Civil society

How can journalism be informed by different community voices?

The Guardian Gene Gap
The Guardian
Autumn 2018 - Spring 2019

The development of gene editing technology is starting to raise major questions for not just what we can do to edit our DNA, but what we should do. This technology has significant potential for addressing various genetic illnesses, but also poses serious ethical implications for what is acceptable to change.

The Guardian is keen to tell stories of public perspectives on gene editing as part of a process of journalism where the public are involved in the conversation from the start, and not just informed of decisions once they are made.

What we did

The Guardian, Wellcome Trust and Involve partnered with local community leads to design and run five facilitated workshops with communities in Birmingham, Cumbria, Hertfordshire, London and Manchester exploring their attitudes towards gene editing. These workshops focused on their perspectives on how gene editing technology might affect them and their communities. The groups of the public were from the farming community in Cumbria, a BAME group in Birmingham, young people in Manchester, biology students in London and a group of parents who have children with special educational needs in Hertfordshire. The exploration of these priorities and concerns was used to identify new stories for the Guardian to share about gene editing and inform the broader conversation on the technology. These stories are told in a series of podcasts and short film which The Guardian produced.

Project Aims

  1. To identify and recognise the legitimacy of different voices to tell stories which are different to normal science journalism
  2. To shift story identification and telling power away from established scientists to the public to recognise their perspectives and legitimacy of those perspectives.
  3. To pilot a different way of identifying stories
  4. To develop an open process for the public to inform journalism

What we achieved

The aim of these workshop was to produce multimedia and print journalism for The Guardian around the area of gene-editing.

The five workshops which we ran were recorded and heavily feature in the series of podcasts which The Guardian produced. These explore three key themes identified in the workshop discussions: trust, power and identity in relation to gene-editing.

The podcasts raise questions about what role the public should play in making decisions about gene-editing, and give voice to people who would be affected in a wide range of ways by gene-editing technology, and feel very differently about those prospects. These topics were also further explored in a short film.

This project took a new approach to science journalism by starting from the point of understanding public perspectives on an important scientific development. This shifted power towards those members of the public and allowed them to tell their stories, and explore how they might be affected by gene-editing technology and what they would therefore want to happen.

In the future this sort of approach which looks to explore public views on important scientific developments will be important in reaching outcomes which maximise benefit and minimise harm.