Being open to openness: my personal experience with public engagement

Being open to openness: my personal experience with public engagement

Being open to openness: my personal experience with public engagement

Sarah Drummond, an experienced animal technician in our animal facility, shares her perspectives on being open around the use of animals in research and the importance of animal technicians speaking about their work. 

In the past there has been obvious reluctance to discuss work that involves the use of animals for fear of negative reactions from friends, family and others. There were misconceptions surrounding animal research, due to the historic culture of secrecy, and the misleading nature of some communications. However, in recent years attitudes have been changing. A 2018 survey commissioned by the Office for Life Sciences to understand public awareness of and attitudes towards the use of animals in research found that most of the public accept the use of animals in scientific research for medical and scientific purposes (65% and 68% respectively).  

Understanding Animal Research launched the Concordat for Openness in Animal Research in 2014 and is currently signed by 128 UK organisations. Signatories to the Concordat have agreed to abide by a set of commitments to help the public understand more about animal research. The Babraham Institute has been formally recognised as a Leader in Openness and has been praised for the cameras placed inside the BSU to allow virtual tours of the facility whilst maintaining the barrier.  

My perspectives as an animal technician 

As an animal lover myself, I understand the fear that some of the general public may have about animal research. I believe that a part of my job as an animal technician is not only to be an advocate for the welfare of the animals in my care, improve their quality of life and ensure that we follow all the necessary regulations and guidelines, but also to teach others the importance of the work being done. I believe it is important to promote that when work must involve the use of live animals that their welfare and the principles of the 3Rs; reduction, refinement and replacement, are always at the forefront of what we do. I think it helps for the public to see that those of us working with animals in research care deeply for animals and want the best possible care for them. 

Being part of the Institute’s culture of openness 

The Institute is strongly committed to public engagement, it’s vision is of an open, transparent and accountable organisation that is leading in its contribution to culture, society, economic development and growth. I believe that the Institute’s approach to openness has developed and grown in the time that I have been working here, helped by using social media platforms and a user-friendly, regularly updated website. Opportunities for engagement include Schools' Day, participation in the Cambridge Science Festival, as well as other science festival events, and regular careers fairs. 

The Institute provides opportunities for all staff on site to learn more about how we use animals on site through the Animal Research Seminars and the regular virtual tours of the BSU which are open to all. Training and support for those who want to take part is provided by the Public Engagement and Comms teams. Also available, is a workshop led by Understanding Animal Research which provides advice and practical information on how best to talk about the use of animal in research in line with the Concordat. 

Getting started with engagement 

After bringing my own collection of pets to my daughters’ school and taking part in handling events at a local exotic pet shop, I’ve found that engaging with people isn’t actually as scary as my introverted self would have me believe. This year I decided to join in with any opportunities for public engagement that came my way. Recently the BSU took part in Babraham Institute’s takeover of the Understanding Animal Research Instagram page and a group of technicians from Babraham and the University of Cambridge took a recent trip to a local academy to judge a Dragons Den style challenge involving students designing new items of environmental enrichment. I found both of these to be positive and enjoyable experiences and I feel that it is important to promote our role in welfare and to be open about our industry in order to improve awareness and understanding. Everyone I have spoken to so far has been interested and I look forward to future opportunities for public engagement and hope that I can encourage others to do the same.