Human Practices/How to Succeed


How to Succeed with Human Practices

On this page you will find: How does Human Practices fit into a successful iGEM project?, Human Practices involves working with humans, Earning Medals, Track Awards and Best Prizes, and Special Prizes.

Before you pick up your first pipette you should think about Human Practices. It is a vital part of iGEM and is reflected in the medal criteria, special prizes and overall project scoring.

Many of the most successful iGEM teams deeply integrate human practices work into their project— every finalist team in 2018 was nominated for at least one of the Human Practices Special Awards. The most impressive teams (see exemplary projects) engage seriously with societal values, public policy, and perspectives beyond the synthetic biology community.


Your Human Practices work may have already started! Scroll down to see the NEW medal criteria and awards.

2014 Grand Prize winners, team William and Mary, with Director of Judging, Pete Carr.

How does Human Practices fit into a successful iGEM project?

Human Practices can be integrated into every step of the iGEM process. In addition to the Integrated Human Practices work described below, many teams conduct education and public engagement activities that are not directly related to their iGEM project. You can read more about the difference between Integrated Human Practices and Public Engagement in the Frequently Asked Questions in the introduction to Human Practices.

As you form a team and choose a project

1. DIVERSIFY your team skills

Consider integrating ethicists, social scientists, designers, law students, business students, and other experts into your team.

2. FIND your context

Look for real problems to solve. Then explore the communities, institutions, or individuals affected by the problems. This is a good time to begin contacting them to understand the context of your project and how you can best help them.

3. BRAINSTORM societal issues linked to your ideas

Human Practices activities are a natural part of the project brainstorming. It’s time to think about what impacts you want to have on society and to address how society will influence your project! Think about who will benefit and who might be opposed to your work. Also, think about who else, both inside and outside of iGEM, has worked on similar ideas before. Take full advantage of the diverse skills of your team members.

As you develop your project

4. DOCUMENT all your HP progress

Be creative with your Human Practices methods! Document how you will collect feedback from stakeholders (e.g. end-users, relevant communities, interest groups, industry contacts, policy-makers) or how you will manage societal impact. Consult (and reference!) publications related to your methods and approaches.
Good documentation means continually tracking not only the technical results of your project, but also results from your social or ethical research. Have you made progress in both areas? Help future iGEM teams and researchers build on your work.
Don’t forget to document your ideation and brainstorming process! This is a bronze medal requirement for 2019.

5. GO OUT OF THE LAB and split up the tasks

Keep an eye out for both synergies and incompatibilities between your project and society. You may find that other people have concerns about or objections to your project’s intended outcomes, or to the processes you use to achieve them. Take these views seriously— they often highlight important technical and social issues that you have missed.
Human Practices is a team effort. While assigning tasks, make sure that many team members are involved in HP activities.

6. ADAPT your project to what you have learned

What you learn outside the lab may or may not alter the technical direction of your project. Regardless, you should draw on your Human Practices work to construct evidence-based arguments in support of your team’s technical decisions.
Remember that engaging with stakeholders does not happen in just one event. You may need to go back to your respective communities with new discussion points, adaptations to your project, clarifications or additional insights.

As you prepare for the jamboree

7. PRESENT your results in a meaningful and creative way

Reflect on and present your HP work with as much professionalism and as many details as your lab work. Demonstrate both the process and the outcome of your HP activities. Show evidence to support your claims. Don’t forget to talk about HP in your presentation and poster.

8. SHARE your results with the iGEM community and beyond

Your project is complete! If you want to share it with the world, consider re-connecting with the individuals, institutions or communities that you planned to help in the start. Documenting the setbacks you encountered along the way to your planned solutions will also be key to allowing others to build on all your efforts.

9. ATTEND the Giant Jamboree

10. BUILD on past iGEM success

Carry forward what you’ve learned into new synthetic biology projects! Consult your own experiences as well as iGEMers’ past accomplishments and experiences (hint: you can search all past team wikis!). Help HP progress in the iGEM community and beyond.
Some groups have developed iGEM-specific resources to help teams with Human Practices, such as the iGEM’s Guide to the Future, which guides teams through HP brainstorming. See the Resources page for more.

Human practices involves working with humans

Successful human practices work will typically involve interacting with people outside of your team. This could include:

  • Informal conversations with professors or other people at your institution
  • Structured consultations with communities that might be affected by your work
  • Visiting or touring places (industrial, governmental, or otherwise) where your work might have an impact
  • Collecting information using a survey and presenting the data before judges
  • Public engagement with people who want to know more about synthetic biology
  • and much more!

Often, these activities are a form of human subjects research. In doing your research, you should be mindful with how you interact with people outside of your team.

There are two iGEM policies that are directly relevant for human subjects research. One is the No Human Experimentation policy, which prohibits teams from testing their products on humans. The other is the policy on Human Subjects Research, which includes requirements for surveys, interviews and other types of engagements.

Your team must comply with all iGEM policies. Please review the policies closely as you design and conduct your HP work. Check out the Resources page for information on getting started with informed consent, conducting focus groups, writing valid surveys, and more.

Earning Medals with Human Practices

All teams are expected to do some Human Practices activities. HP is a part of the mandatory requirements for the Bronze medal and Silver medal and can be used to meet the Gold medal requirements. Be sure to go over the pages for evaluating criteria for medals for the exact judging language and more information. See the exemplary projects page for examples of previous teams’ successful HP work.


To qualify for a bronze medal, teams must document how they came up with their idea and what inspired them. For more details, see the Project Inspiration and Description page. They should reference past literature, past iGEM projects or other resources that they are building upon. They should also describe how they thought this project would be a useful application of synthetic biology. This information should be presented in a clear and concise description.


