About the Initiative | NEXT STEPS

Now that the first phase of the Evolving Culture of Science Engagement initiative—the 2013 gathering of culturally innovative science communicators, educators, researchers, and funders at MIT—has taken place and a report has been released, the organizers would like to see the initiative move forward in at least two ways:

1. Widening the Conversation
The small, invitational gathering that launched the project was intended only as a beginning. We hope that a much broader and more diverse group of science engagement practitioners, researchers, funders, and policy makers will take up these questions, extending and challenging our initial findings and guiding the inquiry in new directions. We invite comment by email or, better yet, on the blog so other colleagues can join in. And of course we’d be grateful for any help getting the word out about the report to all of the professional and academic networks that might be interested.

We’re also considering organizing conference panels about the initiative at academic and professional meetings focused on various aspect of public science engagement, as well as writing a suite of case studies or book of essays that pick up where the workshop report leaves off.

If you and your organization are interested in being part of the continuing dialogue, please get in touch.

2. Moving into the Research Phase
The 2013 workshop participants raised scores of questions about how science engagement works, for whom, to what effects, and so on—including questions about the cultural dynamics and attributes of public engagement that are usually below the radar at conferences and in the literature in these fields.

(A handful of those questions are captured in our report; many others await a fuller unpacking.) In fact, participants noted that we simply don’t have the data, either about the engagement landscape as a whole or about the emerging sensibilities, strategies, and experiences we were discussing.

They were eager to see the conversation placed on a firmer empirical footing, and we agree. The purpose of the convening was to take a fresh look at contemporary practice and, in that new frame of reference, identify questions that can be explored through various forms of research. Hence the second phase we envisioned: Empirical Research.

So the next order of business is to develop a research agenda, ideally one that: Ÿ

  • prioritizes the freshest and most urgent questions raised at the 2013 workshop and aims to create genuinely new knowledge with and for the field;
  • Ÿgrounds those questions in knowledge that’s already available in other, perhaps distant domains (such as studies about how humor and laughter work from psychology, anthropology, or neuroscience, or about the role of emotion in theater or other live performance settings);
  • Ÿrecognizes that it’s not just the culture of science or of science communication that counts, but also the cultures (plural) of the people and communities whom science is trying to engage;
  • acknowledges the complexity and unpredictability of public experiences with science and avoids the presumption that outcomes can be predicted or even defined normatively in advance;
  • Ÿconsiders the whole science engagement landscape, as a system, and explores how people enter and make their way through it.

Developing the research agenda will be a highly collaborative task, as will the next step of forging collaborations among researchers and practitioners in the US, UK, and elsewhere to seek funding and conduct some of the research studies called for in the agenda. Those studies could involve a wide range of methods, from sociological surveys at the population level and ethnographic research with specific science engagement experiences or audiences, to historical analysis, social psychology experiments, “big data” mining and mapping, and so on.

We’ve begun talking with people already involved in the initiative about a process for developing the research agenda in the coming months, but we would like that to be a wider conversation. We invite interested social scientists, learning and culture researchers, science engagement practitioners, and funders to get in touch.