Our case study

Street Talk was a street discussion project to find out what members of the public think of offering incentives for bodily donations for medicine and research.  It ran during summer 2010.

‘Bodily donations’ is a very broad area which ranges from giving your kidney to a relative, to being part of a drug trial to giving blood. 

We wanted to engage with people who had never thought about this before, especially people from marginalised groups who can have few opportunities to take part in public debates.

The tools we created and how we used them

Felt thermometers

We had three felt thermometers made for each of the three kinds of donations – they had a scale ranging from ‘I don’t feel I would do that’ to ‘I’m not really sure’ to ‘I’d feel very comfortable about doing that.’

We asked people about whether they would take part in three kinds of donation:

  • Signing up to be on the organ donor register
  • Donating eggs or sperm
  • Taking part in a ‘first in human’ clinical trial for a new drug

They showed their views by placing small bags on the giant thermometers – like in the image below.  This is an easy way of gauging people’s gut reaction to the issues.

Question cards

The questions cards were designed to gather more information about people’s reactions – an opportunity for them to tell us why they felt as they did and what if anything might change their feelings.  

Printed on one side of each of three cards were the thermometers like those on the giant felt version where people could mark their view and tell us the reasons behind their feelings.  On the reverse side we asked ‘what if anything might change your feelings on this?’

Giant grids and coloured sticky dots

We asked people about five different kinds of incentives that might encourage them to make bodily donations:

  • A letter of thanks
  • A donation to charity
  • A small payment
  • A large payment
  • A payment in kind

For each one, we wanted to know:

  • How effective would it be
  • How ethical would it be?

People voted by putting sticky dots on giant grids like the one below.  They were asked to consider ‘How ethical?’ on a scale from ‘I feel highly uncomfortable about this – it feels unethical’ to ‘I’m very comfortable with this – it feels ethical’ and ‘How effective?’ from ”This would make no difference to me’ to ”This would definitely encourage me to do this’.

People were also given the option to tell us ‘I don’t need any incentives – I’d definitely do it anyway’ or ‘I don’t need incentives – I would never do this in any circumstance’.  There was a different coloured dot for each incentive and each person was given a set of individually numbered dots. 

Trialling the tool

Before using the tool, we tried it on our colleagues at nef.  Here’s nef’s chief executive using the kit. 

The trial demonstrated some of the ambiguous points in our materials and helped us make training materials for our facilitators.

We ran stalls in several different locations in Manchester, London and Hereford.  The best spots were places where people spent time rather than just passing through – like local libraries or this spot outside a tube station in Angel.

By setting up some stalls in disadvantaged areas, we were able to ensure that people from these communities had an opportunity to participate.  We also used places where people were specifically interested in discussing science, like this event in Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry.


In total we held 14 events in 7 locations, speaking with 500 people.  The responses people gave from the project will form part of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ report on this topic which is due to be published in the autumn of 2011.