Process

EBRC’s roadmaps are developed using a community-driven process that emphasizes diversity and inclusivity. Each roadmap topic is chosen by EBRC members with input from the community. The roadmaps are constructed through an iterative writing-review-revision process – where new and returning contributors take part in writing workshops and volunteer their own independent time and efforts – to brainstorm, discuss, and create the depth and breadth of each technical roadmap. Our roadmaps represent the diverse expertise and interests of the engineering biology community and related fields. EBRC releases our roadmaps on this interactive, web-based platform to make them widely available and easily accessible (and to save a few trees).

Our Process

Roadmap creation relies on the input and contributions from EBRC members and the larger engineering biology community, as well as scientists and engineers from fields outside of engineering biology related to the roadmap topic, including the social sciences and stakeholders in industry, government, and application areas. EBRC’s successful development of roadmaps is an iterative process of development and structuring, drafting, review and revision, and holistic editing, to ensure that the resulting product represents the views and ideas of a large proportion of the community. To do so, EBRC employs the following workflow:

Topic Selection and Scoping: Roadmap topics and scope are informed by input from the research community, industry, and government stakeholders, plus general trends in biotechnology advancement, economics, and society. As we consider new topics on an annual basis, we identify societal grand challenges that engineering biology could help to address and key tools and technologies that do not exist but that would make fundamental differences if developed. Topics are determined based on surveys and discussions with stakeholders led by EBRC staff and the Roadmapping Working Group. An initial scope of the roadmap is determined at the start of the drafting process and revised as new groups of individuals contribute to the roadmap.

Iterative Drafting and Revision: EBRC conducts roadmap drafting through a series of writing workshops, in which roadmap contributors convene to discuss, draft, and revise roadmap content. EBRC utilizes the Google Suite platform (e.g., Google Docs) for collaborative roadmap drafting. Each roadmap requires four to six writing workshops (depending on the roadmap scope and nature and duration of the workshops). Typically workshops are structured as a two-day (approx. 15-18 hours total duration) immersive, facilitated, in-person programs, on-site at geographically convenient locations. When necessary, each in-person workshop can be held as 2-4 virtual workshops (approx. 3 hours in duration each), convened via videoconferencing platform (i.e., Zoom); however, virtual conferences have been found to lack the collaborative dynamic and immersive nature of in-person workshops and are not as fully productive or structured and reduce future interactions among participants. During each workshop, participants/contributors are presented with content produced during prior activities, discuss and debate the content, and spend the majority of the workshop actively writing or revising the roadmap following an established structure. Participants/contributors are identified and invited to workshops based on their expertise or interest in the roadmap topic(s), the stage of the roadmapping process, and the diversity they bring to the project. Successful workshops consist of 15-25 participants (in-person workshops; 6-12 participants for virtual workshops). Participants include principal investigators (including early- and late-career researchers), research scientists/engineers and leaders from industry, government scientists, researchers and stakeholders from non-profit organizations, and research trainees (graduate students and postdocs).

Stakeholder Review: Toward the end of drafting and revision, EBRC roadmaps are informally, but comprehensively, reviewed by stakeholders, including researchers that may have been unable to previously contribute, researchers whose expertise may lie outside the direct topic area, and individuals or organizations that would apply or may benefit from the technologies described in the roadmap. This process ensures that the roadmap accurately and effectively communicates the potential advancements and addresses stakeholder interests.

Editing, Graphics, and Dissemination: The final roadmap draft is copyedited to ensure consistent voice, figures and graphics are produced, and the roadmap is prepared for dissemination and release. Roadmaps are disseminated via this interactive website designed specifically for EBRC’s roadmap structure and modified for the particular roadmap content. Each digital roadmap is searchable and interconnected links allow readers to navigate between related topics and content. Each roadmap is also published as a printable PDF version. In addition, EBRC publishes related manuscripts in relevant journals related to the roadmap topic (for example, Engineering Microbiomes – Looking Ahead, published in ACS Synthetic Biology, accompanied the release of Microbiome Engineering). Roadmaps are also disseminated through presentations at local, national, and international conferences and events.

EBRC’s roadmapping activities are under the direction of Emily R. Aurand. Dr. Aurand also serves as each roadmap’s executive editor.

Engineering Biology - the inaugural roadmap

Engineering Biology was EBRC’s inaugural roadmap for the field, released June 19, 2019. The roadmap depth and breadth was inspired by roadmaps in other fields of science and engineering, such as the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, and by national and global reports and analysis of societal challenges and opportunities for economic and social development, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Leading the large group of contributors was a core of 14 dedicated scientists and engineers. These leaders supported the group to generate more than 50,000 words of technical content in each of our sectors and themes. The additional working group members and other contributors worked together, and on an equal playing field, to develop this detailed roadmap for the engineering biology community. The working group met regularly to discuss the content and scope of the Roadmap, with each member contributing valuable perspective and expertise.

The first several months were dedicated to scoping the project. This included wide-ranging discussions and input to determine how to organize a roadmap for such a diverse field. Ultimately, the four technical themes and five sectors were selected as our organizational tool. The themes were developed using a bottom-up approach to understand the underlying technical topics, identify the transformative tools and technologies being developed as the current state-of-the-art, and ultimately to define goals, breakthrough capabilities, milestones, bottlenecks and potential solutions under each primary theme. Concurrently, sectors were developed using a top-down methodology. Before thinking about the technology, we considered what major societal challenges were present in each sector, and then what science and technology (broadly) might help contribute to solutions. Only then did we consider how our field, engineering biology, could make a positive impact and what underlying technologies would need to be developed to get us there.

The roadmap itself was developed through an iterative process at a series of roadmapping workshops. Sections initially drafted at one workshop, were picked up by a wholly different group at another, allowing diverse community input to drive the content. Using an open, web-based approach, contributors were able to write, edit, comment, and question throughout the development process. Each section of the roadmap was reviewed by contributors that had not worked on the section originally. The content was then finalized and edited for consistency.

About EBRC

EBRC comprises a membership of more than 130 academic faculty from more than 50 institutions and scientists from more than a dozen companies and government agencies. The faculty, together with industry leaders and scientists, represent the leading talent in engineering biology research. They come from diverse scientific and engineering backgrounds including synthetic biology, bioengineering, chemical engineering, chemistry, nearly all life science disciplines, computer science, electrical engineering, and many others. The group also includes individuals from related fields including the social sciences, policy, and teaching and education.

The EBRC membership represents some of the nation’s top scientists and engineers, and members’ service roles and networks span the science and engineering enterprise, from interaction with policy makers, regulators, and funding agencies, to public and non-profit educational organizations (such as iGEM and BioBuilder), to scientific support organizations, including publishers and professional associations. These interactions give EBRC broad insight into engineering biology in the global enterprise.

Last updated: February 3, 2021