A periscope appearing out of a sea of DNA helixes

Socialising the Genome

Date: 1 January 2016

‘Geno-what’? Most people have never heard of the term genomics before; we explored how to make it resonate. What social framings, metaphors and memes could we find that turn it into a conversation starter?

There are thousands of films out there that can give you the science of DNA, genetics and genomics, we explored how to create films that do something different.

Our aim was to help shape and inspire everyday conversations that, whilst still rooted in the science, resonated with people. We wanted to know how to make ‘genomics’ click for people who may not know anything about it yet.

The whole point of doing this is because genomic technology is fast becoming part of routine healthcare, i.e. information from our DNA is being used to predict, diagnose and manage health and disease. Whilst you may think – is this really relevant to me? It actually is. The thing is, DNA is a family affair – so whilst you may not be planning on using healthcare services in the near future, people you are related to just might. Information they learn from their DNA could be relevant to you too. We think everyone deserves to have a heads up on what genomics is all about.

Each film we have created has a scientific insight at the core of it; this is based on information we gathered by interviewing members of the British public (social science academics done by Dr Anna Middleton). The themes from these interviews were developed, explored and overlaid with a creative story (communication industry expertise from Julian Borra).

The films were evaluated via an online survey and rated highly for information content, interest and likability. They are now used as part of Public Engagement materials via Genomics England and appear on the websites of various Genomic Medicine Centres. The films are free for anyone to use and are designed as a tool to help start a conversation about genomics.

All six films can be viewed, and downloaded, on Vimeo.

Playlist of all Socialising the Genome films

Project Partners: Wellcome Connecting Science, Thin Air Factory, Fabrika World, The Madell Partnership.

The research was conducted and managed by Dr Anna Middleton, Principal Staff Scientist (social science and ethics), Wellcome Genome Campus, Cambridge, UK. Anna is an experienced social scientist who designed this project. She is gathering the attitudes, beliefs and understanding about genetics from members of the public. This is being done in two stages: firstly via focus groups and then via survey data gathered through this website.

The insights gathered from the focus groups were discussed extensively with Julian Borra, creative director from Thin Air Factory. Julian added a more creative, ‘emotional’ framing and flavour to the outcomes from the Focus Groups and overlaid a narrative grounded in more ‘social’ concepts. We want to know how to start a conversation about genomics with people who know nothing about genomics. These animations are our first evidence-based attempt to do this. The experience gained from this project will be used to guide some of the public engagement activities for Genomics England and their work on the 100,000 Genomes Project in the National Health Service.

The Steering Group that guides this project includes: Vivienne Parry (Genomics England), Katrina Nevin-Ridley (Genomics England), Dr Julian Rayner (Wellcome Genome Campus), Dr Amy Sanders (Wellcome ).

Funders: Wellcome Genome Campus, Genomics England, Wellcome.

This research is funded by a joint partnership between the Wellcome Genome Campus, Wellcome Trust and Genomics England and has received Research Ethics Committee approval from the West Midlands Solihull Research Ethics Committee.

Socialising the Genome was an officially selected film at a number of international film festivals.

October 2016:
Society and Ethics Research are very proud that Socialising the Genome was selected to screen at Awareness Festival in Los Angeles in October 2016.

The Awareness Film Festival is organized by Heal One World, a non-profit charity serving the community surrounding West Pico blvd in Los Angeles, California. As well as serving as a fundraiser, the mission of the Awareness Film Festival is to inform and inspire audiences through a program of films on Ecological, Political, Health/Well Being and Spiritual topics. Awareness showcase both Documentary and Narrative Features,as well as Short Films, Music Videos and Public Service Announcements.​ Our events include film-maker Q&A’s, film-maker Panels, as well as conscious art and music.​​​​​

December 2016: We were thrilled that Socialising the Genome was selected by Raw Science for the 2016 edition of their film festival. The festival honors films on science and technology worldwide. Event partners include the Space Tourism Society Canada and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination and past winners include Ridley Scott’s “The Martian.”

February 2017: We were thrilled when Socialising the Genome was selected to the 2017 International Filmmakers Festival, London film festival and Anna and Lauren traveled to Canary Wharf on 17 February 2017 to see the film on the big screen. Socialising the Genome was nominated for an award in two categories, Scientific & Educational Award and Best Animation or Animated Sequence. Anna also did an interview with festival director, Adam Tinnion, which was broadcast live on the festival’s Twitter.

May 2017: Socialising the Genome was screened on Sunday 7 May 2017 at the International Freethought Film Festival in Orlando, Florida. Society and Ethics is honoured to have work represented at a festival with the ethos of “Promoting reason, critical thinking and freedom of inquiry through the medium of film.”

June 2017: Socialising the Genome was an officially selected film at Los Angeles’s New Media Film Festival in 2017.

New Media Film Festival, an innovative and award-winning festival created in 2009, celebrates stories, technology, and platforms. We continually implement new opportunities outside the norm to bolster creators in media. Through our boundary pushing ideology, we create an environment for creators to thrive. New Media Film Festival is an infinite catalyst for story and technology. Not just any stories, but the stories worth telling.