Science Communication, Public Engagement, and Outreach
Communication, public engagement, and outreach are areas of activity that can foster curiosity about, appreciation for, or understanding of science concepts, processes and applications. Informal STEM education (ISE) exhibitions, public programs, media, and games also have these and other outcomes as goals for designed experiences and settings. ISE objectives might also include helping people develop self-efficacy about science: feeling that they can “do” STEM or having an identity as a person who sees or uses STEM in their everyday lives.
This page provides resources and links to connect knowledge about these fields, based on knowledge gained from experimentation, evaluation, research, and reflective practice in these fields. Although these areas of activity sometimes go by different names, their purposes and strategies often overlap.
With new funding received from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program in 2016, the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) continues to grow the communities that it serves. These include not only scientists but communication and engagement professionals whose job it is to engage a diversity of audiences through education, outreach, or broader impacts of research efforts.
As part of this new charge from NSF, CAISE recently conducted two baseline studies on how and where the ISE and science communication fields diverge and converge, and is facilitating three task forces that are actively producing tools and resources designed to address common challenges in both fields.
CAISE also curates resources on InformalScience.org to support project development, evaluation, measurement, and research in STEM learning, communication, and public engagement. By collecting, tagging, and making accessible papers, reports, articles, and links drawn from the learning sciences, the science of science communication, and other relevant research and practice, CAISE continues to build a robust repository of knowledge that serves the wider related fields.
Knowledge About Informal STEM Education
- The projects funded by the NSF AISL program provide models for best practices in the field, and each produce a range of research products and evaluation reports that allow you to learn from the experience of others. The program funds a range of projects across science education, communication, and engagement. Learn more about the AISL program here.
- Relevant reports from the National Academies Press (NAP) are available for free download, including Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits (2009); Identifying and Supporting Productive STEM Programs in Out-of-School Settings (2016); and Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments (2017). Many of the communication guidelines and strategies in this third report can be applied to other disciplines.
- Informal Science Education: Lifelong, Life-Wide, Life-Deep (2014), an article by CAISE published by PLoS Biology, serves as a brief introduction to the value and potential of ISE.
Knowledge About Science Communication
- In February 2018, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences launched a series of publications from their Public Face of Science initiative that provide data, context, and recommendations for those designing science communication and informal STEM learning activities.
- In December 2017, the Kavli, Moore, Packard, and Rita Allen foundations launched a series of knowledge-generating workshops called Support Systems for Scientists' Communication and Engagement: An Exploration of the People and Institutions Empowering Effective Impact. Summaries and participant lists are available here.
- The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine conducted Science of Science Communication colloquia in 2012, 2013, 2017, and 2019 and have posted agendas and videos from each. National Academies Press (NAP) has also produced a companion volume to the 2017 colloquium and the 2013 colloquium. CAISE's summary overview of the 2017 colloquium can be found here.
- In 2017, the Oxford University Press published the Oxford Handbook of the Science of Science Communication, which can be purchased here.
- Two useful reports published in 2016 by NAP are available for free download: Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda, and Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences.
- The Journal for Research in Science Teaching released a special issue in 2015 on Bridging Science Education and Science Communication Research. The introductory editorial to the volume can be found here.
- InformalScience.org publishes blog pieces and interviews about science communication, and the Calendar includes related conferences and other professional learning opportunities.
- CAISE catalogs articles from the Journal of Science Communication in the InformalScience.org repository, and website members can access full-text articles of Science Communication via our EBSCO database.
Every U.S. NSF grant proposal is reviewed on the basis of two criteria: intellectual merit and broader impacts. Broader impacts refers to the potential of the research to not only advance knowledge but to benefit society. The benefits can involve broadening participation in STEM, tackling societal challenges, and advancing the public understanding of science. Scientists can strengthen the broader impacts of their proposals by collaborating with informal STEM education professionals, who bring their own expertise in communicating with diverse publics through rigorously evaluated experiences and settings.
For those working specifically on an NSF proposal to conduct scientific research, Duke University’s Broader Impacts Resource Center maintains a helpful resource list for deepening your understanding, and the Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) created a Broader Impact Wizard to help you develop a broader impact statement that will satisfy NSF criteria.
You can also join the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI), which is an international network of individuals and organizations working together to build institutional capacity, advance broader impacts, and demonstrate the societal benefits of research. The NABI leadership, in collaboration with international partners, were recently funded to create a new Center for Advancing Research Impact in Society (ARIS), whose charge is to work with scientists and engagement practitioners to build capacity, advance scholarship, grow partnerships, and provide resources to help them engage with and demonstrate the impact of research in their communities and society.
