The National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE) contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to evaluate its SENCER-ISE conference. The goal of the conference was to bring together professionals from the informal and formal science education sectors to discuss civic engagement in science and initiate potential collaborations between the two science education sectors. The evaluation, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Noyce Foundation, explored participants’ conference experiences, ideas, and collaborations resulting from the conference.
How did we approach this study?
RK&A conducted 20 in-depth, telephone interviews—10 each with informal and formal science education professionals who attended the conference. These individuals were randomly selected from a list of all conference attendees.
What did we learn?
Findings demonstrate that the SENCER-ISE conference was an important first step in creating connections between the informal science education (ISE) and the formal education (college and university) communities. New learning and perspectives resulted from conference participation; about three-quarters of interviewees said the conference had created an awareness of the value of the other sector, empathy for the challenges the other sector encounters, and/or concretized potential opportunities for collaboration between the two sectors. Findings also show that the conference sparked new collaborative ideas for about one-half of interviewees and honed existing ideas for another one-half of interviewees. When asked to discuss the progress they had made in implementing these ideas, many interviewees had personally reflected on their ideas, initiated contact (with no response), or had initial conversations with potential stakeholders. Interviewees cited various barriers, including time and other commitments, institutional transitions, and geographic distance.
What are the implications of the findings?
Findings suggest a continued need to build awareness of the value of using civic engagement as a platform to advance science understanding, including what each sector brings to a potential collaboration that would help achieve this end. For example, one interviewee suggested inviting board members and professionals from each sector to actively participate in the work of the other sector (e.g., strategic planning initiatives). Findings also suggest other platforms for collaboration might need to be considered; interviewees recommended maintaining communication online and hosting regional conferences to address the barrier of geographic distance. For example, one interviewee suggested creating a Web interface (similar to Facebook or LinkedIn) that would allow participants to post information that would strategically help other users match their skills and needs with potential partners. Project staff responded to this suggestion and established a LinkedIn group. The SENCER-ISE conference successfully sparked ideas and built momentum for collaboration, however, sustaining that momentum presents a challenge given day-to-day responsibilities of ISE and SENCER professionals. This challenge is not uncommon, and the above next steps and strategies will be helpful for continuing to build conversations and momentum for collaboration between the two sectors.