Newton Fund Project Report

Zhang, J. Y. (2020) Promoting Social Embeddedness of New Biotechnologies Co-Developing Public Engagement in and with China Canterbury: GSA-China. online access:https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/gsa-news/files/2020/05/Newton-Project-Report.pdf

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Day 3- Newton Researcher Links Workshop

After two days of intensive examination and cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary dialogues, we believed that a better science dialogue was possible. So during the final day of the Beijing workshop on Promoting Social Embeddedness of New Biotechnologies, we tried to come up with individual and institutional action plans.

Divided into four groups, we design recommendations for both home institutions and regulatory bodies on how to better embed public dialogue in scientific research so as to benefits both the public and the scientific community.

To be sure, there was a limitation to what a 3-day event can accomplish. But it is safe to say that we each left the workshop venue with something useful for our future work and with a somewhat refreshed view of what our work is about.

We hope this is just a start of a long and fruitful conversation between the research communities in the UK and in China.

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Day 2- Newton Researcher Links Workshop

After mappings out the tools and resources on the first day, day 2 of this Beijing workshop moved onto the practicals.

In the morning, we had three consecutive sessions of ‘the Anatomy of An Idea’. A few participants pitch their idea on future research bids in the life science and acted as ‘Project Leaders’ (PLs). Based on these idea pitches, which included its intended scientific and social benefits, as well as potential difficulties/uncertainties and the expertise required, other participants decided on which group/project they were to join. In the second session, these self-selected small groups helped the PLs examining the entire process of his/her research plan, assessing its scientific and social/legal viabilities, finding ways to better incorporate public value/public needs, and exploring innovate approaches of reaching out to various end-users or affected communities. In the third session, each project group reported back to the whole workshop on what action plans they had discussed to help promote social embeddedness of their bioscience bids, and/or how it contributed to cross-cultural public engagement of science.


This was a mutual learning process. Through the workshop discussions, we discovered that, despite its long tradition, many UK ECRs were also inexperienced in factoring in engagement and interdisciplinarity to their planning. Many were unaware of the need/opportunity for this work or of the resources and support that are on offer. This highlighted the need to deepen and widen guidance on public engagement of science that speaks to practical research managements.

We originally intended this to be a mocking exercise for making international bids, but after the discussion, we were not so sure – there were some innovative and feasible ideas, it  wouldn’t be surprising that participants would take them forward and turn them into successful grants!

A more reflective turn came in the afternoon when we made a group visit to the China Science and Technology Museum.

After a briefing by the Museum staff, we started working in pairs, examining and critiquing the strength and weakness of science communication of ‘the only comprehensive museum of science and technology at national level in China’.

Everyone was tasked to seek their answers to the following four questions through systematic reflection of the four-floor exhibitions:

  1. What is the general ‘tone’ or orientation of the exhibition? To what extend do you find this general tone helpful to promote public dialogues of science?
  2. How is scientific uncertainties featured in the Museum’s exhibition? Based on your previous experiences, what could be improved and how?
  3. What is the most engaging aspect of the Museum and what makes you feel this way?
  4. Which aspects of the exhibition promote public understanding of science? Which aspects of the exhibition may lead to or aggravate public ‘misunderstanding’ of science?

To some extent, both the success and failures of China Science and Technology Museum’s curation serve as a mirror, which help practitioners in both the natural and social sciences to open up imaginations of creatively communicate their desires, intentions and concerns within and outside of academia.

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Day 1- Newton Researcher Links Workshop

On 14 October 2019, our interdisciplinary workshop, ‘Promoting Social Embeddedness of New Biotechnologies:Co-Developing Public Engagement in and with China’  began!

Coordinated by Dr. Joy Zhang (University of Kent, PI), Prof. Xian-En Zhang (Chinese Academy of Sciences, PI),  Prof. Mark Smales (University of Kent, Mentor), Director Paul Manners (UK’s National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, Mentor), Prof. Lu Gao (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Mentor) and Prof. Honglin Li (China Research Institute of Science Popularization, Mentor), this workshop consisted of 22 early careers researchers (ECRs) in the biosciences and 14 ECRs in the social sciences from 16 Chinese and 14 UK institutions.