ISE Resources to Support Science Communication, Engagement, Outreach, and Broader Impacts Efforts
- National Informal STEM Education Network (NISE Net) is a community of informal educators and scientists who bring cutting-edge STEM research to museum exhibits and programs. NISE Net works with partner organizations to use Network resources to engage diverse audiences, including groups who are traditionally underserved by STEM institutions, and works to improve the practices of educators and scientists. Topics include nanoscience, synthetic biology, chemistry, earth and space science, and responsible innovation.
- Portal to the Public (PoP) helps informal learning organizations utilize and train scientists and engineers to have meaningful conversations with publics around local STEM issues. PoP released an implementation manual that provides guidance and resources for organizations looking to connect their communities to local science through meaningful, face-to-face conversation with scientists and other STEM professionals.
- Partnerships for Broader Impacts Design is a three-year project building upon PoP’s framework that is working to create a toolkit to assist universities and informal science education organizations (ISEs). The toolkit will help them develop robust institutional partnerships through collaborative design of education-based Broader Impacts (BI) experiences.
- SciStarter is a resource and a community for researchers to find and recruit volunteers to contribute to their citizen science projects. It is the place to find, join, and contribute to science, as it provides people with access to more than 2,700 searchable formal and informal research projects and events.
- Citizen Science Association brings together educators, scientists, data managers, and others to power citizen science and share the breadth of resources and best practices across different citizen science project types.
- The Role Models Matter Toolkit, created by Techbridge Girls, prepares STEM professionals to do outreach with girls and underrepresented youth. It includes hands-on STEM activities, reflection exercises, and tips for “dejargonizing” your communication for K-12 audiences.
- The Connectory is an online tool to promote your STEM outreach or communication program to an engaged audience of families and other providers of STEM learning experiences across the United States.
- Resources for Outreach, Engagement and Broader Impacts provides an overview of engagement and public participation in scientific research and synergies with science communication. The report includes a short list of organizations and networks that have resources and infrastructure to support broader impacts.
- Broadening Perspectives on Broadening Participation in STEM Toolkit was designed to support science engagement professionals working on broadening participation. It provides resources to plan and lead discussions about current practices to make ISE and science communication work more inclusive.
- “What Is STEM Identity, Interest, and Engagement?” Through this interview series, CAISE studied three common constructs: (1) STEM identity, (2) STEM interest, and (3) STEM engagement. A video interview series with scholars explores how they are defining, exploring, and measuring each of these STEM constructs.
- The Year in ISE is our yearly review of important publications, trends, and notable moments in ISE and science communication.
- The iSWOOP symposium was hosted in 2018 by the Interpreters and Scientists Working on Our Parks project. This blog links you to recordings of the talks and links to the articles published in the July 2018 issue of Integrative and Comparative Biology.
Conferences & Training Programs of Interest to Science Communicators & Outreach Professionals
- Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science: This organization hosts workshops, both in-person and online, to support STEM researchers in clearly communicating their science.
- American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB): In this 8-week online course, The Art of Science Communication, STEM professionals receive training in science communication to a non-expert audience in formal settings, such as public lectures.
- Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC): The annual conference is a networking and professional development event for everyone who works in and with science centers and museums. ASTC hosts several online communities of practice, including “Public Engagement with Science,” that come together in-person at the conference.
- Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): This center offers several professional opportunities, including trainings, workshops, fellowships, and internships. They also organize a Communicating Science Seminar associated with the AAAS annual meeting.
- COMPASS Science Communication: This organization hosts trainings designed to help scientists engage effectively in the public discourse about the environment.
- #InclusiveScicomm: The purpose of this symposium is to advance inclusive public engagement with science.
- National Alliance of Broader Impacts (NABI) Annual Summit: The summit brings together an international network of individuals and organizations working together to build institutional capacity, advance broader impacts, and demonstrate the societal benefits of research.
- Science Events Summit: The Summit brings together public science event organizers, evaluators, collaborators, and sponsors to discuss live, in-person public science events.
- Science Talk: Science Talk is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower and inspire the science communication community to expand their communication potential. They host an annual conference during which they promote responsible practices in science communication, facilitate discussion and exchange of ideas, enable networking, and foster public engagement.
- SciOut: The purpose of this meeting is to help nurture a community of practice around science outreach.
- SMASH: Jackson Hole WILD and WGBH join forces at this conference to bring together science media stakeholders to celebrate exceptional media, share cutting-edge discoveries, and explore new ways of communicating the wonders of science to a global audience in a rapidly changing media landscape.