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NC3Rs | 20 Years: Pioneering Better Science

3Rs Champions: Driving 3Rs aspirations towards reality

A white trophy with the term '3Rs' on it sits on a bright yellow background.

Our Regional Programme Manager, Dr Ellen Forty, speaks to individuals across three UK research establishments about the unique focus the role of a ‘3Rs Champion’ brings to their local research environment. 

The UK is lucky to benefit from a vibrant 3Rs community of committed individuals whose combined efforts have directly contributed, over the past 20 years, to it becoming much more common place to see the 3Rs high on the agenda of research institutions. A plethora of tools, guidance, resources and basic research are available to support 3Rs progress in an institution from the top-down (e.g. following an institutional framework for the 3Rs), bottom-up (e.g. researcher-led alternatives, welfare programmes) and even side-ways (e.g. research integrity/culture etc). You can now systematically check your progress towards hitting your 3Rs goals by benchmarking establishment-wide or research-group level 3Rs activities using the 3Rs Self-Assessment tools.

But how do we ensure these efforts are realised? That efforts are recorded, recognised and other interested groups are aware of them? And that this happens for every 3Rs activity in an institution?

I spoke to three individuals from establishments across the UK driving aspirations towards reality through establishing a ‘3Rs Champion’ role. While the role looks different at each establishment, I noted some common themes, with the role embodying a focal point and driving force for 3Rs activities; having scope to seek out and share relevant internal and external 3Rs opportunities; and broadening the 3Rs narrative outside of the traditional in vivo research community. 


Headshot of Michael Wilkinson
Michael Wilkinson, a veterinarian who is currently the Named Information Officer (NIO), Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS) and 3Rs Champion at the University of Strathclyde.
Headshot of Richard Berks
Richard Berks, a career animal technologist, and manager, currently the Named Information Manager (encompassing NIO and 3Rs Champion within one role) at the Babraham Institute.
Headshot of Liz Brown.
Liz Brown, an experienced animal technologist and facility manager who currently manages the animal facility and holds the Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer and Named Training and Competency Officer roles at Fera Science.

Focal point for 3Rs activities

There are many roles already successfully driving 3Rs change, so what can an individual or group of 3Rs Champions bring not already covered by existing roles in an establishment? As Michael quite rightly points out “Many scientists and animal care staff have already been ‘championing’ the 3Rs for a long time.” he says “But to have someone more focused… pushing in new directions, deeper, wider…the University was convinced this was a good idea”. Richard says:

“The whole [Animals (Scientific Procedures)] Act is based on continual 3Rs development whilst supporting the science. Someone needs to coordinate those activities, someone needs to capture it all and put it down somewhere”. 

A 3Rs Champion can be a focal point for collating and sharing 3Rs activities, which Liz stresses is something that can be hard to achieve within existing structures “I think there are lots of things we do on a day-to-day basis related to being a 3Rs Champion, but I find the challenge is having time to record what you’re doing, to make sure things are documented and you’re producing outputs from it”. There are benefits too in giving agency to an individual to concentrate on the 3Rs. As Fera are in the midst of defining how a 3Rs Champion would co-exist with other roles, Liz notes they are very aware of appointing a “person to have fresh ideas and not to be influenced by things like operational reasons”, she goes on to clarify that “they would have an idea, a 3Rs idea and would just be thinking about that rather than the impacts on everything else”. 

Seeking out and passing on ideas

As well as injecting a different perspective, appointing one or more people with capacity to keep up with the latest advances in the 3Rs on behalf of an establishment can take the pressure off ‘named person’ roles. As acknowledged by Richard, digesting information from external sources (such as newsletters, websites or 3Rs events) and bringing back relevant ideas or opportunities to the local research community is an aspect of a 3Rs Champion role that supports the responsibilities of the NIO: “Although there is that overlap with the NIO role, in my regular communications with scientists I make a lot of use of the NC3Rs newsletter, but [as 3Rs Champion] I highlight bits that will be interesting for our people”.

In contrast, there are no named person roles with scope to look inwards and hunt out existing 3Rs opportunities and spread them within the local research community, and this came through as a common activity between 3Rs Champions at each of the types of institutions I spoke to. Michael highlights how he takes advantage of existing processes (in this case, reviewing project licences) to raise awareness of, unearth opportunities and celebrate 3Rs advances by “trying to help the project licence holders explain the 3Rs, because they are already doing things that are related to one or other of the 3Rs. But they don’t realise they have introduced a refinement into their experiment, or they think ‘oh this is a normal thing to do’”.