After short openning speeches from representatives of the European Section of the National Natural Science Foundation of China and of the Institute of Biophysics , Chinese Academy of Sciences, the 3-day discussion was kicked off by a brief panel discussion from the 2 PIs and 4 Mentors on their respective views and experiences on the public engagement and the biosciences.

(Clockwise from top left: Lu Gao, Xian-En Zhang, Honglin Li, Mark Smales, Joy Zhang, Paul Manners)

This was followed by a World Cafe style of brainstorming.

We called it ‘Unpacking the Toolbox’. That is, participants are divided into self-selected groups and they collectively identified, criticised and reflected on existing socio-economic sources, institutional channels and cultural strategies that help to promote good science-society relations in China and in the UK. They rotated around the following four key questions for roughly 1 hour with 10 minutes of feedback to the whole cohort:.

  • Is transparency always better? How do we know when and when not to engage? 
  • What is public value and how can the biosciences contribute to it?
  • How to make ‘scientific evidence’ socially intelligible?
  • How to make public engagement useful for scientists?

As you can see, everyone soon got really busy and the room was filled with heated discussions:


The questions may seem to be straightforward, but not the discussions. To various extent, we suspect all participants felt the process of ‘tuning in’ to their (international) collaborators’ cultures and professional contexts informative. In addition to visible structural differences and constraints, participants from both countries were struck by how many subtle differences there were in how scientific priorities were conceptualised, how the aim and timing of public dialogues are framed, and how the value of international collaborations were perceived.

But it was also through this process, we started to gain better understanding of where different concerns as well as different priorities came from.  Thanks to Professor Xian-En Zhang’s brilliant idea (and his beautiful accordion performance), we find ourselves celebrating insights gained from a full day’s discussions with a collective sing-along!

 

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Call for Participants: UK-China Interdisciplinary Workshop for Early Career Researchers

CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS

UK-China Interdisciplinary Workshop for Early Career Researchers

Promoting Social Embeddedness of New Biotechnologies

Beijing, China

14-16 October, 2019

China is the UK’s key partner and co-funder in the biosciences. Collaborative projects with China have substantially shaped policy and professional norms in the research and application of biotechnologies. Yet a number of empirical studies have highlighted that a lack of public engagement in China, together with limited knowledge of Chinese scientific culture, have often cast a shadow on the perceived public accountability towards research carried out in, and with, China. This interdisciplinary workshop, jointly funded by the Newton Fund and the National Natural Science Foundation of China, will bring together 40 funded participants (20 from each country). It will empower a new generation of bioscientists and social scientists from both China and the UK to critically and creatively examine what effective public engagement entails and cultivate a sense of mutual understanding and camaraderie in shaping future governance of the biosciences. In particular, through interactive activities and knowledge sharing, this workshop is focused on delivering the following three aims:

Aim 1: To empower early career professionals in both the biosciences and related areas (e.g. PE, science policy and scientific journalism) with confidence and key skills to actively shape, respond and steer public dialogues of biosciences in an age of intensified transnational exchanges.

Aim 2: To create an interdisciplinary research community for early career researchers to develop practical, effective and socially engaged bioscience based projects.

Aim 3: To co-develop action-plans at both institutional and cross-institutional (including transnational) level to incentivise, facilitate and support effective public engagement of the biosciences.

The workshop is coordinated by Dr. Joy Zhang (University of Kent) and Prof. Xian-En Zhang (Chinese Academy of Sciences, former Director General of Basic Research in China), with major contributions from Prof. Mark Smales (University of Kent), Director Paul Manners (National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, UK), Prof. Lu Gao (Chinese Academy of Sciences) and Prof. Honglin Li (China Research Institute of Science Popularization). 

