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Science Outreach 101

By Jeanne Garbarino

Science outreach, sometimes known as public engagement with science or public outreach, is a mechanism intended to foster appreciation for the role science plays in our society, while simultaneously allowing individuals and communities to communicate what they want from science. To be effective, science outreach must contain pathways for shared learning experiences, for both scientists and non-scientists alike. It is this “mutual learning” concept that differentiates science outreach from the field of science communication, the latter of which places enormous emphasis on the delivery of scientific information. Though this distinction can be argued, science outreach and the communication of science are intimately related.

In fact, at RockEDU, we consider science outreach to be a framework that takes into consideration the goals and context for both inward (scientists) and outward (non-scientist) stakeholders, and involves the application of science communication best practices. While the majority of our work centers on informal science education, those who work in science policy and other types of science engagement are also practicing within the science outreach framework.

So how should we approach the practice of science outreach? There is no single blueprint or set of best practices that work for all contexts, which challenges our ability to measure the impact of any science outreach practice, or to set a concrete definition for science outreach itself. However, identifying how the core elements of science outreach fit into contextual frameworks can help create initiatives and programs that effectively bridge science and society, and ensure that your science outreach goals are being met.  

The purpose of this guide is to introduce the core elements essential to the effective practice of science outreach, and empower scientists to participate in science outreach activities in meaningful ways. In my experience at RockEDU, science outreach can be an incredibly satisfying activity, and with the right supports and a little bit of planning, can be performed with minimal resources, minimal effort, and maximal fun.

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