Human Practices/How to Succeed


Human Practices How to Succeed

Tips for Teams

Before you pick up your first pipette you should think about Human Practices (HP). Human Practices is an integral aspect of iGEM and is reflected in the medal criteria and your overall project score. Excellence in Human Practices is also recognized through special awards. HP efforts often serve to both inspire and improve successful iGEM projects (see exemplary projects). The most impressive teams engage seriously with societal values, public policy, and perspectives beyond the synthetic biology community.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Be creative! We love seeing new and innovative approaches that showcases what is unique about your HP activities.
  • Do your research. If you are applying a method that has been used before (such as doing interviews), find out the best practices and recruit an expert to help you. Several previous iGEM teams have developed or expanded frameworks that you can use to begin your HP work. We have also put together a list of resources to get you started.
  • Communicate clearly what you have done and why. Simple, concise and organized reporting helps the judges and teams better understand and appreciate your efforts.
  • Be an example for others. Consider what you can do to help other teams reuse and adapt your work. How might your approach be used in different contexts?

Human Practices involves human subjects research

Teams’ Human practices efforts often involve interacting with communities to understand social concerns. Examples include talking with people, collecting information, analyzing it, and presenting it before judges at the Jamboree and on your wikis. This is a form of human subjects social science research. In doing research, you should be mindful with how you interact with people outside of your team.

Your Human Practices work must comply with all iGEM policies. The two policies that are directly relevant for human subjects research are “No Human Experimentation”, and “Human subjects research (surveys, interviews and other types of engagements) outside of biomedical research”. Part of this compliance is demonstrating your team’s awareness and adherence to national and institutional guidelines,which often involves getting institutional approval for your social science research. Please review the policies closely as you design and conduct your HP work.

Check out the Introduction page of the HP hub for ideas on how to get started on your Human Practices work.
Check out the Resources page for how to get started on conducting focus groups, interviews, surveys, and more.

Earning Medals with HP

All teams are expected to attempt some HP-related activities. In addition, HP is a mandatory requirement for teams wishing to obtain a Silver medal and can be used to meet the Gold medal requirements. Be sure to go over the pages for evaluating criteria for medals for the exact judging language and more information. See the exemplary projects page for examples of previous teams’ successful HP work.


To qualify for a silver medal, teams must demonstrate how they have identified and investigated one or more Human Practices issues in the context of their project. Convince the judges that your have thought carefully and creatively about whether your work is responsible and good for the world. You could accomplish this through engaging with your relevant local, national and/or international communities, or through other creative approaches (see exemplary projects).

It is essential that you document how you investigate these issues, your reasons for choosing not just the questions you want to look at, but the methods that you chose to explore them, and what you have learned as a result of your work.

We encourage teams to look beyond surveys as a way to engage in Human Practices. Conducting a survey will not necessarily count towards your Silver Medal requirement. For example, simply gathering information about people’s understanding of synthetic biology DOES NOT meet this requirement. If you choose to conduct a survey, you must show us that you followed scientifically valid survey methods and that your survey data relates to your specific project.

See “How to conduct a valid and legitimate survey” at the bottom of the “How to Succeed” page.


To qualify for a gold medal, teams must complete two of the four requirements listed on the official medal criteria page. To qualify for gold using your Human Practices work, your team must expand on your silver medal activities by demonstrating how the investigation of your HP issues has been integrated into the purpose, design, and/or execution of your project.

Just talking about your project with people outside your lab DOES NOT meet this requirement. Show us that your conversations with people outside the lab have influenced the goal, design and execution of your project and how you think about your work (i.e. your roles and responsibilities). We want to see how your iGEM project (e.g. intended applications and their limits, potential users and stakeholders, experimental design, methods to deliver products and communicate results, etc.) has evolved based on your Human Practices work. Think of the design/build/test/learn cycle of engineering and show us how social feedback informs this process.

Competing for Track Awards and Best Prizes

Teams compete for track prizes and for a spot as a grand prize finalist through their project evaluations. For details, see judging rubric. One of the ten aspects on which teams are evaluated is, “How thoughtful and thorough are teams’ considerations of human practices?”. However, teams’ Human Practices efforts often impact their project evaluations in other aspects of the judging rubric (such as whether the projects were impressive, creative and likely to have an impact). See the exemplary projects page for examples of previous teams’ successful HP work; you’ll notice top-ranked teams have strong Human Practices engagement throughout their projects.

Competing for Special Prizes

Teams can compete for two special prizes within HP: Best Integrated Human Practices and Best Education & Public Engagement. For more information on how to become eligible for these prizes and exact language visit the pages for evaluating criteria for awards. Teams are evaluated for each prize separately using four criteria. One criteria is unique to each special prize, and three are shared between special prizes. See the exemplary projects page for examples of previous teams’ successful HP work.

Best Integrated Human Practices Best Education & Public Engagement
The Best Integrated Human Practices (HP) prize recognizes exceptional work based on the gold medal requirements for Human Practices (see above). To qualify for this award, you must demonstrate how you have considered how your project affects society and how society influences the direction of your project. How might ethical considerations and stakeholder input guide your project purpose and design and the experiments you conduct in the lab? How does this feedback enter into the process of your work all through the iGEM competition? Document a thoughtful and creative approach to exploring these questions and how your project evolved in the process to compete for this award. The Best Education & Public Engagement (EPE) prize recognizes exceptional efforts to include more people in guiding work in synthetic biology by providing new tools, knowledge, and opportunities. For this prize, activities do not have to be directly related to your team's project (as is expected for the Integrated Human Practices prize and gold medal requirement), but may look at wider issues related to iGEM or synthetic biology. To qualify for this award, you must demonstrate to the judges how you have developed new opportunities to include more people in shaping synthetic biology. Innovative educational tools and public engagement activities have the ability to establish a two-way dialogue with new communities by discussing public values and the science behind synthetic biology. Document your approach and what was learned by everyone involved to compete for this award.
1.- How well was the work integrated into the project?
Demonstrate how your project’s purpose, design and/or execution evolved based on findings from your Human Practices work.
1.- How well did their work promote learning and engagement?
Education and engagement materials and programs should create a mutual learning process; demonstrate that a conversation was established, describe what each party learnt, and how that was determined.
2.- Does the work serve as an inspiring example to other teams? Convince the judges that your approach to Human Practices reflects iGEM’s values, public interests, and should serve as a model for others.
3.- Is the work documented in a way that other teams can draw and build upon? Clearly communicate the methods/process and results of your work in your wiki, poster and presentation. If you communicate your HP work elsewhere, tell us where, and why.
4.-Was the work thoughtful in its implementation? Explain the context and rationale for your approach and reference prior work inside and outside iGEM that informed your approach