Opening up, closing down, or leaving ajar? How applications are used in engaging with publics about gene drive

A. W. Russell, A. Stelmach, S. Hartley, L. Carter and S. Raman,  Journal of Responsible Innovation,  2022.

Public engagement and responsible innovation are strongly emphasised in gene drive research, together with the goal of addressing societal challenges, notably, malaria and environmental conservation. We aim to explore whether public engagement is used to ‘open up’ or ‘close down’ opportunities to shape gene drive research. Drawing on interviews with gene drive developers and stakeholders, we investigate how the public communication of gene drive is conceived. We find that traditional closing-down tendencies remain, but that there are new and encouraging opening-up approaches. Consistent with responsible innovation thinking, these frame gene drive as multifaceted, context-dependent and requiring deeper deliberation. We also identify a third ‘leaving ajar’ approach that seeks to engage with and respond to local communities and modify technological applications to be more acceptable. Innovation system constraints may well temper current aspirations to open up; framing public conversations around understandings of public good could offer a way forward.

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