A series of public workshops and stakeholder interviews on the science and issues surrounding stem cell research. The project took place during 2008 and was carried out by the British market Research Bureau (BmRB), initiated by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the medical Research Council (mRC), and funded by the Department of Innovation, University and Skills’ Sciencewise programme.
This case study contains excerpts from: “An Independent Evaluation of the BBSRC and the MRC Stem Cell Dialogue Project 2008” available online.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) announced in March 2007 that they would be undertaking an innovative public dialogue project examining the science, and the social and ethical issues, of stem cell research in the UK (BBSRC 2007). The project of activities, sponsored by Sciencewise, aimed to gain an insight into public concerns, views and attitudes towards stem cell research, as well as provide an opportunity for scientists to discuss with the public the challenges that researchers face and the potential benefits from this challenging field of research.
The incentive for conducting the Stem Cell Public Dialogue emerged out of the recommendations of the UK Stem Cell Initiative (UKSCI), published in November 2005 (UK Stem Cell Initiative 2005). The report acknowledges that it will be critical for the regulation of stem cell research to take into account attitudes by engaging the UK public in a dialogue on the ethical issues surrounding the sources and uses of embryonic stem cell lines, the use of animal experimentation in stem cell research, and the benefits and risks of stem cell therapies (UK Stem Cell Initiative 2005).
The British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) was commissioned in mid-2007 to design, develop and implement a UK-wide public dialogue on stem cell research. The BMRB was selected because of its in-depth understanding of scientific practices and regulation in the UK, and for its knowledge of the key issues and stakeholders in stem cell research.
• Engage the public about developments in stem cell research, in order that their views can be taken into account in policy development by Research Councils, the scientific community and policy makers.
• Contribute to creating an environment across sectors and groups that will sustain dialogue on issues relating to developments in stem cell research and their clinical applications.
BMRB developed a deliberative process that brought together members of the public with a range of experts including scientists, clinicians, social scientists and ethicists to discuss the science, ethics and governance of stem cell research. A total of fifteen one-day public dialogue workshops, three each in London, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Newcastle, were held between mid-March and early June 2008.
A range of stimulus materials was used to inform the debate. BMRB, in partnership with the research councils and the Oversight Group, identified key issues and areas for discussion from the findings of desk research and a stakeholder workshop conducted by the Office for Public Management (OPM), and from telephone interviews with 49 stakeholders conducted by BMRB.
Discussion in each of the workshops was guided by a team of facilitators and prompted by a detailed topic guide:
• Workshop 1: provided an introduction to stem cells, and explored the participants’ aspirations and concerns raised by the science and its clinical applications.
• Workshop 2: involved an in-depth discussion into the social and ethical issues related to the various sources of stem cells.
• Workshop 3: focused on the potential future applications of stem cells and the wider social implications of stem cell banks, therapies and clinical trials.
Two hundred public participants were recruited by BMRB to participate in the workshops. The demographic profile of the area in which each of the workshops was held was reflected by quotas set for age, socio-economic status and ethnicity. Attitudes to stem cells were also screened to ensure the sample was broadly reflective of the public attitudes profiled in the results of the BMRB omnibus survey.
Contains excerpts from “Stem Cell Dialogue Final Report”:
• There was widespread though conditional support for stem cell research and therapies. Support was related to the sources of stem cells, the purposes of research and the clinical risks in treatments. There were ethical and social concerns related to both tissue-specific stem cells (TS cells) and embryonic stem cells (ES cells).
• Future dialogue should focus on the cultures and practices of research within institutions. Whilst large structured dialogue events are important, it will be fundamental that the everyday practice and discussion of science is mindful of societal views.
• Uncertainties in stem cell science should be communicated openly if the public debate is to avoid being dominated by hype.
Darren Bhattachary: telephone:020 8433 4163, email: Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org
Gather individual pre-existing opinions
Gather informed and considered opinions (deliberation)
Number of participants
A Group which broadly reflects the Demographic make up of a certain community or population
Level of awareness and interest
participants need information and cannot articulate their interests
participants know about some aspects/can roughly articulate some interest
participants are well informed and can articulate their interests
Science and technology
Limit search to...
... face to face processes
Level of involvement