Our Regional Programme Managers, Kamar Ameen-Ali and Emma Stringer, have recently been working with universities on their web pages about animal research. In this blog, they share why these pages are important, and highlight new guidance from the NC3Rs.
Universities across the UK conduct world-leading research, the outputs of which are published in journals, showcased on their websites and reported about in the news. Some of this research will involve the use of animals, and over the years it has become clear that due to the contentious nature of the issue, institutions have struggled in exactly how to communicate this to the public. The key? To be open about it.
The importance of providing information regarding the use of animals in research is reflected in opinion polls such as the Ipsos-MORI poll on public attitudes to animal research. The latest results showed that over two-thirds of the public can accept the use of animals for medical purposes, so long as there is no alternative and no unnecessary suffering to the animals. It therefore follows that demonstrating how the 3Rs are being applied to animal research should be high on their agenda.
The Concordat on Openness on Animal Research aimed to get the research community to be clear about when, how and why they use animals in research, and to enhance communications with the public on the issue. One way they have strived to do this is to require signatories to keep their web pages on animal research up-to-date and ensure they’re informative.
However, producing pages for a website that provide a balanced viewpoint on the use of animals in research is not an easy task. There is, understandably, a caution surrounding the preparation of content and how best to provide a clear message. This has led to a great deal of variation between establishments in the quantity and quality of information provided, and how accessible this information is to the public. Some establishments offer scarce information beyond their animal research policy and details of the legislation they work under. Others demonstrate responsibility and accountability for animal research at the establishment, using case studies to illustrate how the research is advancing science and/or medicine, how the 3Rs are being applied, and evidencing standards that exceed the minimum set by legislation.
The Ipsos-MORI polls show that approximately 55% of the public is interested in finding out about work to improve the welfare animals used in scientific research, and to find alternatives to their use. Institutions should take this opportunity to demonstrate how the 3Rs are being put into practice and the benefits this brings to animal welfare and science.
To help establishments provide useful and informative animal research web pages, we have prepared a guidance document which provides structured advice on the recommended content, especially in relation to the 3Rs, and considerations for designing, updating, and maintaining such pages. The guidance is not intended to be used as a checklist, nor to harmonise content between establishments, but rather to act as a framework for establishments to create pages that are personalised to local policies and practices on the 3Rs.
Our experience is that universities are open to new ideas for their web pages, and have a genuine desire to better communicate the importance and impact of the research they do using animals and their activity on the 3Rs. We hope the new NC3Rs guidance will help in this regard.
Kamar’s post is co-funded by the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield, and Emma’s by the Universities of Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham.