2011 Evaluations: Summary, Highlights, Excerpts


Over seventy Tarrytown Meetings participants submitted evaluations after the 2nd Annual Tarrytown Meeting. Participants shared what they liked about the event, what they thought could be improved, suggestions for 2012, and more. The summary below starts with broad general themes drawn from the many comments submitted. Selected comments from the evaluations follows. These were chosen to convey the tone of the evaluations and to flesh out the summary analysis with useful detail. Planning for the 2012 Tarrytown Meeting drew upon these evaluations in a major way.




A. What Participants Liked About The Meeting
B. What Participants Thought Could Be Improved
C. Suggestions for 2012

D. Appreciations  



Response to the 2011 Tarrytown Meeting was overwhelmingly positive. Overall, participants said the Meeting met their expectations and they expressed sincere appreciation for the opportunity to participate in this unique gathering with such exceptional colleagues.

A great number of participants said they enjoyed the collegiality of being around others who shared similar perspectives and are working on similar issues, and many voiced hope for continued collaboration. Many commented on the range of diversity present, in terms of people’s disciplines, backgrounds and expertise. Some highlighted the importance of international participation.  Many participants commented that the working sessions were substantive, well-prepared and thought-provoking, and provided the opportunity for participants to learn about new issues. Many people mentioned that the Meeting enhanced their own education or learning. A good number of participants said that this year's Meeting successfully gave even more emphasis on action and outputs than did last year's (though an equal number felt it was still not action-oriented enough).

The Biopolitical Cultural Festival was praised for being unique, relevant and inspiring. The Emerging Leaders focus received much positive comment as well. With regard to overall Meeting organization, many participants felt that it was quite skilled, that the advance preparation was impressive, and that success of the meeting was fostered by thoughtful planning and attention to detail.

Several participants expressed appreciation for the shared commitment to social justice among participants, and noted that this resulted in a very different tone for the discussions and debates compared to academic conferences (though several other participants did, however, question the assumption that all or most participants shared a common set of values).

In response to the question about what people disliked or felt could be improved, many comments were preceded by statements such as “Noting that my impression of the Meeting was overwhelmingly positive…” or “I don’t have any strong criticism.”  The most common areas of dissatisfaction were that there was inadequate time for discussion or too much presentation; insufficient focus on action, outcomes, or concrete steps; and too many sessions happening concurrently. While some participants felt the plenaries were of great value, at least an equal number commented that they were of mixed value. Some participants noted that while there was more discussion this year about the need for action, this did not result in as much forward movement as they had hoped.  The Communications Plenary received mixed reviews: some found it important and beneficial, while others were uncomfortable with it. A number of participants expressed a desire for more informal, non-programmed and socializing time.

Several participants urged that we include more scientists and medical professionals in the Tarrytown Meetings, and others urged participation of relatively fewer academics and more advocates and activists. Others called for more participants from Africa, Latin America and Asia, and for more visibility for the Emerging Leaders.

When asked about topics that might be given special attention at the 2012 Meeting, frequently given responses included: politics/policy/legal issues; assisted reproductive technologies; commercialization and commodification; international issues; issues of class/capitalism/economics; and biobanks and personalized medicine.  Other responses included: messaging/communications; racialized genomics; enhancement technologies and transhumanism; epigenetics; integrating gender into discussions on race; integrating a disability perspective; DNA databases; synthetic biology; public awareness/public education. Fewer but notable responses included: access to health care/public health measures; increasing focus on emerging leaders; fundraising; behavioral genetics; nanotechnology; ethics/bioethics; religion; environment; eugenics; and education.

Regarding desired outputs from the Tarrytown Initiative, general categories that participants mentioned most frequently included publications; activism and outreach; and education and communication. Many participants suggested different types of publications, including reports, whitepapers, policy papers and articles.  A good number mentioned activism in general or specific campaigns; for example, ones focused on possible harms associated with egg extraction; biobanks; capitalism and biotechnologies; and bolstering campaigns currently in motion, such as those related to DNA databases, synthetic biology, gene patenting, and regulations on gamete donations. Many participants urged special focus on outreach to key constituencies, including policymakers, politicians, public officials, medical professionals, educators,funders, activist groups, environmental groups, college students and young people.  A large number of participants pointed to the need to reach a broader audience through education and communications, including educating the public; engaging in media and communications, including electronic media and film and video; and providing school-based curriculum. 

Other suggestions regarding 2012 included adding another day to the Tarrytown Meetings, organizing the next Meeting more specifically by tracks, and postponing the 2012 Meeting and having smaller theme-based meetings in the interim. Still other suggestions included integration of social media, better bridging of topics, expanding a religion perspective, and finding a way to continue discussions throughout the year. The most common response was appreciation to the organizers for the wonderful Meeting and the opportunity to participate and meet such outstanding people!





  • I learned so much... and was incredibly impressed by the wealth and diversity of expertise as well as the collegiality engineered by thoughtful advance preparation.
  • One of the greatest benefits of attending the meeting was the opportunity it provided to meet others with similar concerns and research interests. This not only produced rich discussions at the meeting, which will inform my current work, but also created an invaluable foundation for future collaborations.
  • This network-building aspect of the conference was the most fruitful for me as a budding professional and potential scholar of the subject.
  • What I liked most is that I met like-minded activists there who I had interacted with but never met before. It provided a motivation to work together even more.
  • I like the multidisciplinary backgrounds of the participants.  I was overwhelmed with all the information from different countries of the world, and it was fantastic!
  • I also appreciated the range of voices, insights and even the tension that bubbled up from time to time.
  • The most surprising and delightful part about the Tarrytown Meeting was how diverse a group was in attendance, with different perspectives, areas of expertise, and levels of experience.
  • Getting to know first hand about experiences in other countries was very important and the possibility of discussing such important issues with people around the world with such experience was invaluable.
  • There was a far more diverse mix of  perspectives, disciplines, and experience represented this year. There was more global representation which offered fascinating models for approaching these issues and led to discussions that forced groups to think outside our conventional social/political/ethical/legal paradigms.
  • I liked the diversity of well-prepared topical sessions.
  • I liked that it brought together many concerned researchers and activists and gave us all a platform on which to share our ongoing work and thoughts.
  • I thought the narrowed focus of this year's meeting was beneficial.
  • I found that there was a good balance of collective discussion, which helps to inform movements and community building, with more issue-specific strategy time that allowed for unique discussions to form and brought together new and powerful coalitions for a truly interdisciplinary approach towards problem solving.
  • This year was even better than last year - people liked the fact that it was more applied and less theoretical.
  • I appreciated the organizers' emphasis on taking action on a range of issues.  So often academic conferences focus on discussing policy or law rather than actively shaping it.
  • The arts festival was a great way to highlight how creative our collective community is and the power of art to tell stories in a way we simply cannot do through papers, power points, or speeches.
  • I really liked the cultural (film, performance, etc) aspects of the program, which were unique (for the academic conference circuit), relevant and inspiring.
  • The Meeting opened my eyes to some issues I was not previously aware of, as well as crystallizing opinions that were previously unformed in my mind.
  • The availability of related multimedia and documents enabled me to familiarize myself with issues that I have given only cursory attention to before.
  • I was so pleased to see the focus on including younger colleagues and emerging leaders and hope that this continues at future meetings.
  • I thought the inclusion of - and significant role accorded to - future leaders was a really brilliant idea and added much to the spirit of the event.
  • [The discussions and debates] had a very different feel than those that take place at academic conferences and I think this is due in part to the shared commitment to social justice on the part of the participants, and to the interdisciplinary nature of the meeting.
  • One thing that stood out was the information/support provided prior to the meeting (i.e. the opportunities to participate in calls prior to the meeting, the readings provided, and the overall support offered by the staff prior to arriving at Tarrytown).
  • It was a meeting seriously and well prepared and gave with all the preliminary activities (like phone conferences and website preparation) the feeling that it was important to focus on it and to think about what impact we would like to have there.
  • .The setting was absolutely beautiful, restful and peaceful.  It was a delightful and unexpected departure from the usual conference hotel.



  • All the workshops could have benefited with more time for discussions.  Perhaps three presenters at the most should present at the workshops which would leave more time for group discussion.
  • Several of the panels were still too academic focused (and I am an academic myself). They were too much like an academic conference panel and did not leave room for discussion. I assume that many of the people in the room already have good understanding of the issues (maybe I am wrong on this) and I would like to see more discussion.
  • I was frustrated that in several sessions just when things started to 'cook' it was time to move on to the next session or activity. I wanted more time to build momentum, come to some agreements and/or see how we might resolve or work within our differences, in other words to move to the next level.
  • Some of the plenary sessions were uneven in quality or just not very well matched for speakers.
  • The breakouts I wanted to attend conflicted with each other. There was almost too much going on at once.
  • What were absent were workshops on discussions of goals, strategies and building a framework for a movement.  All the topics were very informative and educational, but the sessions did not give the entire Tarrytown community the motivation to move toward a common goal to protect human rights, safety or social justice.
  • While I think there was more discussion for the need to have action steps and build campaigns, I did not see many tangible action steps actually coming out of the many working sessions. This is probably due to limited time, but we should find a way to build solid time for strategic planning in the 2012 meeting.
  • The topics addressed were often diverse and we lacked time to analyze the presentations and determine what they meant in terms of the meeting goals. 
  • Some of the discussions at the breakout sessions I attended felt too similar to discussions from the prior year. There was an effort to come to some sort of consensus on issues but then ultimately it turned into a re-articulation of all of the same controversies/tensions/disjunctures that were brought to the surface last year.
  • There also appeared to be a lack of scientific expertise at Tarrytown. It is apparent that one of Tarrytown’s goals should be to identify and/or develop scientific expertise surrounding the various technologies with an ability to counter unscientific narratives which lend unfounded support to advance biotechnologies without appropriate restraint.  We also need experts to speak in scientific terms that the public will understand.
  • The academic participants are very bright and committed, and essential; but with limited attendance slots, maybe the bar can be lowered to allow more "activists" in the future.
  • The other aspect of the meeting that I thought could use some development is the emerging generation component. This is the most impressive goal of Tarrytown and the intent is unmatched by any other group I've encountered. However, I felt the group discussion was too siloed from the rest of the conference.
  • I was expecting more interest of participants in the experience in other countries, including regarding the involvement of civil society in debate towards the elaboration of legislation.
  • I did feel that somewhat more prominence could be given to non-US perspectives/experiences, as well as perspectives such as indigenous and even “bench scientists.”
  • I’m wondering if there could be some conversation next year about points of traction and strategy to move the process forward and out to the public.
  • The only challenges I perceived had to do with the tension between some participants with strongly negative or dismissive views of science and those who felt this perspective painted the issues far too broadly and were frustrated that discussions weren’t more nuanced, disentangling benefits from challenges and social harm.  On the other hand, I think this tension is healthy but hope people were not inhibited and did not engage because of some of these strong views.

There were a diversity of views about the plenary session on communications and messaging. Most found it valuable:

  • The messaging presentation was very well done and I would have given it more time because it's so important (particularly for the people who were resistent to it).
  • Perhaps the most engaging and beneficial component of the meeting was the communications training we all received as a large group.  This type of interactive exercise not only facilitates participation and relationship-building, but it also provides a valuable take-home skill that will be useful for everyone.

But a number of others differed:

  • I did not like or find useful the communications session.  I think this should have been optional for those who are interviewed often or would like to be.
  • [The messaging session] seemed premature prior to a fuller discussion of the issues, and came across as somewhat superficial/manipulative. 


C.1 Suggestions regarding topics and program

  • I would like to see deeper level discussions about personalized/genomic medicine, health/genetic literacy and consenting to participate in research, registries/biobanks.
  • I am concerned with how we can begin to address the developments in epigenetics, which are probing into the complex connections between genes and environment. I am particularly worried right now about the focus on maternal effects and the "prenatal environment" as another possible site of control over women's bodies.
  • I'd like to see even more attention to overarching legislative issues such as gene patenting legislation.
  • I'd like to see a greater emphasis on class issues, which could be incorporated into individual presentations or could be the subject of separate discussion topics.
  • Religious perspectives should be distributed throughout the meetings, not just one session.
  • I tend to think that the international dimension emphasized at the second meeting should be increased. But rather than having a specific working session on "comparative country experience", this exchange of experience could be more integrated in the presentations and discussion on the different topics.
  • A session on the biology of race AND gender together; to explore some of the parallel ways in which biological categories and determination are misunderstood and misused.
  • Issues around disability seemed to come up in most sessions but it should be addressed outright.
  • The intersection of biotechnology and environmentalism as a single movement.
  • GMO food campaigns are continuing, and making connections there might be useful.
  • The topic of transhumanism should absolutely be addressed and critiqued by our community.
  • I’d like to see a focus on grassroots organizing, fundraising, political engagement, and using social media.
  • Even more discussion on policy interventions and writing for the general public would be a great service to the largely academic participants.
  • I know there is a push to include more scientists, and think this is very important.  Yet this has to be done carefully.  The scientists must be willing to engage in conversation and not just want to teach others about science.
  • I think moving towards 2012, the sessions should be less about teaching each other or sharing ideas (we can have webinars throughout the year for that) but campaign and strategic planning. I think that may also help attract some funders.
  • It would be helpful to debate together some campaigns that have been successful and others that have not, and evaluate which were the concrete political messages that had impact.
  • Inivte more activists from NGOs/non-profits, and fewer academics. People can talk and talk about things forever, but action is much harder to sustain.
  • The meeting might benefit from more social media integration - a moderated Facebook group, maybe, or even just a Twitter hashtag.
  • I know there is sensitive content being discussed at the meeting, but I do think one big areas that could/should be developed is building the public image of this meeting, make it more accessible to the public who aren't attending.  It is a fantastic opportunity to create media, invite journalists, interview attendees, etc. I would at least make it easier for attendees to tweet or Facebook about it to their own communities.
  • I know there were efforts to expand the media sessions, but would love to see more about how to engage media, what role it can play and how best to frame some of these debates/issues with different audiences.
  • Open the meeting to selected reporters.
  • We need to mix the international and domestic folks - not schedule sessions that compete and split the two groups.
  • The next Tarrytown should be organized by issue/campaign "tracks." Participants should be asked (though not required) to choose one track to focus on. Each track would be its own 2-day strategy session with a facilitator and clear goals to develop action steps or even a campaign plan to move forward. There could be an hour or so each day for each group to update the meeting as a whole to help share ideas an brainstorm collectively.
  • There needs to be a little more down time worked into the meetings so that people can get to know each other and just relax. So maybe a long lunch break? Or an evening off?
  • What about a "mixer" after dinner on the first night of the event - cash bar, stand up, walk around and mix and mingle.


