We get so busy but it is important to take a break, connect with others, and see how your work fits in the greater picture. I had the opportunity to do this at a local outreach workshop on March 7th. It was an inspiring day and I loved the chance to see what others are doing to promote science in our province. The organizers had done a good job of including community building, learning, and personal networking. I’ll talk about each section in general terms but if you want more details on the day, please check out the storify that I’ve included at the end of this post.
Canada doesn’t have a federal agency for advancing science like the AAAS or the Wellcome Trust or the associated dedicated funding sources. In past years, NSERC (federal funding agency) and the BC Innovation Council provided outreach workshops but in the days of shrinking budgets, other priorities emerged. I’m glad that this day was re-started by several organizations. There are still a lot of smart, passionate people communicating science throughout the province and we need days like the BC science outreach workshop to connect, learn, and just celebrate the great work being accomplished.
Community Building (organization)
At the beginning of the day, the new Science Charter was introduced (emphasis mine):
The purpose of the Charter is to foster coherence and collaboration amongst organizations involved in science promotion in British Columbia by defining common understandings and purposes.
These organizations share a belief that science and technology are pivotal to our economy, environment, health and many other dimensions of our lives. We believe that through mutual attention and common direction, the cumulative effectiveness of individual organizations can be increased.
I’m excited about this new charter. I’m hoping that this will give us a way to connect more organizations and efforts. I used to run a province-wide outreach program in genetics and sometimes we would visit towns that already had a local program and didn’t need us to visit.
We were usually able to work together and enhance each other programs so it was never disastrous. However, it would have been nicer to work together before a visit and not at the last minute. In addition to preventing duplication, connecting people before visits can also allow us to tailor programs for different communities. One of my favourite outreach trips was to Haida Gwaii and it wasn’t just the beauty of the place and people. I had worked with teachers in each school to change our standard programs to make them more meaningful for the students.
Best Practices (Learning, Showcasing)
The science outreach workshop had several learning opportunities, including an introduction to the new science curriculum and evaluating your programs. Although most of the people and organizations provide informal education programs, it is helpful to know where your programs fit into the curriculum. Not only does this help you target the correct grade but you get a sense of previous topics covered by the students.
How do we know our programs are working? We had 3 panelists share their experiences and different approaches to evaluation. I liked that they talked about the difference between research and evaluation. Evaluation is more about the effectiveness of a program to reach its objectives – so you should know what your program’s goals. One question is often ‘are participants learning?’ but that can be difficult to measure. The panel took us through surveys, observation and interview examples of different ways to evaluate.
We had the opportunity to network at coffee breaks, lunch, and within some sessions. Because we haven’t had a lot of these opportunities to see each other, we tended to clump with people we knew from before. If we have more sessions, I hope we will reach out beyond our current circles. There are some other ways that could be accomplished, which leads to my…
- Database of BC outreach organizations This has been tried in the past and it is really hard to keep up to date but I still want it. If I’m going back to Fort St. John, I’d love to see a list of organizations that often work in that area and if there are ways to work together. Optimally, I’d love an outreach website where different organizations were profiled each month (preferably alternating between Vancouver-based and other location).
- Ability of people and organizations outside of Vancouver to attend. Yes, most people in Canada live in southern BC but that doesn’t mean that science/science outreach is only near the US border or on the coast. It is expensive to travel to smaller communities and funds are limited. Maybe there is a way to have people attend online? We provide our medical school lectures with videoconferencing and maybe that could be done with these workshops? We did have a hashtag this year and several people did follow the tweets from home.
- More networking (really!). I will admit that networking can be painful. Maybe we could have forced interactions where you talk to people outside of your area of expertise? I think this would have to be done within a session – and maybe it would have to be a surprise or people may not attend. It is important for many reasons, including possible partnerships that aren’t obvious at first. Also, people who like to communicate and discuss science often start in their area of expertise but they may find opportunities to learn about a new science or a new way to communicate their preferred topic.
I enjoyed the day and I think it was really useful. I look forward to the next session!