Lily Kirschner, Feedback Labs | March 15, 2023
The MIT Museum’s Experimental Practice Group strives to advance new ways of engaging the public with science. The Group has multiple projects in its portfolio, one of which is the Science in Vivo Project. This project aims to integrate science experiences into existing cultural contexts, settings, and events. Their goal is to foster “situated engagement,” which is moving beyond the hands-on activities typically associated with science outreach and finding ways to bring science into communities in culturally meaningful ways. For example, the Atlanta Science Festival has hosted a hands-on science zone at DragonCon for years, but in 2019 they found a way to become a part of DragonCon tradition by joining DragonCon’s public parade.
Situated engagement is a new practice for most science outreach teams, so in order to help them improve their practice Science in Vivo recruited pairs of observers to visit eight situated engagement sites, observe interactions with and reactions from community members, and then share their observations with the science outreach teams. These critiques were extremely helpful in helping the science outreach teams debrief the live events they were part of. Observer pairs usually included one person with expertise in science engagement and one with professional expertise in a different domain. Observers often traveled long distances to observe the event. Now, Science in Vivo would like to include a third observer with deep ties to the community the event is situated in, in order to add a community member’s perspective to the observation team. Ben Wiehe and Amanda Figueroa presented this challenge at a LabStorm at Feedback+Atlanta. The conversation was wide-ranging and covered multiple suggestions from attendees, including:
- Be explicit about the expertise local observers contribute Bringing in a local observer to the event who is a member of the community will offer greater insight into the context and event experience. It is important that there is intention behind adding a local observer to the team and that their contribution is valued equally. This will also assist in establishing trust with the community by including someone who is likely to share their perspective.
- Consider a variety of methods to collect representative feedback LabStorm participants appreciated that adding a third observer with deep ties to the community is an important step to integrating a community voice into the observation and critique protocol. And, they cautioned that one person from a community can’t represent their community as a whole. To address MIT Museum’s second question of what strategies they can use to get representative feedback from the community, participants suggested adding multiple avenues for hearing from community members, in addition to the observer teams. At cultural events like ComicCon or LGBTQ+ pride events where there is so much going on all the time, it is beneficial to have multiple forms of feedback collection readily available to capture many different community voices. Attendees suggested having open feedback forms that anyone at an event can use to provide feedback or working with a group like Memria to set up an audio booth in which any event attendee can share their reactions and feedback..
- Involve community observers in shaping observation questions Several attendees noted that to reach the goal of transforming transactions to relationships with the community, it could be helpful to involve community members in shaping the questions that event observers are asking. Asking community members what successful situated engagement looks like for them, and closing the loop on observations at the event, could be an important way to build trust between science teams and the communities they’re engaging with. The extent to which the community wants to continue engaging with the science teams to define success could be a great indicator of whether the teams are building trust with and integrating more deeply into the community over time.
At the conclusion of the LabStorm, attendees left with an understanding of new ways to integrate science into local community events, and see the value that MIT Museum is putting on local voices as part of the observer team.
Learn More About LabStorms
LabStorms are collaborative problem-solving sessions designed to help organizations tackle feedback-related challenges or share what’s working well in their practice.
Presenters leave the experience with honest, actionable feedback and suggestions to improve their feedback processes and tools.
To learn more about participating in a virtual LabStorm, please visit feedbacklabs.org/labstorms.