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Professionalization of Outreach: The Infrastructure

By Jeanne Garbarino , SciOut18 Task Force

As the professionalization and landscape of the science outreach field continues to evolve, it is important that systems for supporting science outreach professionals, including clear channels for knowledge sharing, evolve with it. As stated above, the goals for this white paper is to more clearly define science outreach, communicate findings from SciOut18 discussions around specific themes ubiquitous to science outreach activities and programs, and lay out recommendations to support science outreach in the future. While we fully acknowledge that established outreach exists within a variety of STEM disciplines, our experiences and discussions as reflected in this report — pertain specifically to “science” as opposed to the T, E, or M fields of STEM. Though, much of what science outreach entails is applicable to these fields, too.

Laying Out the Science Outreach Framework

Historically, science outreach has been used synonymously with phrases such as public engagement with science or science communication (McCallie, et al 2009). While these terms are all tightly related, we are establishing a clear distinction by defining science outreach not as a “thing you do,” but rather as an infrastructure that allows for the creation of a tailored roadmap for effective engagement with science. By no means are we the first to promote ways in which universities and other organizations can model engagement with outward community stakeholders (Auerback 2019, Storksdieck et al 2016), however, the SciOut movement is unique from other efforts in that there is no allegiance to or governance from a specific institution or organization, with outputs representing a summation of perspectives held by individual science outreach professionals from a diversity of contexts. In this model for science outreach, we require the identification of inward and outward stakeholders, an understanding of the science outreach goals held by each group, and the thoughtful design of science outreach activities and programs that merge these goals and promote knowledge sharing between stakeholder groups.

Once the pieces of this model have been defined, carrying out a program or activity within the science outreach framework requires the application of public engagement, education, and/or science communication best practices. As such we would like to take a stance and provide the following definition for science outreach:

Science Outreach is a framework that brings together inward stakeholder and outward stakeholder communities around a set of shared science outreach goals, which are met through the application of effective science communication, public engagement, and/or informal education best practices, and achieves outcomes characterized by mutual learning for all involved.

At a granular level, creating science outreach programs and activities requires an understanding of who the primary stakeholder groups are, the goals and value systems for each group, and the thoughtful design of activities or initiatives that is reflective of both the stakeholders’ context(s) and goals. SciOut Community resources include an in depth analysis of the science outreach framework, which can be accessed at

Stakeholders of Science Outreach

We can consider stakeholder groups within the science outreach framework at both the individual and community levels, both of which can be categorized as either inward or outward.

Inward Stakeholders: individuals or organizations facilitating activities or events as part of a science outreach framework
Outward Stakeholders: individuals or organizations presumably being engaged by inward stakeholder activities or events within the science outreach framework

Drawing from SciOut18 attendees and general experience, inward science outreach stakeholders tend to identify as scientists, scientific trainees (i.e. graduate students or postdocs), science communicators, and/or practitioners of science outreach who likely are associated with academic institutions, though smaller numbers may hail from scientific societies, non-profits, or associate with independent entities. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, despite issues with representation in the scientific enterprise, women and underrepresented minorities tend to be highly active participants within science outreach frameworks, although further surveying is required to better understand the precise motivations and demographics within the science outreach community. Inward stakeholders may be building a science outreach strategy to align with funding requirements, in which case funders play an important role in the science outreach framework.

Outward stakeholders are typically considered individuals or groups of people who do not identify as scientists, or who might be considered non-specialists. These individuals may or may not associate with specific organizations, though most typically identify with one or more specific communities. As a note, we strongly discourage the use of “lay” to describe what is typically known as a “public audience” as it does not accurately portray the people within the outward stakeholder category. We instead prefer the terms non-scientist or non-specialist to describe outward stakeholder groups.

Minimum Requirements for Science Outreach

In addition to identifying the inward and outward stakeholders within a science outreach framework, it is important that we take stock of audience-specific goals before generating any strategy or curriculum. This means we must work to understand both what the inward and outward stakeholders want from this specific science outreach effort.
For example, it is very common for inward stakeholders to get involved in science outreach for career development, to meet broader impact requirements, and/or to simply give back (Christopherson et al. 2018). However, the goals of the outward stakeholders can be much more diverse. Compounding this is the fact that each outward stakeholder audience will interpret anything related to science through the lens of their own learned experiences, which can often include feelings of skepticism or downright rejection of science and/or scientists. As such, it is important for us to gain insight — as best as possible — into the current relationship that specific outward stakeholders have with science, as well as what they hope to gain from participation in any science outreach effort (Christopherson et al. 2018).

Once goals for inward and outward stakeholders are made known, the ideal next step is for inward and outward stakeholders to co-design a science outreach curriculum, event, or strategy in order to best represent the stated goals for each group. However, we acknowledge that co-design is not always logistically possible. As such, we strongly recommend that discussions with representative members of inward and outward communities are held, as a means to shape and tailor the science outreach initiative as best as possible.

Lastly, the implementation of a science outreach framework requires us to build in time for reflection and iteration, as a means to determine the perceived effectiveness of our efforts, and to ensure that we can adequately adjust our science outreach work moving forward. While some inward stakeholder groups incorporate formal evaluations into their science outreach program design, we do not believe that formal metrics are a minimum requirement in the science outreach framework. In the next section, we share more detailed practical considerations in the area of evaluation and assessment.

In summary, the minimum requirements for the science outreach framework are as follows:
✔  Inward and outward stakeholder groups are clearly identified
✔  The science outreach goals for both inward and outward stakeholders are made known
✔  All science outreach efforts are designed with these goals in mind; best if efforts incorporate codesign between representative members of inward and outward stakeholders
✔  Post science outreach effort, time is dedicated to reflecting on the success of the effort, and iterations are incorporated should this be a repeat occurrence

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 in the Save & Share sidebar

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