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By Beth Hawkins on

Science Capital in Practice: Measuring Success

In this fourth part of our Science Capital in Practice: Foundations for the Future blog series, we explore some of the ways that the impact of taking a science capital approach can be tracked.

Knowing if what we are doing has made any change or difference, however small, is important, especially when you are doing something new. Changes in our audience’s behaviour or even demographic could take many years, but there will be lots of other things that will be changing through this journey, which are equally important to capture and celebrate along the way.

Some projects developed as part of the Science Capital in Practice programme had a core focus on measuring success, and through the evaluation of the programme each partner organisation observed and reflected on specific changes that they had observed within their organisation.

What were some of the ways that partners tracked the impact of taking a science capital approach?

It is good to acknowledge that we function as part of a bigger picture, not as a one-stop-shop for science

Winchester Science Centre held an internal workshop and distilled the overall science capital concept into the key areas that aligned best with their mission – where they felt they could have the biggest impact.

Science capital is not in itself an evaluation tool. We are unable to tell how a single visit or experience has increased someone’s science capital as this will come from a combination of factors over time, but we can observe and measure people’s engagement with STEM, which will help to grow their science capital.

“In the past we’d often have all these grand ideas about what we wanted to achieve and what we wanted to offer visitors because of our own experiences. But that wasn’t necessarily what our visitors wanted. We didn’t know that because I don’t think we engaged with them as much as we do now in that consultation aspect.”

By using a science capital framework we can plan more rigorously and creatively

Partners found the science capital approach provided staff with a formal structure (where previously they may have relied on intuition) which helped them to plan, communicate, and evaluate their ongoing work.

At Kew, staff felt that the project helped the Visitor Learning team to think differently about how to continue to make science meaningful and relevant to audiences, especially those harder to reach groups who are visiting for the first time and who might think of Kew simply as a public garden.

To help children reflect on their feelings towards science, Winchester Science Centre set up a flower graphic with the question ‘What does STEM mean for me?’ in the centre.

Children could add stickers to the petals to indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as ‘I enjoy science at school’, ‘I use science at home’, and ‘I feel that I could be a scientist’. Children enjoyed doing this and talked about it with their parents.

“If it was a form, the parent might be tempted to just sit there with a pen and do it, but because it was fun and interactive, they were actively giving the stickers to the kids and saying, ‘Where do you think you fit in here?’”

We can also measure change in ourselves

We can’t measure an increase in an individual’s science capital from a one-off visit, – but we can measure whether we are attracting a diversity of people to our activities and making them feel as if they belong – even when they have lower science capital.

The science capital approach encompasses everything from the welcome visitors receive to the signage and images they see, and the staff they meet.

“I think everybody’s able to take something from it, because it went from very small steps and very tangible changes or approaches that you could implement straight away, to connecting with the more sort of strategic and broader aims that you might have. So, I think it connected with lots of people at lots of different levels.”

Staff feel confident in new ways of working, knowing the science capital is built on a strong evidence base

Partners felt it was significant that the science capital work is underpinned by academic research and data.

“They’ve done an important piece of work that is putting data on something that I felt or observed. When research can do that for you, it’s really nice.”

“It’s actually very helpful for me because it makes my work a bit more robust. I can see I’ve measured it against this or compared it with this. You feel that we must be doing the right thing. So, I would continue to use it.”


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.

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