Team:Imperial College/Communication


Communication as our Theme for Human Practices

Throughout our project, the goal was to engage with all stakeholders as early as possible and to integrate their feedback into PixCell. This upstream engagement is especially important for foundational projects such as PixCell - an overview of how the feedback from our stakeholders shifted the direction of our project is provided in our project flowchart.

Our project revolves around an interface between life and machines - we created a means for which machines can communicate with life. Communication also lays at the heart of our Human Practices strategy - effective communication is key in both Integrated Human Practices and Outreach and Public engagement. Hence the choice of communication as our Human Practices theme.

This year, we present two pieces of original work relating to commmunications that we have developed and used extensively as part of our project. First of all, we created a Communications Strategy Guide to streamline and optimize communication with those outside the team. Secondly, we created a team-communication app that allows us to better discuss sensitive issues that may affect our team internally.

Communications Strategy Guide

As previously mentioned, finding applications, outreach and potential implementation of our project was a huge task. The problem with regard to outreach was two-fold. Firstly, as is the case with most foundational track projects, we did not initially know all potential applications of our technology. As audiences tend to be interested in solid applications that could change their lives, we could not advertise our technology in a way that immediately appealed; another hook was needed. Secondly, since our audience is potentially less interested in our project, this exacerbates our problem of finding applications by communicating with the public.

After discussing this issue with the Science Communication Unit at Imperial College, we found out that depending on how communication is framed, the issue of not having any obvious applications can be circumvented. Hence in the early days of our project, we focused on framing our model as something interesting and novel with the key selling point being a user-defined application. With this framing in mind, we approached our stakeholders who gave us feedback as well as potential applications that they themselves proposed. Through this mechanism artists provided us with ideas related to biopatterning, and a PI raised the issue of the cost and toxicity of our system. The user-driven approach facilitated the integration of these human practices consultations into our project. More information on how we implemented the guide for outreach can be found here.

Reflecting on this experience, we realized there are many things about science communication that we, as well as many other iGEM teams, do not realize or overlook when it comes to creating optimized communication strategies. In response to this need, we developed a science communication framework and created a custom guide that reflects the variety of tools and technology that different iGEM teams end up creating. Full details of our Communications Strategy Guide (CSG) can be seen here.

Let's Talk About This!

Working in a high-stakes and long-term project like iGEM is a highly stressful experience. First of all, to differing degrees, we all had to sacrifice time from academia, personal relationships, leisure time and other commitments. Secondly, projects like these are collaborative in nature and thus each of us have to deal with the differing philosophies and attitudes of other members. These differences in philosophy and attitudes tend to lead to conflict which, compounded by the high-stress environment and personal issues, can bring the project to a halt and severely harm our well-being.

Reflecting on these conflicts, we learned three key lessons. Firstly, resolving personal or interpersonal issues has to be done as quickly and conclusively as possible before issues compound with each other into a quagmire and leave a negative impression of iGEM for everyone in the team. Conversely, with a bit of mindfulness and awareness of the issues everyone in the team is facing, we can avoid compounding our personal and interpersonal issues. Secondly, we realized that these personal and interpersonal issues are often hard to raise face-to-face and thus do not get resolved quickly enough. Thirdly, we realized that we were not the only teams dealing with these issues; everyone wants to do their best and the pressure causes conflicts within iGEM teams. We surveyed 67 different people on 14 different teams on this issue and found that they were indeed dealing with similar problems.

We realized that what was needed was a way to raise issues as fast as possible so that we are able to resolve them or be mindful of them. To that end we have developed the team communication app, which streamlines the raising of sensitive issues. More details on the team-communication app can be found here