Driving 3Rs projects

Whilst a 3Rs Champion might have regular ‘update’ slots within committee meetings (such as the AWERB), the scope of activities associated with this role are, in Michael’s words “too many and too varied to mention all”. That said, another theme that emerged from talking to these champions was having the capacity to drive novel proactive 3Rs projects. This could take the form of establishing (and leading) a 3Rs focus group, as was the case for Michael. Alternatively, for Richard this involves working closely with animal care staff to foster ideas, train them in 3Rs advances and get their buy-in. This is echoed by Liz who highlights the niche to be filled by a 3Rs Champion within her establishment:

“We need someone to drive the projects, because we have got the ideas it’s just having somebody who is dedicated to do that and present the outputs”. 

Widening awareness outside of the animal house

Mechanisms to raise awareness and elevate the status of the 3Rs, such as organising 3Rs-related events or writing of 3Rs newsletters, are staples in the 3Rs Champion repertoire. The audience for these communications should not be restricted to those working with animals at an establishment. Widening awareness and fostering collaborations can accelerate progress towards the 3Rs at a local level, and those acting in a champion role have creative approaches to taking the 3Rs ‘out of the animal house’. 

Richard has been using research tools to grab the attention of researchers “I looked at the research groups and asked, ‘What can I do to engage these people?’.... So, I promoted the ARRIVE guidelines to all of the groups, highlighting this as best practice” he says “And I have just launched the 3Rs self-assessment tool. I have rolled the group tool out to researchers and asked them to engage”.  Whilst Michael demonstrates how networking across departments has helped him to reach research staff who may not traditionally use animals but have work that has 3Rs potential. “One department who has been helpful with networking is the ‘research and knowledge exchange‘ services” he explains, “They have involved me in all sorts of discussions – research culture, research ethics, research integrity and they’re happy to spread the news about the importance of the 3Rs in in vivo research”.

Recognising replacements

With the logical ‘home’ for a 3Rs Champion being the animal house, which naturally has a strength in refinement, existing champions acknowledge that tackling replacement can be a challenge. “I think because of my background that would be the hardest thing for me to do, as I wouldn’t really know what those 3Rs in the labs are [replacements], I wouldn’t recognise them”, admits Richard. This challenge is not unique to the champion role, as having a broad knowledge of alternative approaches and models is not an easy task for other bodies promoting the 3Rs, such as the AWERB. Yet given the time to upskill yourself Michael highlights the surprising benefits of stepping outside his comfort zone:

I have always been working with refinements or trying to find refinements, but the other two Rs, that’s fairly new to me. Will I like it? I have liked it very much, and the more I know about the other 2Rs the more I have enjoyed delving into them, trying to pursue them. It has given me a lot of job satisfaction because it is also benefiting animals”.

Setting up to succeed as a 3Rs Champion

Making 3Rs aspirations a reality requires the right person (or people) for the job, and Liz highlights a 3Rs Champion should be “willing to engage, an advocate for animals, demonstrate empathy, be well organised, motivated and a team player”. Taking a strategic approach is also key to setting up the role to succeed, and Richard advises to “Definitely get the backing of AWERBs and whatever committees, get the buy-in from people who have got a bit of weight”, adding that:

“Champions should be thinking of the 3Rs everywhere in everything we are doing!

These sentiments are echoed by Michael who declares that aspiring 3Rs Champions should “Network! There are already almost certainly people around you who are keen, who have been doing one or two or three of the Rs”, he explains that “They can help you and you can help them, and both of you together can help the scientific institution and the wider world, collaborating and spreading the good news of the 3Rs”. I couldn’t have said it better myself Michael!

Resources for 3Rs Champions

If the idea of having an individual or a team/network of individuals dedicated to championing the 3Rs appeals to you as an individual or as an establishment then take a look at our 3Rs Champion guidance. For further support establishing a 3Rs Champion programme at your institution, please get in touch with the Regional Team.

We regularly deliver free 3Rs training in person and online, covering a range of topics including animal research ethics and experimental design. Visit our training pages to find out more.

A white rat in an enclosure