Despite a long history of considering and attempting to address issues of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, visitor-serving organizations such as museums, botanical gardens, and zoos tend to serve disproportionately white, able-bodied, and high-income audiences. Traditionally, efforts to address this challenge have focused on reducing barriers (cost, transportation, etc.) in order to get more people to participate in informal science learning experiences. In recent years, the field has begun to call for equity-oriented and anti-oppressive approaches that question not only who participates but how informal science learning can be re-designed to center the needs and interests of people whose experiences are marginalized in STEM fields. While this shift is promising, the learning tends to be isolated in identity-focused silos. For example, people addressing racial inequities are not often engaged with research about making informal science more accessible for people with disabilities. In this project, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh in partnership with EdTogether, Spelman College, and the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester will bring together these distinct domains of learning by working with youth and practitioners to conduct a systematic review of equity and belonging work in informal science learning. The review will generate insights about how project teams talk about and enact equity and belonging in their work and the project will produce resources that will support future projects to move beyond simplistic definitions of identity in order to holistically embrace learners' needs.
This project will use a six-step synthesis process to review approximately 7,000 empirical sources about equity and belonging-focused informal science efforts in museums, makerspaces, botanical gardens, zoos, and other visitor-serving institutions. The research questions will investigate the implicit and explicit philosophies of equity and belonging in the field; the extent to which the field enacts anti-oppressive practices; the ways in which projects blend multiple anti-oppressive practices; and how equity and belonging-focused work has varied over time and context. This project will be a collaboration among established, professional researchers and participants in a Co-Research Fellowship program through which youth and adult practitioners will inform and engage in all stages of the research. Co-Research Fellows will also be co-producers of the project's efforts to initiate change to deepen the ways informal science integrates anti-oppressive lenses. This includes a charrette through which informal science professionals will consider the ways they can integrate the project learnings into ongoing structures for change; a journal article; conference sessions; and a practitioner-oriented mini-book that will share insights and tools for conducting integrative anti-oppressive work in the informal science field. The project's evaluation will offer guidance about how co-research can challenge notions of who can do research; extend visitors' and practitioners' exposure to existing informal science learning research; expand co-researchers' STEM and advocacy skills through participation in and decision-making about research; and enhance the relevance and validity of the research process and findings through alignment with practitioner and visitor needs.
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