TUESDAY, 12 DECEMBER 2023The Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science, and the Public (KCESP) was launched in December 2021, and is a unique collaboration between the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, and Wellcome Connecting Science funded by The Kavli Foundation. Prof Anna Middleton - the director, Dr Richard Milne - the deputy director, and Dr Catherine Galloway - the translation and innovation lead, head the centre.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr Galloway regarding her role at Kavli and exploring the goals for the centre. The KCESP focuses on taking ‘the scary out of science’, says Galloway. It aims to invite the public into conversations and discussions around the innovations which shape our futures. The centre pursues the admirable aim of creating social change through involving and engaging the public in pioneering ways, by connecting them to scientists working in the areas of genetics, big data, and AI.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AT THE KCESP?
A: So, the short description of what I do is the Department of Crazy Ideas. I'm the only non-scientist in the centre. The ability to engage with all sorts of public, and make potentially difficult things understandable and accessible, are what they [the Kavli Foundation, our funders] were interested in. So the translation part is taking the cutting-edge science and translating it into a format, or a variety of formats, that are accessible for people who are non-scientists. The innovation part is the department of crazy ideas.
Galloway believes that her role, at the centre, is being ‘the voice of the general public’. She is particularly interested in ‘solutions journalism’, an evidence-based mode of reporting on the responses to social problems, a model she wishes to implement in the Kavli Centre. A recent debut of one of Dr Galloway’s ideas took place at the Cambridge Alumni Festival. The Hopes and Fears lab was run by the KCESP on the 24th September 2022. This gave alumni the chance to sit down with scientists working on cutting-edge developments, to hear what excites them and what makes them stop and think. It also provided an opportunity to share the public’s hopes and fears in return. Dr Galloway reported that the event was a ‘conversation experiment’ which resulted in excellent communication between members of the public and scientists, which was ‘magical’ to see.
Q: WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THE KCESP FACES?
A: At a moment, when scientists and the public face so many pressing and urgent concerns, our biggest challenge is to show how our key questions about science and society are also relevant and need to be addressed now, for the benefit of us all. Whether in the context of future medicine, tech development, or food and farming. We are asking people to consider, right now, 'Is this the type of science we want? Is this creating a world that we want?' And we want to do this in ways that are as cutting edge as the science itself. Doing things very differently to how they have been done before is challenging. But it's also what makes the work really exciting.
The centre recognises the current issues in science engagement. In an age of fake news, viral trends and the spread of misinformation, science involvement needs to take place ‘where people are’. Galloway boldly states that ‘Science communication as it stands isn't working for people who aren’t walking towards the the science already; more and more people are saying they feel left out, disengaged.’ The KCESP takes necessary action to proactively engage the public in non-traditional ways. It aims to work with people outside the scientific community, to make science relevant, appealing, and accessible to the public. Galloway wants to develop ‘creative partnerships’ with those outside the science world. An exciting project of the KCESP is called ‘Only Human’, and is a ‘socialising the genome’ project. Galloway revealed that this is a creative partnership with ‘top filmmakers’, advertising agencies,and musicians. The centre realises the value of using these renowned storytellers, and the important role they will play in moving large groups of people - the public - towards genetics, big data, and AI.
Q: HOW DO YOU INTEND TO REACH GROUPS WHICH ARE OFTEN EXCLUDED FROM SCIENCE ENGAGEMENT, SUCH AS THOSE WITH LOW SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS, AND ETHNIC MINORITIES?
A: The methods we are most excited about using aren't conventionally part of the science engagement repertoire. Instead, we're building on partnerships with community groups in all sorts of different areas, finding out what matters to them and then working on a way to build science into that. Our director, Anna Middleton, has a background in genetic counselling and this idea of listening as much as talking - and using dialogue-based activities rather than a straight 'lecture' style - is very much part of how we work. And finally, being located at the Faculty of Education is especially helpful as colleagues there have done a lot of fascinating work on how to reach disengaged or disadvantaged groups. We are rooted in the belief that a global conversation about science and society needs everyone, and everyone has a right to be part of it. Or, as Jesse Jackson says, "When everyone is included, everyone wins." We have that up in the office.
Q: WHAT AREAS OF SCIENCE, OTHER THAN GENETICS, BIG DATA, AND AI, DO YOU PLAN TO EXPAND TO?
A: That's going to depend, in part, on what the public tells us they want. Dr Richard Milne is going to do his big global survey, which is currently being called the Kavli Global Survey on Public Attitudes to Science. If that is coming back really strongly [saying] we feel very disengaged or disempowered in this certain area [and] we're very worried by it, that is where we'll push.
The centre does not intend to be ‘limited’ by their ‘three big areas’, Galloway states. The KCESP plans to create purposeful connections between scientists and the public at early stages of research. This differs from the traditional scientific journey, in which the science is often shared with the public when results are known, at the end of a scientific journey.
Q: HOW CAN SCIENTISTS HERE AT CAMBRIDGE ENGAGE WITH THE KCESP?
A: Get in touch! Our door is always open for anyone, at any level, interested in working with us to reflect on the implications of their own science, develop new skills, and think creatively about the future we are building and about how to connect with the public in a way that is beneficial to all sides.
The Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science, and the Public are eager for engagement from scientists and the public alike. The work of the centre is proving essential in a world overwhelmed by constantly developing science. Scientific advancements have the power to change our everyday lives, yet they raise concerns amongst society itself. The centre ambitiously tackles this by creating a science-society bridge. They are creatively answering how to bring global public audiences into discussions on scientific breakthroughs and taking a multidisciplinary approach to tackle the ethical issues raised by cutting-edge science. For more information and exciting opportunities and updates, find the centre at: https://kcesp.ac.uk
Merissa Hickman is a Master's student in Genomic Medicine at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge. She is particularly interested in the ethical, legal and social impact of Genomic Medicine. Illustration by Caroline Walker.