Introduction to Special Interest Groups (SIGs)

Advances in genomics and precision medicine rely on making the most of our of existing technologies, and embracing new ones. These technologies and the opportunities they unlock for practitioners are exciting and can be transformational, but working out how to leverage them, whether and when to invest, and how to integrate them into existing systems, poses a significant challenge.

Layer these technology questions on top of a myriad of business and research critical priorities, plus a field/industry undergoing a period of profound change, and one thing becomes clear:

The necessity for peer-to-peer, intimate networking and topic-led discussion has never been greater.

That's where SIGs come in. But they do so much more than provide networking opportunities and discussion. These are meetings where participants, their businesses and the wider community benefits.

How do special Interest Groups work?

Special Interest Groups address business and research-critical challenges in Precision Medicine and Genomics. They are half-day meetings of between 15 and 20 participants. Participants are hand-picked according to their experience, and based upon recommendations from people in the field.

Balance and seniority

The overall balance of meeting participants is crucial - a diverse range of perspectives is highly valued, and the make-up of participants depends on the topic and the expected outcome. Participants are typically experienced & senior-level research, clinical and/or business professionals - those who have most to add in discussing and finding solutions. 

Topics are validated

Two to three months out, topics of interest are identified and carefully validated, by engaging with people working in that topic area. For a topic to be business critical or 'hot' is not enough. It needs to be a topic where progress is possible, beneficial for the wider community, and a topic that is well served by the SIG format. 

Participants are identified and invited

Where possible, we work on referrals - taking recommendations on who should be at the table, and on the optimal balance. It's crucial for us to ensure that discussion is vibrant, that progress is made and that the output is valuable. 

before the meeting

We survey confirmed participants one week before the meeting, to identify priority topics that will form the basis of the meeting. The output is written into an agenda with action points and specific outputs. 

At the meeting

The setting if informal, but private. As people arrive they are introduced, given a 'tent card' with their name on, a welcome pack and offered a drink. They are introduced to others who are already in the room, and networking starts. 

At a set time, the moderator(s) kicks off the meeting. The format varies depending on the topic, but a typical agenda might look like this:

9.00 am        Around the room - introductions, priorities and objectives for the meeting.

9.30 am        Group work - participants break into smaller groups of 5-10.

10.15 am      Participants come back together to discuss as one group.

10.30 am      Networking break.

11.00 am      Group work - participants break into smaller groups again.

11.30 am      All participants come together to discuss as one group. 

12.30 pm      The meeting is officially over, but networking continues for many over lunch/drinks.

The atmosphere of the meeting is relaxed. There is no dress code. Respectful debate is encouraged. 

Reporting on the meeting

A physical copy of discussion notes, summaries and imagery/visual aids created off the back of the committee is created. One or more scribes is present in the meeting for that purpose. Anonymity is protected under the Chatham House rule, where participants are identified, but 'who said what' is never disclosed, and disguised if necessary. 

A report is produced. This achieves three things:

  1. It provides attendees with an invaluable reference document, allowing them to focus on the discussion/debate and not note-taking. 
  2. It extends the benefit to the team/colleagues/organisation of participants, who can share the final report as they choose.
  3. It allows the priorities, challenges, insights and solutions to be shared with the wider community, ensuring as many people benefit as possible. 

After the meeting

After revisions and the opportunity for participants to edit, the report is distributed, firstly to attendees, and secondly to relevant people within the wider genomics/personalized medicine professional community. 

Finally, one of the purposes of a SIG is to make incremental progress in specific topics. Further SIGs are organised that take and build upon the output of subsequent meetings. Progress is regularly reported on.

Benefits of attending

These meetings, their format and the ensuing reports, are unique in the field of genomics/precision medicine. They are designed to push the entire field forward (in line with the social mission of Front Line Genomics: 'To deliver the benefits of genomics to people faster').

They are also beneficial to participants in many ways, including the following:

Solutions for business- and research-critical priorities

Inspiration and insights on how to tackle business- and research-critical priorities, originating from the discussion and experiences shared within the meetings.

A peer-to-peer, local network with high intrinsic value

A strengthened network of senior, peer-level professionals, with similar challenges but often different experiences and approaches. These may already be, or become, close professional connections that can support participants in finding the best solutions for the obstacles being faced. Most SIG participants are local.

Helpful perspectives from experienced practitioners

An insider view on technologies and solutions on the horizon, with a better understanding of what's valuable to invest time and money into, and what’s not. 

A unique, highly valuable intelligence report

Participants get a digital copy of discussion and summary notes, including much of the detail of the discussion. Content is carefully structured and catalogued so that the report is easy to navigate for colleagues who were not in the room.