This is an invitation for bioscience or relevant social science researchers based in the UK who are within 10 years of receiving their PhD (or with equivalent work experience) to apply to participate in this workshop. All travel (including visa), accommodation and meal expenses will be covered by the Newton Fund Researcher Links programme. Travel and medical insurance are not covered by the British Council.

Application and Deadline

UK-based applicants need to submit the following 2 documents to: ukchinaworkshop@kent.ac.uk by 16 June 2019. 

  1. A one-page CV (including name, contact details, institutional affiliation, field of expertise, and length of work experience)
  2. A short statement on how you will contribute to the discussion and what you see as the challenges in securing public trust in and/or facilitating social uptake of new biosciences (300-word max).

Notification of results:  Applicants will be notified on the outcome of their application by e-mail by 1 July 2019. 

 

 

 

 

 

This work was supported by a Researcher Links grant, ID 2018-RLWK10-10359, under the UK-China Research and Innovation Partnership Fund. The grant is funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and National Natural Science Foundation of China and delivered by the British Council. For further information, please visit www.newtonfund.ac.uk

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Policy Impact in China

On 3 January 2019, Ministry of Science and Technology in China has officially accepted Dr. Joy Zhang’s policy recommendations on increasing transparency and public accountability of Chinese science and have circulated these recommendations in their Neican. ‘Neican’ refers to valued policy submissions which are put forward to ministers and other high-level officials. For social research to be featured in Neican is highly uncommon even for academic projects funded by China and would be considered as a ‘major research achievement’ within China. To accept Neican from a British sociologist and based on UK-funded project is even more rare.

A set of recommendations were based on empirical findings from this ESRC project, Governing Scientific Accountability in China. In her submission, Dr. Zhang pointed out five action points: 1) capacity building among stakeholders on public dialogues and embedding engagement and public outreach throughout scientific projects; 2) making ‘self-assessment on social responsibility’ as a requirement for funding applications and grants’ period reviews; 3) a shift to proactive and precautionary governance ethos, informed by both quantative and qualitative studies of public opinion (qualitative studies were rare); 4) promoting interdisciplinary and transnational exchanges on ethical governance through regular academic and regulatory meetings; and 5) encourage participation in global ethics and regulatory dialogues at all levels.

This Neican publication is a significant and welcome signal that Chinese authorities are exploring ways to enhance transparency and accountability of its science. This push for policy change is part of a series of efforts Dr. Zhang initiated over the past three years to promote accountable and mutually beneficial research collaborations between China and the UK. This is a collective effort and we want to thank everyone who have contributed to this project, especially our interviewees and participants of our workshop and conference.

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2019 Workshop Announcement

We are delighted to announce that in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, we are to host a 3-day interdisciplinary workshop in October 2019. We aim to bring together and empower a new generation of bioscientists and social scientists from both China and the UK to critically and creatively examine what effective public engagement entails. This work is supported by the British Council’s Newton Fund.

Here is a summary of the workshop, and a call for participants will be sent out in early spring.

A number of empirical studies have highlighted that Chinese life scientists’ lack of knowledge and skills to anticipate, guide, and respond to social discussions has not only cast a shadow on the public attitude towards research carried out in, and with, China. More importantly, ailing public confidence precludes the effectiveness of international collaborations and hinders social uptake on emerging technologies. Future research leaders in both China and the UK, two key partners in the biosciences, would benefit significantly by developing a shared knowledge and tools of how to work with intermediaries across different social contexts, knowing when and (just as importantly) when not, to engage.

The workshop will take place between 14-16 October 2019 in Beijing. It will consist of 40 funded participants in total. In addition to the 6 organisers, 17 early career professionals participants will be selected from each country, including 10 from the biosciences and 7 from public engagement related areas. The workshop programme has been established to achieve three aims:

Aim 1: Capacity building with a cosmopolitan outlook: The primary aim of this workshop is to empower early career professionals in both the biosciences and related areas (e.g. PE, science policy and scientific journalism) with confidence and key skills to actively shape, respond and steer public dialogues of biosciences in an age of intensified transnational exchanges. This is done by experience and tacit knowledge exchange, collective mapping of institutional and social resources, and guided by mentors’ reflection panels.

