The Genetic Engineering and Society (GES) Center received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for $350,000 to fund a three-year standard grant in the cross-directorate program of Cultivating Cultures for Ethical STEM (CCE). Issues surrounding genetic engineering, biotechnology, and synthetic biology are contentious, especially when applied to food, the environment, and industrial applications for which direct human consent and medical benefits are not present. How researchers, developers, and policy-makers communicate about and reflect upon their work is of utmost importance to the fields of bioengineering. This research fills an important niche by encouraging those involved in biotechnology innovation systems to reflect on the ethical dimensions of their work and what it means to innovate responsibly. At the same time, this research contributes to important comparative research on conceptions of responsible innovation across four types of institutions. Increased understanding about how participants within and across various professional contexts conceive of and frame the ethical dimensions of their work can assist with future cross-sector dialogue, and potentially conflict resolution.
The research employs a novel approach for comparative analyses of meanings of responsible innovation and ethics in bioengineering, while cultivating socially-responsible cultures of R&D among graduate students, faculty, and outside practitioners in genetic engineering and synthetic biology (bioengineering). It innovates in four key respects: 1) it focuses on bioengineering, specifically in areas in which engineering ethics programs have not routinely been applied, genetic engineering and synthetic biology; 2) it evaluates an example pedagogy of engaged scholarship, student facilitation of focus groups, for learning and cultivating ethical cultures; 3) it uses framings of responsible innovation and appreciative inquiry as key parts of the dialogue about ethical cultures in bioengineering; and 4) it compares meanings of responsible innovation across four sectors of bioengineering: government, academe, industry, and non-profit organizations. Twelve focus groups (three from each sector), pre- and post-surveys, and a values-mapping tool are being used for data collection. Example hypotheses tested include: 1) that participants within types of organizational communities conceptualize responsible innovation for bioengineering in similar ways sharing several secondary values as well as core values (tight coalitions); 2) participants across types of organizations differ in conceptions of responsible innovation, but share some policy core and secondary values (loose coalitions); and 3) interest in responsible innovation and ethics, on average, increase in both external-participants and internal-facilitators after the focus groups (versus pre-focus groups). The project promises to contribute to theory and methodology in Science and Technology Studies, science and technology policy, and ethics education, as well as serve as an example of the practice of “engaged scholarship,” by which the activities of academe meet the needs of external communities and vice versa.
Graduate students in the Genetic Engineering and Society (GES) program and the Initiative to Maximize Student Diversity (IMSD) program at NCSU, with faculty guidance, will serve as facilitators for reflective conversations with stakeholders outside of NCSU to form more robust community understandings of “ethical cultures” and responsible innovation in bioengineering. This grant provides an opportunity for IMSD and GES students to be engaged in the community and have hands-on experience in cultivating ethics and responsible innovation. In doing so, the project will serve to:
- Better define what constitutes an “ethical culture” or culture of responsible innovation in bioengineering from bottom-up conversations,
- Increase GES and IMSD graduate students’ abilities to reflect on their own work in bioengineering by understanding challenges and opportunities in diverse organizational contexts,
- Enhance outside participants’ desire for future moral reflection about bioengineering and what it means to responsibly innovate, and
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the engaged scholarship method of “learning by facilitating” for ethics education of graduate students.
The investigators will incorporate the results of the project into an ethics course at NCSU (STS 304: Ethical Dimensions of Progress) that is taken as an elective by undergraduate engineering students and propose a curriculum workshop at the annual meeting of the American Society for Engineering Education on incorporating ethics and responsible innovation into genetic engineering and synthetic biology (bioengineering) curricula. Materials and outcomes from the training workshops held at NCSU (in preparing students and faculty for the project), the curriculum workshop at ASEE, and the Results Dissemination workshop (at the close of the project) will be broadly available through the Online Ethics Center for Science and Engineering hosted by the National Academy of Engineering at the close of the project.
Dr. Jennifer Kuzma
Science & Technology Policy
Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD)
Science, Technology, & Society
Science, Technology, & Society
Public Affairs, PhD Student
Plus 20 Graduate students from GES-IGERT and IMSD (Communications, Genetics, Entomology, Economy, Public Affairs, Bioengineering, and Natural Resources).