse colonies. She discussed how aged mice are vital to our understanding of what happens during the ageing process, for example if vaccines are as effective in young and old animals.
Additionally, Marc (Co-Facility Head) and Sarah (Experienced Animal Technician) brought our work to life through on camera interviews addressing some myths about working with animals in research and by talking through their own career journeys.
Before the big day, Louisa and I met to discuss content and put together a story board that worked for both of our schedules. Louisa focused on creating graphics which explained what the Babraham Institutes aims are and why we use animals in research, whilst I focused on the BSU and trying to show our commitment to animal welfare. The storyboard was vital to our success on the day as it provided us something to keep us on track and ensure that we were putting out content regularly. It also allowed us to think about issues such as where we should film, constraints within the barrier facility and how to involve other people.
After the storyboard was complete I got to work on filming some short clips such as the interviews and videos of the units. I was able to take a mobile phone into an animal unit and began testing out certain areas for sound quality and where to be so I was not disturbing our technicians. It felt very strange having my phone in the unit! The BSU is a barrier unit which means that we have many processes in place to maintain a clean environment for the animals. Normally all personal possessions must stay in our lockers so this felt very strange but after we had approval from the veterinary surgeon and our co-facility heads we managed to work out a process for getting my phone in to facilitate the takeover without compromising on our high hygiene standards.
Whilst I was filming some of the content Louisa used her design skills to add the Institute logo and colours to graphics and include links and interactive elements that would allow the public to engage with us. Before starting this project, I had not considered details such as branding guidelines so it was really interesting to learn about communications from Louisa and her team.
On the day we began by posting our pre-made graphic content before moving on to the live content and then finally we answered questions from members of the public. Overall it was a very long day but I think we both found it very interesting and we had some good feedback.
What we learnt:
Time constraints was the most significant obstacle we hit. However, thanks to Louisa’s proactive preparation of graphics and useful links before the big day, we hit the ground running. We also used instant messaging channels such as WhatsApp to keep in close contact with the team at the UAR.
One thing that I learned personally was the importance of practicing your speech or demonstration beforehand. By refining our presentations and interviews, we made sure that our message resonated authentically with the audience. Most importantly, we had fun throughout the day. Despite the busy schedule and the broad range of subjects we covered, working as a team and playing to each other's strengths allowed us to provide a glimpse into the Biological Support Unit and our team's focus.
Our commitment to openness and transparency is more than a pledge; it's a driving force behind our research and a vital part of improving technician visibility. We believe that by sharing our experiences, including challenges and successes, we can bridge the gap between the scientific community and the public, fostering a deeper understanding of the importance of our work and the shared commitment of those working with animals.
We hope that our campaign will inspire further openness initiatives at the Institute and encourage others who may be hesitant to give it a go.
08 November 2023