Taking a science capital informed approach has more impact when used and applied across a whole organisation. It cannot be something that only one team adopts or takes on alone. It needs to shape the whole environment that we invite our visitors into, in and beyond our sites.
So, how did partners involved in the Science Capital in Practice programme find the science capital approach changed their way of working?
It transforms how staff view audiences
For many partners, the science capital approach offered a new way of thinking about their work, and how to give it maximum impact among audiences. Some said it had helped them develop a more nuanced, complex understanding of who visitors are, how they engage – and why some feel science, and museums, are not for them.
Partners used the Science Museum Group’s STEM engagement toolkit to reflect critically on their current work [One of the most flexible tools used was the Engagement Reflection Points]
“It really helped us find a way to break those barriers that are created. We used it to set up challenges for ourselves, to improve and develop our practice.”
“It’s taught me a lot personally on how we interact with visitors… I don’t think it necessarily needs to be just in science […] I think science capital should be just engagement capital!”
“I think it really helps as a way of visualising your audiences, and the young people that you work with, in maybe a more rounded way. The fact that it encapsulates how complex this is, feels quite important to me.”
It brings the idea of equity and access to the heart of the work of developing high-quality exhibitions, products or activities
The science capital approach helped inform the identification, choice, and development of new products and activities (including those aimed at engaging new or under-represented groups). It also encouraged staff to reflect diversity in the examples chosen for role models and illustrations.
At Aberdeen Science Centre, the team reworked all their science show scripts and peer reviewed them using the science capital reflection points to ensure they related to everyday life, and encouraged conversation.
At Catalyst, science kits were created which aimed to upskill parents and carers to do science activities at home. About a third of families had never tried science activities at home before and they had never been to Catalyst.
“The area that we’re based, we’re in the top five percent of disadvantage or poverty in the UK. Having the science capital approach, which is a social justice model, an equity driven model, can be quite powerful where we are in terms of kind of advocating a stand.”
“It brought equity to [the] foreground in conversations around our science development.”
“[The reflection points] helped staff to consider day-to-day engagement and how interaction with our audiences relates to the potential impact on social change for our more disadvantaged communities.”
“One benefit is that staff have a different message to bring to our visitors, and it’s more a friendly, relevant, approachable message to them.”
It helps staff recognise and draw on the expertise and life experience that visitors bring
In developing ways of making STEM ideas and content more relatable to audiences, partners considered lots of ways to link with everyday experiences visitors might have, or expertise they might not recognise as STEM-related. This helped create a sense that science is all around us.
Formal and informal products developed as part of Kew’s project have helped to empower audiences and encouraged them to connect scientific concepts with their own life experiences, such as living in or visiting other countries, or hobbies such as gardening or cooking.
Similarly, Eden found success in looking for everyday examples of science which became touchpoints with visitors.
“We’ve noticed at the end of our sessions that the kids and the adults are fired up. […] Even if they’re excited by one small element of what you’re delivering, the fact they’ve gone away bubbling is what we’re looking for, and that’s what science capital does and aids us in what we’re doing.”
“The benefits [of a science capital approach] were to get the staff understanding that science is all around us and science can be seen in different ways.”
“Learning about science capital will change the way I explain exhibits to visitors, by making sure that I relate what I am saying to everyday examples.”
It leads to more consultation of staff throughout the organisation
As a result of applying the science capital approach, some partners such as Thinktank began including more colleagues in consultations over activity development, recognising the value of different kinds of expertise.
“Many teams such as Visitor Services, Learning and Engagement, Marketing and Senior Management have had input into the creation of our Community Welcome Pass and training pack due to their understanding of the importance of this concept. Colleagues are also keen to ensure the future and potential expansion of this offer so an increased number of Community Groups can access Thinktank on their own terms.”
This is an excerpt from the Science Capital in Practice: Foundations for the Future summary report. Further information about the programme, including a recording of the Science Capital in Practice: Foundations for the Future seminar, can be found on our Science Capital in Practice webpage.
The ‘Science Capital in Practice’ series shares the experiences and progress of partner organisations involved in the Science Capital in Practice programme, a collaboration between the Science Museum Group and the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres.