Building with Biology Pilots Newest Forum “Editing Our Evolution: Rewriting the Human Genome” at Four NISE Network Partner Institutions

Kayla Berry and Katie Todd, Museum of Science
Building with Biology

Piloting the "Editing Our Evolution" forum  

Four Building with Biology project partners recently hosted the “Editing Our Evolution” forum within their local community helping to extensively test program materials and gather visitor feedback on the forum and their experiences. Pilot site locations varied by institutional size, geographic location, and audience demographic. Each pilot site's experience was different and unique, and all had wonderful stories to share with us. These are just a few highlights: 

Photo credit: Michigan Science Center (miSci)


Photo credit: Michigan Science Center (miSci)

Michigan Science Center

Detroit, Michigan

It was a great confirmation that programs like this are headed in the right direction to have participants at the end of our program ask if we would do other programs like this in the future. It showed us that there is a want within our community to have conversations like this.

~ Kevin Farmer, Pilot Site Forum Host

New York Hall of Science

Queens, New York

This forum allowed us to engage museum guests and research scientists in conversations where both groups could freely ask questions, challenge each other, and formulate their own opinions.  In a supported way we were able to explore complex personal, societal, and ethical implications of scientific advancements which we often can’t do with exhibits on the museum floor.

~ Erin Thelen, Pilot Site Forum Host

North Carolina Museum of Life and Science

Durham, North Carolina

The conversation and dialectic that followed [the guest speakers] was impassioned, lively, and civil – people laughed, people cried, and people made connections with one another across boundaries of geography, age, and expertise...All in the room committed to listening, sharing, and working together to navigate and attempt to solve some of the most pressing and challenging questions posed by human genome editing. And at the end of the evening, participants asked just one question about the forum: "When are you doing this again?"

~ Max Cawley, Pilot Site Forum Host

Photo credit: Museum of Life and Science

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Portland, Oregon

The forum at OMSI went really well! Participants arrived with a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds and successfully came together to have some really dynamic, in-depth discussions. The way the scenarios were written really helped people have positive, effective conversations.

~ Rebecca Reilly, Pilot Site Forum Host

Formative evaluation

Across the four pilot sites, 96 forum participants completed post-surveys for the formative evaluation. As shown in the table below, the results of these surveys show that most respondents strongly agreed that they enjoyed the event (77%), had constructive conversations about a potentially controversial topic (73%), and found the discussion topics compelling (70%).

Participants reported learning about a range of topics, most often including the complexity of scientific issues (17 of 76 responses) and others’ points of view (15 of 76 responses). For instance, one described learning about, “broader discussion of the ethical issues/social issues related to genome editing” and another mentioned, “I learned a lot about different viewpoints. People had ideas I hadn’t thought of myself.” When asked what they valued about the experience, survey respondents most often mentioned the access to diverse opinions (40 of 81 responses) and discussing the topic (22 of 81 responses).


In addition to the participant surveys, project evaluators interviewed representatives from the pilot sites to learn what had worked well and identify ways the project team could better support future sites in leading this forum program. Despite initial concern about the forum’s material being overly controversial, all of the host site representatives felt that participants had successfully self-facilitated their group discussions, with interviewees describing the overall discussions as “really good” or “excellent” and noted that participants were “intrigued and interested,” “open and ready to listen, and “really interested.”

What’s next

Based on the formative evaluation data, the project team is making adjustments to the forum program that will improve clarity, address time management concerns, offer more visually appealing materials, provide enhanced resources for recruitment, and emphasize the limitations of scientific uncertainty about human genome editing.

Once finalized, the “Editing Our Evolution: Rewriting the Human Genome” forum will be distributed to 24 NISE Network partners across the U.S. to host their own program this summer. Check out the full list of Building with Biology 2018 “Editing Our Evolution” host sites to see if there’s a forum taking place near you!

The forum will be made available online for free download at and in May 2018.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number DRL 1421179.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.