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Professionalization of Outreach: Recommendations for Scientific Institutions and Organizations

By Jeanne Garbarino , SciOut18 Task Force

Scientific Institutions and Organizations include official entities that primarily employ or provide membership to scientists and science professionals, and have a central mission involving the generation, interpretation, and/or the dissemination of knowledge as it pertains to science. Universities, research institutes, and professional scientific societies are some examples of “Scientific Institutions and Organizations.”

  1. Establish a centralized science outreach department with a dedicated staff and resources, including an institutionally supported budget (hard money). Centralization of science outreach offices will streamline the efficacy of scientific engagement efforts from scientists, labs, or departments by tapping into established knowledge and networks, essentially allowing scientists to simply plug-and-play within the science outreach framework. However, it is critical that funding sources are clearly secured for the design and implementation of engagement strategies, and science outreach staff is not tasked with required grant writing while also working to deliver quality programming. Programs that are centered around soft money are likely to tax science outreach program staff in ways that impact efficacy. Institutions like The Rockefeller University (RockEDU Science Outreach) and Columbia University (Zuckerman Institute Education Programs) have established, institutionally-funded science outreach departments, and can serve as models for other institutions.
  2. Incentivize participation in science outreach efforts by recognizing and rewarding those doing the work. Given all of the potential benefits of incorporating science outreach frameworks, academic institutions can support science outreach by formally recognizing its value (McCall et al. 2016). This recognition may take the form of prizes, salary enhancements, and improved visibility for individual scientists. To truly demonstrate the support and significance of science outreach, work in the science outreach space should be included in the tenure process. Recognition may also come in the form of funding for science outreach professionals, dedicated spaces, resources and administrative support. Creating an environment inclusive to the communities surrounding a research institution is highly interwoven with developing an institution where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive. Creating a research culture that shows dedication to engaging and supporting underserved communities can also help in recruiting and supporting scientists from these communities.
  3. Support mandatory cultural competency trainings for members of the scientific community. A successful science outreach framework will include formal training for setting expectations when working with audiences from diverse populations, as well as more involved training opportunities for those interested in curriculum design and program management. As scientific organizations continue to acknowledge and correct historic inequities in hiring and promotion practices, it is essential to nurture a culturally responsive professional environment, both internally and community facing. Centralized science outreach departments would be natural fits for the planning and execution of cultural competency trainings for all members of an organization, and could provide individual consultation in this area as needed, thereby circumventing the need to hire outside firms for this necessary task. Furthermore, by organizing these trainings and consultations “in-house,” recommendations are specifically effortlessly tailored to the home environment.

This is an excerpt from the SciOut18 White Paper: Recommendations for the Continued Professionalization of Science Outreach within the Scientific Enterprise which can be downloaded in its entirety below

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