ALIGNING THE PARTICIPATION OF VISITORS OF SCIENCE CENTRES WITH SCIENCE COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATION GOALS
Communication is paramount to make science education accessible to all. Effective communication, however, requires science organizations to understand who are the audiences they want to address. Over the years, Museums and Science Centers have been experimenting with innovative ways to communicate and interact with their visitors, often setting up experiences that demand substantial participation from the public. A science centre, among others, serves as a platform, facilitating opportunities for visitors’ participating and interacting to make the visit more entertaining and desirable, e.g., by engaging them in an experiment or a group workshop.This reinforces the need to think carefully about how to align science communication formats with the capabilities, and the motivation, of the audiences.
In the literature, different typologies have been developed to describe science communication. One example is the AEIOU model, which distinguishes Public Understanding of Science (PUS), Public Awareness of Science (PAS) and Public Engagement of Science (PES). Other authors have proposed a Deficit Model (where expert provides information for a group of non-experts), a Dialog Model (where experts and non-experts hold a dialogue about a science theme) and a Participation Model (where everyone participates equally in the communication process, as peers).
The purpose of this paper is to characterize the organization of the service experiences that support different types of science activities offered by Science Centers and to discuss its alignment with the communication and education goals they want to address. The argument is that each communication goal of Science Centers must be translated into service experiences that are differentiated in what concerns the nature of the contribution and participation required from the visitors. Our study is focused on the case of Fábrica Centro Ciência Viva, at the University of Aveiro, Portugal. The study characterizes Science activities along with three criteria: visitor’s participation (VP), visitor-to-visitor interactions (VVI), and visitor-to-provider interactions. VP refers to the activities that the visitors undertake in a service experience process, ranging from their mere presence (e.g. a symphony concert, cinema, theatre, etc.) to having to provide some effort to receive the service (e.g. conducting an experiment). VVI concerns the interaction between visitors while sharing time or space during a service (e.g. doing a group experiment). Finally, interactions with the provider include more traditional aspects, such as showing empathy or providing information.
This study builds on data collected from Fábrica’s staff to characterize the Science Centre’s activities according to the intensity of VP effort, visitor to provider interaction, and VVI – using a qualitative appreciation from low to high. This leads to the development of a taxonomy offering eight types of activities science communication and education experiences that can be provided by a science centre. On one extreme, it is possible to observe the example of a makerspace, such as the Dóing workshop offered by Fábrica, as a type of activity that is extremely modifiable, participative, and interactive, allowing for a rich communication. In contrast, something like a science photo exhibition is a non-modifiable, passive, and low-interactive activity that is more adequate when aiming at more moderate science awareness communication objectives.