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Professionalization of Outreach: Executive Summary

By Jeanne Garbarino , SciOut18 Task Force

Introducing 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

In October 2018, nearly 150 members of the science outreach professional community gathered in New York City to discuss current issues surrounding the practice and profession of science outreach. With scientific representation spanning multiple academic contexts, professional societies, independent practice, members of science writing and journalism communities, funding bodies, and government organizations, the outputs from our unconference-style gathering — SciOut18: Models, Metrics, and Measures — takes into consideration many perspectives regarding the science outreach field from individual practitioners across the US.

The discussions from SciOut18 have prominently guided the content and context of this report, which primarily focuses on the practical aspects related to the continued professionalization and centralization of science outreach. While we specifically avoided defining “science outreach” at the meeting itself, the authors of this paper thought it is important to lay out how we are considering the phrase as it fits into the scientific enterprise, in order to discuss how this field can be sustained and scaled for the future. As such, we are defining science outreach as

a framework that brings together scientific and non-scientific 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.

This definition is offered in the context of stakeholders, both inward and outward, as well as laying out the minimum requirements to meet the science outreach framework criteria. In this list we emphasize a clear identification of all stakeholder groups, sharing explicit goals for each group, and ideally co-designing a scientific engagement strategy that best represents these stated goals. Furthermore, the expected outcome for all science outreach strategies is shared learning among all stakeholders. While no science outreach framework will look exactly the same, it is these fundamental points that distinguish science outreach from one-sided efforts to promote non-scientist appreciation of science.

This paper also touches on the current expectations and realities related to science outreach metrics. The overwhelming consensus among SciOut18 attendees was that it is extremely difficult to both practice science outreach and develop clear research strategies to determine the impact of these efforts, particularly since a unanimous outcome of engagement surrounds the cultivation of positive human behaviors around science. As such, this paper argues that, in many cases, evaluating scientific culture from the inward perspective (i.e. that of scientists and scientific institutions) could offer a clearer window into how science outreach shapes policies related to access to scientific programming, as well as the recruitment and retention of diverse trainees and faculty. We also argue that participation of faculty and trainees in the science outreach framework should be officially recognized and rewarded through inclusion in hiring and promotion processes.

The success of the SciOut18 unconference cemented the notion that science outreach is indeed a growing professional field, and that those currently occupying these spaces are hungry to develop and nurture a community of practice for sharing knowledge and strengthening professional networks. As we continue to grow as practitioners, and science outreach continues to gain momentum as a profession, the SciOut initiative offers an inclusive space to engage in lively discussion, share resources, and promote ideas and policies that bolster our efforts to support and scale. To this end, we have concluded our paper with a list of specific recommendations for scientific organizations, individual scientists, practitioners of science outreach, and funders.

The contents of this paper offer an early perspective, and we fully embrace the requirement to iterate on this material as we continue to learn from each other through future SciOut meetings and other professional gatherings. The authors of this text invite any and all commentary on the content offered here, including suggestions for next stages of SciOut community building. Please share any thoughts with the SciOut Community contact through our web form or on social media with tag #sciout18.

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