The 2013 convening | ABOUT

  Astrophysicist and pop-culture  figure Neil deGrasse Tyson with science festival organizer Kishore Hari at the Evolving Culture of Science Engagement workshop in September, 2013. Photo: Lisa Abitbol

Astrophysicist and pop-culture figure Neil deGrasse Tyson with science festival organizer Kishore Hari at the Evolving Culture of Science Engagement workshop in September, 2013. Photo: Lisa Abitbol

In late September, 2013 we gathered some 75 scientists, science communicators and educators, researchers, funders, and policymakers—mainly from the United States but including a half-dozen participants from the UK and Ireland—in Cambridge, Massachusetts for two days of conversations about the emerging forms, settings, and sensibilities of science engagement. We had invited these participants because we felt that they were doing culturally innovative, in some cases groundbreaking work in public science engagement in a wide variety of practice areas and settings. We understood that they were by no means the only people doing such work, but we wanted to keep the gathering small enough to permit in-depth conversation and genuine, working debate.

The agenda was designed to get these innovators talking about why and how they do what they do, with a special focus on cultural dimensions of engagement that have received little attention at conferences and in the literature but which seem to be at the heart of some of the most interesting and successful contemporary public science experiences: humor, storytelling, informality, participatory engagement, mystery and the unknown, artistic expression, emotion, and so on.

What transpired? Among other things, a realization of just how wide and varied the science engagement community is—far broader and more complex than the familiar categories and conferences (like science journalism, science centers, science events, etc.) might suggest, as well as less professionalized and institutional. Most participants knew only a handful of others in the room and were delighted at the chance to meet and work with people outside their own practice areas.

Also, a sense of the surprising diversity of goals in contemporary science engagement, from outcomes-oriented thinking about learning and identification to a more artistic focus on the creative expression and self-revelation of the communicator. In fact, this may have been the first such conference to address the latter side of the spectrum directly.

  Kathy Sykes, professor of sciences  & society at the University of Bristol and co-founder of NESTA Famelab, was one of several attendees from the UK and Ireland. Photo: Lisa Abitbol

Kathy Sykes, professor of sciences & society at the University of Bristol and co-founder of NESTA Famelab, was one of several attendees from the UK and Ireland. Photo: Lisa Abitbol

Read more in the report itself, and be sure to post a comment on our blog or on Twitter using #cultureofscience.