Things have been relatively quiet on this blog – mostly because work became rather hectic in the past two months, with me running from conferences to workshops, from workshops to science competitions. I finally have some time now to sort out all the notes I took when I was at the International Public Science Events Conference (a pre-conference to AAAS) and the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago in February. There w
Going to conferences is always very exciting – and this time it is particularly so. First of all, I had never been to Chicago!!! (and NOW I know why people were complaining about Chicago winter…) Secondly, I never thought that I could attend conferences for science outreach and communication. But most importantly, it is an opportunity to meet people from around the world to chat about what we are working on, the issues we encounter, and come up with potential solutions and collaborations in the future.
Here are my notes from the session, “The State of Science Events: Reports from Across the World and Across Sectors” during IPSEC. Through the session, I was hoping to learn what other countries are doing for science outreach and communications, how science communication “entities” (for the lack of better words?) are structured, and also how we in Canada do in comparison to other countries – and I was not disappointed.
Let’s start with Australia.
Australia – The “Inspiring Australia” program is part of the Department of Industry, Government of Australia. It’s main objective is science engagement and communication. The program provides science engagement awards, develop toolkits for science engagement, commission reports on science engagement within Australia, organize the Big Science Summit for Science Communication (I want to go to this! Time to buy lottery…), and coordinate the country’s National Science Week.
From the program came many cool ideas for the National Science Week – Simon France, the manager for the program, said that they were using small ideas with big impacts:
- Dinosaurs Spotted in Australia during National Science Week. Just imagine people taking their phones out, looking around for dinosaurs so that they can have photos taken with them and post them on Facebook (free promo for the National Science Week!).
- They paid selected Australian science bloggers to travel around Australia to blog about science during the National Science Week.
- You could send an interstellar text message to Gliese 581d, a planet outside of the solar system that is likely to support life.
According to Simon, having a national lead is critical in getting university/organization buy-in. This is something to keep in mind.
UK – The British Science Association is a charity organization. Based on their 2012 financial report, most of the association’s income came from grant funding, sponsorship, and charging for events and activities.
The British Science Association’s vision is a society in which people are able to access science, engage with it and feel a sense of ownership about its direction. We provide opportunities for people of all ages to discuss, investigate, explore and challenge science, through our annual programme of events and activities.
Their activities include running the British Science Festival (reaching 43,000 visitors in 2012), organizing the National Science and Engineering Week (with 1.6 million people participating), helping scientists develop communications and engagement skills, organizing science competitions, and supporting local branches. They also run an annual science communication conference. In my impression, UK has been in the forefront of science communication, and it was pointed out by Imran Khan, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, during the session:
We don’t consider tennis or politics just as a thing that tennis players and politicians do, yet science and scientist seems to get that <impression>. So there is still work to do cultural-wise.
China – Each year, CAST (the China Association for Science and Technology, the largest national non-governmental organization for scientific and technological workers in China) runs its National Science Festival. According to Yang Lijun, Director, Division of Public Science Events for the CAST, the annual participation is incredible. Unfortunately I don’t recall the exact number being either 20 million or 200 million (only that there was a huge gasp from the audience when she said the number), but a reference I found stated that in the past 10 years, more than 700 million people participated in the activities, a number that most of us could only dream of. The Festival is also a way to celebrate China’s National Law on popularization of science and technology, which again, is something that most of us could only dream of…
Europe - The European Science Events Association (Eusea) has 90 members in 36 countries. This means that the association needs to cover 500 million people in Europe who speak different languages. Jan Riise, Director of the European Science Events Association, said that this makes it tricky to have a central conference and to coordinate different events. Because of the difference in language, culture, and geography, science centres, museums, and festival could be quite far apart from each other, leading to isolation and possible miscommnication.
However, the European Union is doing its job in keeping the Eusea together. EU recently announced (January 2014) “Horizon 2020” Programme
Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.
Within Horizon 2020, a specific program called “science with and for the society” with a budget of 500 million Euro (!!) will be included – and it seems that Eusea will be well supported via this channel.
US – The Science Festival Alliance is a professional association of independent science and technology festivals, supposed by the US National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It is also the organization behind the IPSEC. The annual report for the SFA is now available online. According to the annual report, almost 1 million people attended SFA member events. The SFA also grew from 17 members in 2012, to 42 members by the end of 2013 – some of which are organizing their first festival event in the coming year. What’s in the future? Its manager Ben Wiehe from the MIT museum mentioned that live science events are finally being recognized these days; for SFA, how to come together to support [each other] but to also allow diversity, is still a puzzle and will be the goal for the coming year.
Italy (Genoa Science Festival) – “In Italy, it is better not to be coordinated.” Arata Manuela, President of the Associazione Festival della Scienza, started with this jokingly. The Genoa Science Festival / Festival della Scienza is an annual cultural event (in fact, this is something that was discussed many timely throughout the conference – should science events be about just science, or about the culture of science? Many, including me, agree that is should be the later if we do want to reach the general public). The event was described by Arata as
a model at international level for science dissemination; a bench mark for science communication; a melting pot of researchers, artists, creative people, opinion makers with people keen on science, schools, and families; a think tank; an added value for the Country namely the City.
(Oh man, I want to go to this too)
The impact of the Genoa Science Festival has been significant, both culturally and economically, as the event brings in a large number of visitors that hotels in the city are typically fully booked. And, this is quite an interesting take on the event – the event charges admission. In some ways, this actually makes sense; the rationale goes that if we pay tickets to see a theatre performance or a concert (cultural events), then perhaps we should pay to attend a science festival. The festival also involves ~700 scientific explainer (university students, graduates, young researchers) during the festival. These explainers go through a training called EASE (European Academy for Science Explainers) and are given the tools necessary for communicating with the general public. In fact, through a collaboration, there is now also a EASE program in Shanghai, China.
The festival will be from October 24th to November 2nd this year. In 2015, the festival will be in France in 2015. An exciting time to come – with international exchange, collaborations and contributions!
Canada? It is very interesting to see how science event/outreach/communication leaderships take different shapes in different countries – via government agencies, non-profit organizations, and professional associations. All these reports from groups around the world actually make me a little sad and well, envious. At the moment there is no government or non-profit organizations to take on that important leadership role to encourage more collaboration and interaction between different science engagement groups within Canada. Even worse, with how things go in Canada, I personally expect negative news about budget cut, muzzling, or elimination of science programs by the Canadian Government almost regularly. The good news is that there are now many more local efforts for science events and festivals (for example, there are now several major science festivals across Canada - Science Rendezvous, Eureka!, Around the Dome in 30 days, Beakerhead, and likely a few more that I missed. The BC Charter of Science was kicked started a few months ago. The future is looking slightly brighter…but we are now years (if not decades) behind and there is much more catching up to do.