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By Beth Hawkins on

Science capital in practice: reaching new audiences

In part one of our Science Capital in Practice: Foundations for the Future blog series, we explore how taking a science capital approach has helped partner organisations to build and broaden their audiences.

Diversity and inclusion are at the very heart of the science capital approach. Partners used and applied the concept to help them to reach out to, and welcome new audiences to their offer. Through an impressive range of activities developed and delivered, they clearly demonstrated that putting audiences’ needs at the centre of your work is key to helping them to feel that science, science centres and museums are for them.

So, how did partners involved in the Science Capital in Practice programme build and broaden their audiences by taking a science capital approach?

Illustration of a group of people across ages, genders, abilities and races.

It helps you create activities, programmes and exhibitions that are relatable and relevant for many audiences

Many of the participants in the SCIP programme developed new activities using the engagement reflection points  which were informed by a science capital approach. They help staff see STEM activities through visitors’ eyes – realising that not everyone sees science in the same way.

Partners found the science capital approach helped them:

  • Consider a diversity of role models
  • Put the human story at the centre
  • Change language and vocabulary in signage and materials
  • Encourage more explicit references to skills
  • Promote conversation.

It also made staff more aware of and reflect on what is appropriate for different audiences – for example, kitchen science activities will not work where food is in short supply.

“I think one of the strongest learning points we got was from the training at the Children’s Centres. They pointed out – and it hadn’t even occurred to us – that if we use foodstuff in the kits, they probably wouldn’t be used for science.”

“…science capital has really helped us understand how small changes in our delivery have monumental changes in audience participation and enjoyment of each session.”

“It is an opportunity to start to diversify our conversation around who science is for, how it’s created, the history of scientific developments in a more diverse manner, diversifying those stories.”

It can help dismantle barriers that many people experience towards STEM topics and may encourage people to visit for the first time

Through the science capital approach, staff understood audiences’ barriers to engagement, and were better able to put themselves in visitors’ shoes. They created experiences to highlight science in everyday life. This was particularly relevant for people who had never visited their institution before.

Newcastle Centre for Life worked with members of local Deaf groups to offer hands-on science sessions and to explore barriers to accessing the STEM activities on offer in the centre.

Cambridge Science Centre used science capital principles to create a science magazine distributed in foodbox deliveries. The team hopes to build on the success of this to encourage people to visit in person for the first time.

The Dundee Science Centre aimed to make a connection with families who were technologically deprived and had never visited before, by creating science kits using science capital principles. This was successful, and hundreds of the kits have been ordered by schools and other organisations.

“We’ve now got an established relationship with a community that we didn’t prior to the Science Capital in Practice funding being available. I’m hopeful that […] I might be able to set up an event specifically for the Deaf community.”

“Implementing science capital principles into these [kits] was crucial. We knew that if we present science in a way that we used to do, they would just not like it… We prepared the activities and the plans for those activities in a way that we knew they were going to be more engaged in.”

It takes the focus off transferring facts and turns it towards building skills

Partners found that the science capital approach helped staff create activities that were less didactic, while being more engaging and attractive to visitors, developing curiosity, questioning, creativity, observation and communication.

At the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the science capital reflection points prompted the team to change the focus of paper-based trails from finding out facts to using exploration skills and sharing ideas by talking.

Science Oxford delivered a six-week Expert Explainers after-school programme to Year 5 pupils who didn’t access science outside school. Their teachers reported that the outcomes for the pupils were better teamwork, problem-solving, asking questions and presenting.

“It has reaffirmed the importance of focusing on the development of science enquiry skills rather than the transfer of factual information and the need to engage the whole family.”

“Traditionally people think science is about knowing stuff, about being clever and about lab coats. For me, science capital is a tool to help us dispel a lot of those myths.”

It empowers audiences who may be disadvantaged or have low science capital

By building science skills, confidence grows in relation to science. At Glasgow Science Centre, staff aimed activities at local parents with low science capital. There were examples of parents being more confident in supporting their children, more confident in looking at science-based employment, and at a minimum level there was a new spark of interest in science.

At Xplore! the science capital approach transformed a long-running work placement programme offered to young women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The science capital approach also encouraged organisations to think about new ways to reach audiences, and how to meet audiences in the spaces they are already familiar with, rather than expecting visitors to come to them.

“When I first started working with primary school teachers and trying to develop their science skills, I was not expecting how low their confidence would be at all. It was such a wake-up call for me that now, about 90 per cent of what we do with our training with primary school teachers is building their confidence.”

“[The work placement] has turned into something that has more meaning and more longevity… ‘Come along, really get to shape your own programme. Have a really good understanding of what we’re about and how we’re helping the local community, and help yourself.’ That’s lovely to see.”

“We’ve tried to get our Marketing Team to think about it a little bit more. If we want [to engage with] people with low science capital, they don’t always want to advertise on the place where all the science events are.”


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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