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By Beth Hawkins on

What influences science capital: the eight dimensions

Understanding what influences a person's science capital is essential to the research.

The research into science capital has identified eight dimensions of science capital.  These are the most influential and significant science-related experiences, knowledge, interests, behaviours and attitudes that people have, and which affect how much science capital they have. Understanding what these influences are can help us to design and deliver learning opportunities which can help more people to engage with science.

As a group of museums, we recognise that we play a part in an ecosystem of STEM learning, where we support and encourage our audiences to extend their learning within and beyond our museums. We have reflected on these eight dimensions in our museum context, to identify practical considerations which we can apply to our practice and be used as guiding principles to inform the design and outcomes of our varied experiences and resources.

The points below are just some of the practical suggestions that we have considered for each of the dimensions. They consider our Science Museum Group values, mission and vision, and while some will apply to any science museum or science centre, it’s worth reflecting how each of the 8 dimensions could be embedded into your organisation given your context and goals.

Scientific literacy

Knowledge and understanding about science and how science works. Confidence/ability to use and apply science knowledge, principles, language and scientific processes into everyday life.

  • Build on visitors existing knowledge. New information should feel like a natural extension of what they already know.
  • Communicate how science is more than knowledge – that it is way of thinking and exploring the world around us.
  • Use common/ correct science language and content (at national curriculum level) to enable visitors to recognise and reinforce prior science knowledge during their visit.

Science related attitudes, values and dispositions

Seeing the relevance and value of science in everyday life. Seeing that science has value and is something that you can do.

  • Recognise that every visitor comes with different experiences, knowledge and attitudes towards science.
  • Help visitors to make personal connections and see where science has useful applications in their everyday lives (don’t make assumptions of prior experience/ attitudes).
  • Frame all experiences around the values and vision to ‘ignite curiosity in science’.
  • Use personal pronouns (like you, our etc.) to show that science is not the possession of others.
  • Use gender neutral visual and verbal language as much as possible (colours, images etc.)
  • Avoid using ‘museum’ jargon or acronyms which can make people feel excluded if they don’t know what they mean.

Challenge visitors’ perceptions of science by…

  • Presenting science content in surprising and relevant formats. Invite and excite visitors to take part and feel welcome in the museum.
  • Share personal stories/ connections which invite others to share their own.
  • Widen perceptions of who does science by highlighting the diversity of people who use science in their work – how science is not just for scientists.
  • Show how scientific progress is shaped by its users and society.
  • Give positive reinforcement/ validation of science knowledge and behaviour.

Knowledge about the transferability of science (skills, knowledge)

Awareness of where and how science skills, knowledge and understanding are useful for any job.

  • Give opportunities for visitors to use and develop scientific skills in the museum, e.g.
    • making observations
    • asking questions
    • finding and using evidence
    • communication
    • problem solving
    • team work
  • Help visitors to recognise the skills that they have and that they use in their everyday lives and interests.
  • Highlight how the skills visitors are using are transferable and useful for many different jobs.
  • Show where and how skills are used by people who use science in their work.

Consumption of science-related media

The exposure to science through unstructured science activities (e.g. watching science related TV programmes, reading science books, playing science games)

  • Provide opportunities to extend the museum experience through accessible digital media, e.g. games/ films/ books/ kits which will extend and add value to the visit.
  • Link extension activities to platforms and content that are used or are familiar with our visitors/ target audience.

Participation in out-of-school learning activities

Taking part in informal science activities outside of school. Enabling the museum learning experience to extend back to school, home and local community. Doing experiments, science kits/tinkering, etc.

  • Help visitors recognise where they use science in activities they do beyond the museum/ classroom.
  • Support teachers and families to make best use of the museum visit.


  • Good communication and advocacy of the value of learning opportunities in museums for all students/ families (e.g. school visits are not just top sets)
  • Provide a consistent approach/ look and feel and easy access for learning resources which support museum visits (pre visit/during/ post visit).
  • Help visitors to link the science learning experience between school, home and the museum .
  • Encourage and enable the museum experience to extend beyond the visit/ activity through discussion and participating in further linked science activities.
  • Encourage and give reasons for visitors to come back and visit the museum again.

Family science skills, knowledge, and qualifications

Families and community science-related skills, interests, qualification and jobs.

  • Make parents/ guardians feel welcome and confident using the museum and to participate in activities.
  • Provide opportunities for children to talk to family members during and beyond their visit and for family members to share their existing knowledge and experiences that they have.
  • Provide opportunities for families to complete challenges/ activities together which share everyone’s existing knowledge and experiences – in and beyond the museum.

Knowing people in science-related roles and jobs

Recognising the science skills and knowledge that are used in the everyday activities and in the work of people you know in a meaningful way.

  • Help visitors to recognise where people they know use science and science skills in their everyday lives, e.g. in their family, community.
  • Provide opportunities to meet and talk with a wide range of people who use science in their work (in and from science) and help make personal connections with them.
  • Highlight the skills and experience of our museum staff and of others working at events.

Talking to others about science in everyday life

Talking about science outside of school e.g. with friends, siblings, parents, community members.

  • Design experiences which promote science talk both during and beyond the visit, between peers, family members and local community.
  • Empower/ build confidence for visitors to share their museum experience and/or science and knowledge with others.
  • Enable visitors to continue conversations beyond the museum experience/activity and build confidence for them to do that.
  • Provide activities which acknowledge that all family units are unique and different.

You can read more about how we at the Science Museum Group are using the science capital dimensions in our everyday practice in the science engagement reflection tool post.



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