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By Beth Hawkins on

Science capital: Our top 5 most commonly asked questions

The Science Museum Group have been working with the principle of science capital for almost 10 years. Throughout our journey we have learned a huge amount around what this approach can look like in practice and what challenges we, and our colleagues have faced with it. Here we share our top 5 most commonly asked questions.

As we share and talk to more people about taking a science capital approach, we still find ourselves being asked similar questions. We should say that we are continually learning and experimenting with taking a science capital approach and better understanding what it looks like in practice. Some experiments have shown signs of success and other less so, but we have always learned something new from everything that we have tried.

Here we share and answer the most common questions, based on our knowledge and experience today.

1. SO, WHAT IS SCIENCE CAPITAL?

Science capital gives us research-based insights into what influences and shapes people’s attitudes, engagement and relationship with STEM. Essentially science capital is whether someone feels that science is something for them – or not.

The more science capital you have, the more likely you are to feel that STEM is useful and important in your life, something you have a stake in, and which is something ‘for you’.A group of drawn people gathered together from different backgrounds. One is being pushed in a wheelchair, one is carrying a tennis racket in their bag and another carrying a guitar. The people represent the diverse visitors who visit museums.

Each of us has a different amount of science capital; it is not fixed and can change across a lifetime. Every experience that you have can influence your relationship with STEM both positively and negatively.

Equity and social justice are integral to the concept of science capital, enabling and empowering everyone to access the opportunities and wonders of STEM.

You can watch this short animation which introduces the concept of science capital and read our past blog posts.

You can also read more about the origins and research behind science capital here.

2. IS SCIENCE CAPITAL JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR SCIENCE LITERACY?

We are often asked whether science capital is essentially the same as science literacy – something that helps to build the knowledge and understanding of the processes around how science works, or more simply, the amount of science knowledge that you have.

Science literacy is one of the eight dimensions of science capital, but it can’t build science capital alone. The are other important dimensions which will influence a person’s attitude, relationship and engagement with science.

This common perception leads to the idea that in order to take a science capital approach that we must either dumb down the science that we put in – or conversely put more science in our programmes.

But as science capital is not directly linked to how much science that you know; this is not a way that we will help to build science capital.

We want to help connect people with our content by considering the interests, knowledge and experiences that our visitors have and bring to our experiences.

3. HOW DO WE MEASURE SCIENCE CAPITAL? HOW CAN WE MEASURE SUCCESS?

By far the most frequent question we get is about how to measure science capital. Whilst science capital is not in itself an evaluation tool, the research does help us to better understand what engagement looks like and what outcomes we would want to see our visitors to do, feel or experience in our museums or activities.

We know that we won’t be able 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 ultimately help to grow their science capital.

Drawing from research around science education and informal science learning, our indicators and measures of engagement are through seeing whether people:

  • Have a meaningful connection with our experiences and content
  • Make links with what they know and experience in their everyday life
  • Feel a sense of belonging and ownership
  • Persevere, complete activities, and spend longer in our spaces
  • Have positive emotions towards an experience
  • Have purposeful involvement in, and contribute to, experiences and programmes

Across our Science Museum Group museums our visitor exit survey includes a set of science engagement measures which have been informed by the science capital research which we use to track outcomes across the whole museum experience. We also use other indicators of engagement such as representation in visitor profile and audience research.

It is also important to note that science capital can be measured through longitudinal research across many years, but a single experience unlikely to measure impact.Three blue squares containing white text inside them and blue arrows pointing between each box. The first box reads science capital informed experiences, the second box reads greater engagement with stem and the third box reads growing science capital in individuals and society.

4. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF TAKING A SCIENCE CAPITAL APPROACH?

A visit to a museum, or science centre can have a positive impact on someone’s relationship with science.

For us at the Science Museum Group our mission is to Inspire Futures. Central to inspiring the next generation of scientists, inventors and engineers we want to work towards a society where everyone feels that science (and engineering, technology and maths) is for them, and that they have opportunities to access the social and economic benefits it brings.

Through our value of being Open for All, we are committed to playing our part in enabling more people to engage with and participate in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and to bring greater diversity to the type of people who participate in and contribute to science and innovation.

By taking a science capital-informed approach we, and other organisations, can better understand and challenge inequalities, enabling us all to create content that is accessible, and spaces, both physical and virtual, where everyone can feel they belong.

The Science Museum Group have put an organisation-wide effort into translating the science capital research into operational realities. We know that whilst not everyone needs to study science or take part in science-related activities, everyone should feel able to do so.

Hand-down people gathered together. A female museum worker is talking to a mother and her child whilst a father is crouched down next to a second second who is pointing upwards as if they've seen something that has captured their interest.It has helped us to recognise that many of the approaches we use can favour those who are already engaged and will exclude people who face inequalities in wider society.

Applying a science capital approach is not about giving audiences the things we think they need; it’s about valuing the things that they bring. To do this means transforming our practices and changing the environment we invite audiences into so that everyone can make meaningful connections with the science, technology, engineering and maths that shapes their lives.

5. DOES EVERYONE ACROSS THE ORGANISATION HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY?

To genuinely make a difference, putting science capital research into practice really needs to focus on the environment we invite and welcome our audiences into.

This means that every aspect of a visit– whether it is the welcome people get, the signage and images they see, the staff they meet, or the STEM content they encounter – is an opportunity to shape someone’s feelings about and relationship with STEM.A light blue pyramid to represent peoples needs in order to grow science capital. At the bottom are physical and basic needs, above that is emotional and social needs then engagement and learning needs and at the top grow science capital

This diagram represents an organisational model for delivering engaging, inspiring and memorable experiences which are inclusive. Every level needs to be addressed – and involves every member of staff responsible at each stage.

Taking a science capital approach requires everyone across the whole organisation to reflect on what we do and how we do it and consider the needs and experiences of a broader range of visitors.

This might involve changing our processes as wide reaching as looking at how we recruit staff through to how we plan, develop and deliver our exhibitions or activities. To support staff we have a toolkit of resources and workshops including our most central tool, our engagement reflection points.

IN CONCLUSION

There are many questions that we could share, and more are addressed in our Engaging all Audiences with STEM booklet which shares insights into how and why the Science Museum Group are taking a science capital approach.

 

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