The field of informal science learning and communication is comprised of many sectors—after school programs, science center exhibitions and programs, television and film, print and new media, to name just a few. Each of these is understood to make unique contributions, present unique opportunities, and require unique support. Science Live began with the observation that it is time to similarly acknowledge the practice of live public science events.
The Science Live Timeline
Winter, 2011: Proof of Interest
The first International Public Science Events Conference convened in Washington, DC, in February, 2011, drawing more than 175 interested professionals from 16 countries. This meeting was originally conceived to serve science café and science festival organizers, but at least a third of the attendees were actively producing other kinds of live public science events. The conference now meets annually in June.
Winter, 2014: Articulating the Concept
Staff at the MIT Museum drafted a concept paper outlining the potential benefits of taking a sector-wide approach to live public science events, including a list of potential areas of interest for future research. View and download the original Science Live concept paper.
Summer, 2014: First Funding
Reactions to the Science Live concept paper from scores of event organizers and researchers set the stage for a successful grant proposal for Phase I of the Science Learning+ funding program. The Science Learning+ funding program’s Phase I was comprised of relatively modest, one-year planning grants “to enable groups of people and organizations in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, and/or the USA to meet with each other and develop ideas and strategies.”
The project team working on Science Live’s Phase I project included:
- John Durant, MIT Museum
- Ben Wiehe, MIT Museum
- Julie Fooshee, MIT Museum
- Bruce Lewenstein, Cornell University
- Nicola Buckley, University of Cambridge
- Dane Comerford, University of Cambridge
- Laura Fogg-Rogers, University of the West of England, Bristol
Spring, 2015: Systematic Consultation
After planning that included a literature review and many initial informal conversations with live public science event organizers and researchers, the Science Live team spent several months on systematic consultations with project participants. This included:
- More than three-dozen phone interviews, some involving several participants at a time, following a research protocol.
- A project convening in Cambridge, UK, that drew 55 participants, mostly from the UK. Everyone attending this two-day meeting joined smaller sessions that followed a focus group protocol modeled on the phone interview protocol.
- A project convening in Cambridge, US, that drew 56 participants, including 12 from the UK. Everyone attending this day-long meeting joined smaller sessions that followed the focus group protocol. (Convening participants then stayed on for the two-day International Public Science Events Conference that followed).
The phone interviews and in-person focus groups were all recorded and transcribed. An analysis of these conversations is drafted, and awaiting journal publication. Additionally, all other sessions in the US convening were recorded and transcribed.
Summer and Fall, 2015: Synthesis
The Science Live report is a summary of more than 200 consultations. The report attempts to strike the balance of being concise while representing the major themes of interest to participants. View and download “Science Live: Surveying the landscape of live public science events.”
The live public science events landscape is varied and expansive. As Science Live developed over 2015—and since—we have continually encountered event formats, ways of doing things, and research/evaluation findings that we were unaware of before. It is incredibly difficult to represent this entire landscape in a way that does it full justice. The findings of Phase I of Science Live therefore make no claim of being comprehensive.
2016 and beyond: Next Steps
At the heart of Science Live is the suggestion that good things will happen if we start thinking of science events as a distinct sector of science communication. The project team continues to seek additional funding sources in support of Science Live’s goals, but this vision clearly goes beyond any project team, funding proposal, or tidy final product.
At the risk of overstating the obvious, no one gets to decide that a flurry of interesting activity suddenly counts as a sector: this is a perspective that emerges as meaningful only because it is helpful in advancing what we all do. Hundreds have contributed to this larger vision, and it only makes sense if it carries forward in many ways at once.
Thank you for advancing our shared vision however you can.
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In the meantime, take a moment and check out a public science event near you. And remember, just visiting an event website isn’t the same: you need to get out there and experience it in person!