Background: Human genomics research is growing rapidly. More effective methods are required for co-design and involving people, especially those from vulnerable sub-populations of inherently high interest to medical research. This case study documents how we worked with a large group of donor-conceived siblings who share the same sperm donor father, to explore how they might want to engage with and influence any future genomic research.
Method: A participatory action research process was used to explore the views of a group of 18 known donor-conceived siblings; who are part of a larger group of up to 1000 people who share the same biological father. The discussion explored views about how the group would like to be involved in future research. Five members participated in co-design; 12 completed a pre-discussion online survey; and six participated in an online discussion forum and evaluation survey. The online discussion was led by one facilitator, supported by the study team.
Results: Co-design informed the research process. Participants reported enjoying the overall experience of the surveys and discussion forum, which were perceived as inclusive and flexible. Most participants’ views regarding the value of involvement in research changed during the process, and ‘widened’ about who should be involved. Participants were supportive of future research being done with the siblings group. All who completed the final survey requested to remain part of the co-design process. Other themes in the online discussion included concerns about conflicting interests and a desire for research participation to improve the situation for people affected by assisted conception. The process informed later discussions in the sibling group about participating in a self-managed biobank and informed decision making about participating in genomics research.
Conclusion: Findings from this study help inform how people from certain sub-populations should be involved in planning and defining their participation in genomic research; particularly those from more vulnerable or high-interest populations. This process provides a replicable and practical method of involving potential participants in co-designing genomics research using online discussions, with reported positive outcomes. Reporting this study using ‘Standardised data on initiatives (STARDIT)’ to report the process allows comparison with other studies.