To qualify for a silver medal, teams must demonstrate how they have identified and investigated one or more Human Practices issues in the context of their project. Convince the judges that your have thought carefully and creatively about whether your work is responsible and good for the world. You could accomplish this through engaging with your relevant local, national and/or international communities, or through other creative approaches (see exemplary projects).

It is essential that you document how you investigate these issues, your reasons for choosing not just the questions you want to look at, but the methods that you chose to explore them, and what you have learned as a result of your work.

We encourage teams to look beyond surveys as a way to engage in Human Practices. Conducting a survey will not necessarily count towards your Silver Medal requirement. For example, simply gathering information about people’s understanding of synthetic biology DOES NOT meet this requirement. If you choose to conduct a survey, you must show us that you followed scientifically valid survey methods and that your survey data relates to your specific project. See the Resources page for more information about survey design.


To qualify for a gold medal, teams must complete two of the four requirements listed on the official medal criteria page. To qualify for gold using your Human Practices work, your team must expand on your silver medal activities by demonstrating how the investigation of your HP issues has been integrated into the purpose, design, and/or execution of your project.

Just talking about your project with people outside your lab DOES NOT meet this requirement. Show us how you have responded to the conversations you had with people outside the lab. How have they influenced the goal, design and execution of your project and how you think about your work?

We want to see how your iGEM project (e.g. intended applications and their limits, potential users and stakeholders, experimental design, methods to deliver products and communicate results, etc.) has evolved based on your Human Practices work. Think of the design/build/test/learn cycle of engineering and show us how social feedback informs this process.

Competing for Track Awards and Finalist Prizes

Teams compete for track prizes and for a spot as a grand prize finalist through their project evaluations. For details, see judging rubric. One of the ten aspects on which teams are evaluated is, “How thoughtful and thorough are teams’ considerations of human practices?”. However, teams’ Human Practices efforts often impact their project evaluations in other aspects of the judging rubric (such as whether the projects were impressive, creative and likely to have an impact). See the exemplary projects page for examples of previous teams’ successful HP work; you’ll notice top-ranked teams have strong Human Practices engagement throughout their projects.

Competing for Special Prizes

Teams can compete for two special prizes within HP: Best Integrated Human Practices and Best Education & Public Engagement.

The Best Integrated Human Practices prize recognizes exceptional work based on the gold medal requirements for Human Practices. For this prize, teams must demonstrate how they have integrated Human Practices considerations into the design and/or execution of their project in a particularly thoughtful and creative way.

The Education & Public Engagement Prize recognizes excellent efforts to engage communities in influencing activities in synthetic biology. For this prize, teams may cover topics that extend beyond their particular project and may focus on serving other communities. This more “outward facing” work is recognized through this prize as important but different from the project-focused work of integrated human practices.

Some Education & Public Engagement and Integrated Human Practices activities may be overlapping and contribute to both prize qualifications. However, because the goals of these activities differ they should be described differently on their respective wiki pages.

Teams are evaluated for each prize separately using six criteria. Three criteria are unique to each special prize, and three are shared between the two special prizes. For more information on how to become eligible for these prizes visit the pages for evaluating criteria for awards.. For inspiration, see the exemplary projects page with examples of previous teams’ successful HP work.

Best Integrated Human Practices
How does your project affect society and how does society influence the direction of your project? How might ethical considerations and stakeholder input guide your project purpose and design and the experiments you conduct in the lab? How does this feedback enter into the process of your work all through the iGEM competition? Document a thoughtful and creative approach to exploring these questions and how your project evolved in the process to compete for this award.
Was their work well integrated throughout their project? Demonstrate how your project’s purpose, design and/or execution evolved based on findings from your Human Practices work.
Does it serve as an inspiring example to others? Convince the judges that your approach to Human Practices reflects iGEM’s values, public interests, and should serve as a model for others.
Is it documented in a way that others can build upon? Clearly communicate the methods, process and results of your work in your wiki, poster and presentation. If you communicate your HP work elsewhere, tell us where, and why.
Was it thoughtfully implemented? Did they explain the context, rationale, and prior work? Explain why your choose your approach and reference prior work inside and outside iGEM that informed your methods.
Did it incorporate different stakeholder views? Engage with a diversity of views (not just your own and those of your friends!), and tell us your rationale for selecting relevant stakeholders and incorporating any feedback.
Did they convince you that their HP activities helped create a project that is responsible and good for the world? Provide clear documentation and a compelling rationale that you have conducted your work with care and foresight.
Best Education & Public Engagement
How have you developed new opportunities to include more people in shaping synthetic biology? Innovative educational tools and public engagement activities have the ability to establish a two-way dialogue with new communities by discussing public values and the science behind synthetic biology. Document your approach and what was learned by everyone involved to compete for this award.
How well did their work promote mutual learning and engagement? Education and engagement materials and programs should create a mutual learning process. Demonstrate that a conversation was established, then describe what each party learnt and how that was determined.
Does it serve as an inspiring example to others? Convince the judges that your approach to Human Practices reflects iGEM’s values, public interests, and should serve as a model for others.
Is it documented in a way that others can build upon? Clearly communicate the methods, process and results of your work in your wiki, poster and presentation. If you communicate your HP work elsewhere, tell us where, and why.
Was it thoughtfully implemented? Did they explain the context, rationale, and prior work? Explain why your choose your approach and reference prior work inside and outside iGEM that informed your methods.
Did they both understand and respect the rights, beliefs, and/or cultures of the communities they engaged? Show us how you have informed, designed and tailored your efforts to be appropriate to the communities and contexts you engaged with.
Did the team convince you that their activities would enable more people to shape, contribute to, and/or participate in synthetic biology? Demonstrate how your work has lead to substantial and effective improvements to who can influence activities in the field.