Our world faces enormous challenges and opportunities at the intersection of science and society, from climate change to public health to rapidly developing technologies. Through community science, community members collaborate to conduct and leverage scientific research and technological innovation to answer pressing questions and develop much-needed solutions for their communities. As trusted institutions and inclusive spaces, science centers are uniquely positioned to mobilize and support community science to meet the needs and desires of local communities while advancing their missions.
After exploring ASTC’s Community Science Framework, you may be wondering how to get started in community science work. The following resources will help you understand the potential roles your science center or museum can play in community science and provide guidance for initiating conversations with potential community-based partners, with a focus on co-creation and equitable collaboration. It explores how to find common ground and share leadership with community-serving partners, as well as how to assess institutional readiness to embark on collaborative community science efforts.
Why are Museums and Science Centers Doing Community Science?
The Power and Position of Science Centers
Science centers and museums can leverage their power as trusted conveners and community spaces, as well as their networks with research and academic communities, to bring together and support local community members in pursuit of shared goals. ASTC members are already active in a range of community science efforts, such as:
- Public dialogue and deliberation programs on how science and technology intersect with societal issues.
- Co-creation and co-design—with community members—of exhibits, content, programs, curriculum, and project-based learning opportunities.
- Citizen-science projects that address pressing community questions (not just researcher questions).
- Environmental and social justice initiatives supported by researchers, scientific evidence, data, and technology.
Community Science in Action
Across the globe, are working in partnership with communities to elevate and tackle shared priorities for a more just and equitable world.
- Great Lakes Science Center and MidTown Cleveland convened an in-person discussion on nutritional literacy and how local organizations and businesses could support food access and environmental justice within the community. Read more in our profile of Dialogue & Deliberation Fellow Claire Dorsett.
- The Science Museum of Minnesota facilitated a community deliberation process on potential alternative uses for a county-owned plot of land that previously housed a juvenile detention center in the state’s capital. Read more in our profile of Dialogue & Deliberation Fellow David Valentine.
- The Science Museum of Virginia is working with community members to collect local air quality data and create solutions for Richmond’s environmental health challenges. Read more in our profile of Thriving Earth Exchange Fellow Devin Jefferson.
- North Carolina’s Museum of Life and Science worked with local Durham community and neighborhood associations to establish a community advocacy group to address flooding challenges. Read more in our profile of Thriving Earth Exchange Fellow Max Cawley.
Not seeing your institution in these examples or would like to talk through ideas? Reach out to our Community Science staff.
Careful Planning is Key
While worthwhile and important, community science is not without challenges. Staffing constraints and polarization around scientific issues can often make this complicated collaborative work difficult. Overcoming potential obstacles and successfully leveraging your institution’s strengths to advance community priorities requires careful consideration and planning. The discussion guide linked to below outlines questions you and your colleagues may want to consider as you begin framing your community science goals and prepare to connect with potential community partners.
Download Our Discussion Guide
Below we’ve highlighted resources that are well suited to supporting early-stage planning and development for community science partnerships. ASTC has also curated other community science resources contextualized for science centers and museums. Explore our Resource Library for other tools, guidance, and examples.
“Creating and Maintaining Coalitions and Partnerships” Resources from the Community Tool Box. This toolkit from the University of Kansas’ Center for Community Health and Development provides guidance for creating and sustaining partnerships among different organizations to address a common goal, including key questions for consideration and real-world examples. In addition, the toolkit includes many other resources to support work to bring about positive change in your community.
STEM Racial Justice Project Resources from Science Museum of Minnesota. This website includes templates and example materials for conducting outreach with community groups, defining roles and responsibilities, meeting planning and facilitation, and more. The resources promote an equitable community engagement approach, which requires first building trust and making space for community groups’ “asks and offers,” followed by stages of contribution, collaboration, and co-creation.
Evaluating Community Engagement: An Evaluation Guide and Toolkit for Practice Use. This guide from Everyday Democracy offers tips for evaluating community engagement, including hands-on tools to help you determine if you are ready to evaluate your community engagement work as well as considerations for implementing an evaluation. The guide is not a comprehensive evaluation tool but rather a primer that offers guiding principles and basic instruction when evaluating community engagement.
The Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement Skills Wheel. This Skills Wheel provides a framework of five competencies comprised of 45 skills that are fundamental for collaborative engagement in scientific work. No single individual needs to have all skills described in order to be successful, but teams working on community science efforts will benefit from having a wide range of these skills.
ASTC’s Community Science Clinics offer an opportunity to connect with fellow community science practitioners and learn from and ask questions of your peers. Sign up for our interest list to learn about upcoming meetings and other training and funding opportunities.