C.2  Suggestions regarding outputs

  • I think that it would be ideal to have a whitepaper on each of the topics for which there was a working session.
  • I’d like to see papers (whether dubbed white papers or reports) that have a specific, practical law reform orientation, recommending strategies for improvements/remedies in areas of concern (such as gene patenting, genetic discrimination, ethical oversight of genetic research and clinical trials).
  • Whitepapers, reports and publications are valuable but as long as they are geared toward collective activism and assist with action.
  • I would like to see some position papers. I think that after 2012 we should begin to have some framework for how we stand on some of these issues or what a social justice approach to these technologies should look like. These debates are complex and we will never have a consensus, but I am wondering what we might learn just through the process itself of trying to come up with a Tarrytown community position statement on some of these technologies.
  • I would prioritize developing a document or report that detailed the key issues raised at the meetings, and our recommendations for policy/advocacy/action etc.  This might mean developing 5+ reports, one for each of the focal topics. 
  • Publications geared towards scientists and medical professionals: the peole who deal with these issues and technologies all the time but just have never had exposure to the kinds of things we discuss at the meeting. 
  • I'd like us to publish a special journal issue and an open letter in Science or Nature.  I think the higher profile journals, both social sciences and natural science, are a must.
  • I think we are ready to come up with a whitepaper on the topic of ARTs, in addition to the activist campaigns already engaged in by a number of Tarrytown participants.  And, if we continue with the topic of Biobanks at Tarrytown next year, I think we might be able to do some sort of whitepaper, and perhaps even a media/publicity and/or activist campaign as well.
  • After the Meeting I'd love to see a Tarrytown Communique in which the participants identify what we agree to be best practice, and an agenda for implementing it, whether this involves international agreements, domestic agreements, domestic legislation, educational initiatives, industry codes, etc. 
  • I would suggest activist campaigns on egg freezing for age-related infertility and more generally on possible harms associated with egg extraction.
  • A number of campaigns are already active or in the works (DNA databases, synthetic biology, gene patenting, regulations for gamete donations) that could be bolstered by increased support (funding or otherwise).  We should identify other possible campaigns that are strategic and winnable. Public symposia and publications should be linked to these campaigns.
  • My two cents is to use this space for deepening and sharing knowledge, crafting whitepapers and such, and thinking more about media messaging and communication, but not seeing this as a space for rallying behind a particular campaign.  Instead we are creating a growing network which could then support the many different campaigns that we are already working on.
  • I think the “emerging generation” output is incredible and should be given explicit CGS attention.
  • I think a conference for younger people only/primarily could be extremely useful and inspiring.
  • I suggest the development of a website and activist hub for young and emerging generations/leaders working on areas of biotechnology activism.  Also organizing public symposia on college campuses or in major cities. Providing a forum and space for this dynamic group of individuals should not be lost.
  • I think it is key that academics and others who are thinking so deeply about these issues speak to the general public in ways that will be heard and understood, so that voters/consumers/policy makers get a balanced look at the pros and cons of these emerging technologies.
  • [We need to] make the conversation more public and problematize the narrative that's out there. Strategies for curricular inclusion of the history of eugenics seems to be one place to start. Engaging with documentarians and film distributors also seems important. 
  • I like the idea of at least a couple public symposia, with outreach to selected constituencies depending on topic, but also with broad general publicity, to test the waters of who else out there is concerned.
  • I think online forms of communication are an important means to reach a wide public. I also think that alternative forms of communication (such as the arts) is an effective way to get the public interested.
  •  Escalated reaching out to the news media is a must.
  • Ground is being lost every day with the general public, which is not being reached with messages that present an alternative to those of biotech or mainstream media. We need simple educational tools - for example, an exciting curriculum for young people (eg, a la Michael Sandel's teaching method), a workshop series and/or kit for policy makers, or a thought-provoking short film to provoke discussions in communities of faith. 
  • Educational materials that can function as both vehicles to raise awareness on key policy issues as well as push towards specific political objectives.  These could take the form of partnering with film-makers, secondary school science teacher associations, patient advocacy groups etc. 
  • To the best of its abilities it would be great to see Tarrytown aid in attracting the funding community to these issues.
  • We might do smaller theme-based Tarrytown Meetings in 2012 with a subset of participants and then reconvene as a whole in 2013.
  • All these potential outputs seem good, but they need more of a core of substance that holds them together as an output of Tarrytown-- goals, defined problems, semi-articulated common platforms that will be further articulated through these pathways.  Without this core, shared vision, I think things will fragment quickly.



  • I think CGS is just wonderful. Your care and commitment to the issues is really inspiring and I appreciate your efforts to bring people together. I feel lucky to have been a part of 2010 & 2011!
  • I feel blessed to be in the conversation and appreciate the chance to be in it.  Keep up the good work, as this is such an important endeavor.  Continue to take risks with the process; I thought the cultural festival was an amazing success and a great way to communicate or express complex ideas, thoughts and feelings.  KUDOS to the team, you all did a great job!
  • Thank you very much for the opportunity of listening such experts and being able to discuss, from the national experience, with such a group of professionals.
  • I think the meetings are a bold initiative.
  • I would like to extend my thanks to all of those who organized the Tarrytown meetings, as well as all of those who worked so hard to make them happen -- I think you've brought together an amazing group of diverse people to grapple with some of the most important issues of our time!  I've never been a part of anything like it!




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