The U.S. Animal Research Openness (USARO) Initiative
The idea for an Animal Research Openness Agreement in the United States was first conceived in 2018, when members of the research community gathered together to discuss the need for greater public education about the critical need for animals in research, and about ways to unite the research community in communication with the public. Within two years, what started as a series of presentations, workshops and conversations at a conference grew into an Initiative with over 115 volunteers representing 95+ institutions in the United States - and it's still growing!
The U.S. Animal Research Openness Initiative (USARO) is the product of a grassroots effort to clarify the context of animal-based research and increase visibility of animal care and use programs. It is part of a larger global movement which first started in the UK in 2012 and resulted in the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK in 2014. Since then, they have been joined by several other countries including Spain (2016), Portugal (2018), Belgium (2019), France (2021), Germany (2021), the Netherlands (2021), New Zealand (2022), Switzerland (2022) and Australia (2023).
In Winter 2018, members of the US research community met at the 5th International Conference of the Basel Declaration Society. The topic? “Openness and Transparency: Building Trust in Animal Research.” Over 100 attendees representing 61 organizations participated in these foundational conversations. As the attendees of this meeting returned to their institutions, the buzz of openness began to spread.
Image credit: Speaking of Research
As the movement for openness began to take shape, the international advocacy group Speaking of Research published a timely open letter in USA Today which called upon American institutions to embrace these burgeoning principles of openness. At the same time, similar calls were made in the scientific literature to increase openness surrounding animal research. On example includes an ILAR Journal Article, “Communicating Animal Research to the Public” which provided a peer reviewed history, approach and suggestions on open and transparent communications about animal research.
This momentum carried the research community to a 2-hour formal meeting, hosted by the authors of the aforementioned ILAR Journal article, at the fall 2019 annual meeting of the American Association of Laboratory Animal Medicine (AALAS). The meeting, titled “Discussion about Openness Agreement in the U.S.” explored whether a formal animal research agreement should be pursued. There was consensus to move forward as an "intitiative" thus the "The U.S. Animal Research Openness Initiative" was born. The in-person meeting was followed by a webinar, titled, “Considering an Openness Agreement in the U.S: A Discussion,” to gather additional thougths and ideas informing the way forward. Within a few months, a steering committee was formed and the process of developing an Openness Agreement in the United States began.
The steering committee provided an update as part of the fall 2020 AALAS presentation “Building Momentum for U.S. Openness About Animal Research. A follow-up webinar was held the next month, and a similar presentation was given at the winter 2021 PRIM&R (Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research) conference.
Hard at work, the steering committee finalized the strategic plan and began to form subcommittees in the early spring. By summer 2021, volunteers from institutions across the nation had joined the subcommittees to move the plan forward. Institutions with exemplary openness and representatives of openness from other nations were identified as potential partners and enlisted to provide perspective. The USARO was formally created.
By the fall of 2021, a timeline for development was released and the subcommittees continued to work on support materials for the USARO. The first USARO website was launched in early 2022 and a Statement of Intent was finalized in 2023 with the debut of a more robust website for the USARO.