Community Organizing for Socially Driven Science Learning

Knology thinks about how community organizers can facilitate opportunities for informal science learning in their localities

by John Fraser
Nov 11, 2019

From humorous YouTube videos to blog posts, members of the science community are trying to make their research accessible to the general public. The public, however, may not readily seek out that information. We are interested in finding out what makes science information practical and useful for the general public. As an organization that studies STEM learning in various contexts, we’ve tried to identify the factors that motivate people to advance their own science learning.

More recently, we’ve looked at our own data and started to wonder if we have the question upside down. Motivation to learn science may not be the missing link. The task instead may be finding the socially shared real world problems -- in other words, the questions that matter to people who aren’t scientists -- and figuring out how to help them find the link to the science that matters. To take this idea further, we’ve been looking at how community organizers can facilitate opportunities for informal science learning in their spheres of influence.

Because community organizers have more proximity to specific publics, they are among the best placed to help shape shared questions that matter to groups of people. We think that the techniques that community organizers use to find common questions, can also be used to identify scientists who are conducting research relevant to those needs, and build productive dialogues between equals. Dialogues between people with needs and people with paths to solutions.

This idea is a departure from the existing literature on informal science learning that tends to focus on individual striving based on national and state level aggregate data. Such narrow and wide lenses seem, to us, to miss both the heterogeneity of US public audiences and the functional role of science content in the shared experiences of US residents. Challenging various assumptions of deficit-based informal science learning theory, we are reframing out-of-school science learning as an outcome of social need and a process that can emerge through civic dialogue if common issues and practical concerns are brought to light by a skilled community organizer.

That leads us to ask, how can we map the skills and professional techniques of community organizing to the science needs in our communities? Are you a community organizer or researcher working on this topic? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join the Conversation
What did you think of this? How did you use it? Is there something else we should be thinking of?
Support research that has a real world impact.