Aim 2: Create an interdisciplinary research community for early career researchers to develop better research bids. Practical design and effective delivery of socially engaged bioscientific projects require pooling expertise from both natural and social sciences. Yet increasing subject specialisation and disciplinary divides make it difficult for professionals from one discipline to network with their peers in relevant areas. This universal challenge is especially true for early career professionals. This workshop initiates the formation of a transnational and interdisciplinary network through speed networking, group discussions and rapid presentations. This also enables participants to jointly explore opportunities and continue the dialogue beyond the 3-day event.

Aim 3: Co-developing action-plans at both institutional and cross-institutional (including transnational) level to incentivise, facilitate and support effective public engagement of the biosciences. An action-plan is not equal to institutional commitments, but it is a critical start for participants to reflect, envision and instigate practical ways to strengthen public confidence and public trust of emerging biosciences. The collaborative and dialogical nature of co-developing PE action-plans is a valuable exercise for participants to carry workshop discussions into their everyday practice. Two sessions at the end of the workshop are dedicated to this.

This workshop is organised by Dr Joy Zhang (University of Kent, PI), Professor Xian-En Zhang (Chinese Academy of Sciences, PI), Paul Manners (National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, Mentor), Professor Mark Smales (University of Kent, Mentor), Professor Honglin Li (China Research Institute of Science Popularization, Mentor) and Professor Lu Gao (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Mentor).

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GSA-China at the International Summit

Dr. Joy Zhang was invited to deliver two talks on key findings from this ESRC project at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing.

Dr. Zhang first expressed her concern over a ‘public engagement-deficit’ in China’s rise as a global scientific power in her Summit presentation. During the Summit, Chinese scientist Jiankui He’s announcement of the birth of gene-edited twins cast a shadow over ethical governance in this field. Drawing on empirical findings from the GSA-China project, Dr. Zhang’s urge for a professional cultural and structural change within China and her call for the international communities to not only collaborate with China scientifically but also to co-develope public engagement capacity in and with China seemed to be most timely.

The audience at the Summit responded to her presentation with a ‘Bravo’. The following day, China’s leading science blog translated her speech in full. The full video of Dr Zhang’s talk, and the panel discussion she took part can be accessed here.

In a post-summit event organised by the Royal Society, Dr. Zhang delivered a second talk on how to interpret state-science-society relations in China.

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Invited Lecture at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology

Later in October, Dr Joy Zhang gave a lecture to staff at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology at the invitation of CASTED, the Ministry’s research arm. The lecture, titled ’The Comopolitanization of Science and the Search for a “Chinese Voice”’, drew on findings from this ESRC project.  It reviewed the standards of ‘good governance’ in global science and put forward a candid criticism that China’s traditional governing approach had repeatedly failed to gain public confidence in its scientific agendas both at home and abroad. She further suggested practical ways to developing public engagement capacity and enhance openness at multiple levels.
Three of CASTED’s Directors came to the lecture and commended on the EMR training initiatives proposed by Dr. Zhang. We were also much encouraged by an email sent by one of the Directors who noted that such training was a matter of ‘urgency’.
Following her visiting-fellowship at the Beijing University of Technology earlier this autumn, Dr. Zhang will visit China again next Spring and roll out further training and idea exchange events on promoting public dialogues of science in collaboration with partners in the Chinese Academy of Science and Chinese Medical Association.
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Publication 6 – Final Project Report

Zhang, J. Y. (2018) Governing Scientific Accountability in China. Final Report of the ESRC Research Project. Canterbury: GSA-China. online access: https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/gsa-news/files/2018/01/GSA-Project-Report.pdf

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