In late January, the Public Engagement and Awareness Committee (PEAC) met at ASHG headquarters to discuss, strategize, and formulate a new plan for ASHG’s public resources on genetics and genomics. As part of its new strategic plan approved in 2019, ASHG established its vision: People everywhere realize the benefits of human genetics and genomics research. PEAC serves an important role in this mission. The committee’s focus is to bring the expertise of ASHG’s members to the public in a digestible, yet informative and impactful way.
PEAC members were especially excited by the results of ASHG’s poll with Research!America, conducted in December 2019 and released in January 2020. The nationwide survey, conducted by Zogby Analytics, December 2019, consisted of an online survey of 1,100 American adults, plus 775 additional adults for minority population oversampling. This poll shares Americans’ optimism and curiosity about human genetics research. However, it also conveys some key misconceptions about human genetics, as well as a lack of familiarity with new research, including areas like precision medicine. This information helped to guide PEAC members in their prioritization of new, engaging content for the public. New initiatives are guided by ASHG’s desire to support interest and knowledge building in genetics and genomics among the public, but especially in key audiences, such as K-12 students and populations traditionally underserved and underrepresented in STEM.
ASHG has a unique position as a community hub for thousands of experts in genetics and genomics. As part of this undertaking, the Society will work to build new resources and expand current offerings to support member engagement with the public and to directly interface with diverse communities. Additionally, ASHG is working to curate a set of resources from partner organizations like NHGRI, NSGC, pgEd, and others and supplementing this with new materials authored by members and staff. These resources will refresh the existing Discover Genetics section of our website. This section will be useful for members looking to engage with their community, as well as for the science-interested to find resources and to connect with experts from our GENE Network.
Another key discussion by PEAC members centered on messaging. The first step in this plan is to sustain and strengthen public programming focused on celebrating diversity while acknowledging genetic commonalities. This effort will focus on expanding our current channels and reaching a variety of audiences, especially the underserved. Resource building will seek to engage vulnerable groups, including those with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and those who speak languages other than English. These messages will reach out to those not yet engaged in learning about genetics and genomics, in addition to supplementing learning for those already interested in these areas.
Training also focused as an important part of the discussion, as more scientists and educators struggle with conveying complex topics to their students. The Annual Meeting has served as a meeting place for educators and scientists to share best practices and to discover new tools and techniques. ASHG will revitalize its Communications Workshop to highlight outside speakers with expertise in sharing scientific stories. Future sessions may focus on public-focused communications, which was of particular interest to PEAC. Media relations training was also mentioned, in order to help scientists communicate their findings to a larger audience.
PEAC members happily shared their enthusiasm for communicating genetics and genomics research. This excitement fueled ideas for years of engagement activities to come. Members who are interested in learning more about new engagement activities and resources should sign up for the Engage Newsletter, a quarterly newsletter that shares member outreach activities and resources. Members who want to connect with other engagement and education-minded members, as well as the public, should sign up to participate in the GENE Network, which provides additional resources and tips for running engagement activities in their communities.