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    Hamilton Carter said:

    These are great ideas! My career in science started when a local scientist encouraged everyone at my school to compete in science fair. Consequently, I believe in the value of outreach.

    NSF has implied that they value outreach in their description of the required ‘broader impact’ section of proposals:

    “NSF values the advancement of scientific knowledge and activities that
    contribute to the achievement of societally relevant outcomes. Such outcomes include, but are not limited to: full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); improved STEM education and educator development at any level; increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology; improved well-being of individuals in society; development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce; increased partnerships between academia, industry, and others; improved national security; increased economic competitiveness of the United States; and enhanced infrastructure for research and education.”

    The participation of sociologists is a great idea. We have submitted an outreach proposal that will passively collect data on impact, but as physicists, we’re amateurs at collecting and analyzing this kidn of data.

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    Marie-Claire Shanahan said:

    Very exciting to have so much interest in assessing outreach at ScienceOnline this year! One great place to look for collaborators is among the science education faculty members at your local institution(s). Researching and assessing learning, engagement and interest in science is a big part of what we do. I also say that to encourage looking for not just any social scientist who is adept at human research, but people with specific expertise in the challenges and methods of understanding people’s relationships with science. Science communication scholars would be another great resource.

    A report that might be of interest is “Assessing Learning in Informal Science Contexts” commissioned by the National Research Council for Science Learning in Informal Environments Committee: http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bose/Brody_Commissioned_Paper.pdf

    And I’d challenge the claim that there are only isolated studies out there. There are researchers whose careers are dedicated to outreach and informal science education and journals just for studies like this. We need to do a better job, though, of connecting with scientific communities like those at ScienceOnline who are active and interested in outreach to help them find that work and make use of it.

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    Matt Shipman said:

    It’s come to my attention that there is a lot of research out there on various types of outreach and their outcomes. That’s true, for certain subject areas, such as informal science education (e.g., check out this report that Marie Claire Shanahan of the University of Alberta shared with me: http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bose/Brody_Commissioned_Paper.pdf ).

    And it raises another interesting question: if it’s a form of outreach for which there is substantial literature on impacts, how can we make that information available to scientists exploring those outreach options? Not just bringing it to their attention, but helping them understand it so it can be used to shape their outreach initiatives. Or, perhaps more importantly, if the literature does indicate that (at least some) outreach efforts do have positive impacts, what can we do to bring that evidence to the attention of funding agencies in the form of a robust argument for outreach funding?

    And for those forms of outreach that are less well-studied (if at all), I refer back to the above post. 🙂

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    Matt Shipman said:

    Note: I wrote the comment above before Marie Claire’s comment appeared, so sorry if it seems redundant! 🙂

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    Matt Shipman said:

    I received an email from communication researcher Andrew Binder in regard to this post, and asked him if I could post it here, since I thought it may be of use to others in this discussion. He said yes. Here’s what he had to say:

    I think there is some existing communication/educational research out there that could help inform this line of inquiry. First, there’s the idea of outreach-as-extension, which goes back a long way at most land-grant institutions around the country. Of course, in this context, the outreach involves transferring knowledge and practical skills to farmers and practitioners in the field. But one of the most influential theoretical models in the communication literature—the diffusion of innovations by Everett M. Rogers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations)—tackles these questions from that point of view. If one were to think of scientific ideas as innovations, for example the idea that dinosaurs had feathers, then the diffusion of this idea through outreach efforts could map onto this framework quite well. (Indeed, on could think of the outreach problem as one that only extends to “early adopters” and doesn’t diffuse further down the line. And this would be linked to the self-selecting audiences for scientific information. One approach to outreach might be finding a way to make sure other segments of the population are exposed to the same ideas.)

    Second, there’s a long line of research on informal science education, particularly through museums. One notable scholar in this arena is Kirsten Ellenbogen, whose profile can be found here: http://informalscience.org/member/show/517. It seems to me that her work on evaluation and assessment would be valuable to look at for the questions you are posing. One recent report focused on a survey/audience analysis (http://informalscience.org/evaluation/show/359). Another looked at using different kinds of visualizations to communicate scientific ideas effectively (http://informalscience.org/evaluation/show/319), which also ties into the idea of communicating with art that you mentioned earlier.

    Admittedly, both the outreach-as-extension and outreach-as-informal-education models are somewhat different (I think) from the outreach activities you are describing here. But they seem to be sufficient analogs to provide guidance on where to start, especially with defining relevant outcomes and measures. Hope these thoughts are helpful!

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    Jennifer Davison said:

    Thank you Matt and everyone for bringing visibility and clarity to this issue. As someone who has been tasked with exactly this effort — incentivizing science communication, outreach, and engagement — I struggle with the fact that there seems to be no model for this role. Besides creating metrics to quantify the effort and the outcomes associated with science communication, outreach and engagement, we need leaders in academic units to fund a position that has a flexible, “experimental” space for people like me to try different things, fail/succeed, gather data, and repeat. Due to the dynamic evolving nature of academia today (as with many other arenas, like media), leaders need to be embracing a more risk-taking and forward-looking perspective so that we can shift the outdated paradigm with some sort of foresight instead of waiting for it to collapse. I’m fortunate to be in a position like this, but I’ve not met anyone else — yet — who has the capacity and the permission to explore this space. It seems that many PIOs might be thinking this way; I’d love to hear from anyone who is actively working to incentivize science communication, outreach and education. A community of practice and of support can help us all move forward with this critical transition.

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    Emily Coren said:

    Haha! I agree Jennifer, I wrote todays Soapbox Science article (blogs.nature.com/soapboxscience/2013/02/27/why-we-need-science-communication). One of the interesting aspects of this is that there is not additional funding provided for analysis of the outcomes of the science outreach projects. Science communication projects are often low-budget to begin with and meaningful analysis of these outcomes takes even more time/money to create. Which ironically, neither incentivizes funding for science communication nor the analysis to support the importance of science communication. If anyone reading this is willing to provide support for analysis done on communications projects, please share your resources with the group.

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