Documenting Connectivity Between ISE and Science Communication: Two Studies from CAISE

Informal STEM education (ISE) and science communication are two overlapping fields in which practitioners and researchers design and study activities to promote lifelong engagement with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in a variety of settings. Although fluid boundaries and fuzzy definitions make it difficult to draw a clear distinction between ISE and science communication, the two fields nevertheless exhibit differences in core values and goals, based in part on their different histories, commitments, and trajectories. The two fields differ to a large degree in who identifies as ISE or SciComm, and there often little exchange of ideas despite the potential benefits to both.

To make things even trickier, members of these professional fields may not self-identify as such. Individuals might instead identify primarily with sub-fields within ISE or science communication, such as design, research, or evaluation, or simply with the organizations where they work. In the case of ISE, those might be science centers, natural history museums, zoos, aquariums, or planetariums. In the field of science communication, that could be media outlets, public information offices at academic institutions, or organizations that provide science communication training.

Above: A visualization of the findings from a social network study conducted by CAISE.

Two New Studies

Part of CAISE's current charge from the National Science Foundation is to explore opportunities for synergy among those who conduct and/or study ISE and science communication. To this end, CAISE worked with its co-Principal Investigators to conduct two baseline studies on where the fields diverge and converge. We are happy to announce the publication of these studies, as well as an executive summary that synthesizes the findings from both studies.

  1. Charting the Intersection of Informal STEM Education and Science Communication: Results of a Social Network Study is a survey of leading ISE and SciComm researchers and practitioners (i.e., designers, implementers, and/or facilitators of experiences and settings). The study sought to document the relationships among people within and across the two fields and the presence, source, and use of particular tools, resources, and strategies related to CAISE’s high-priority areas of broadening participation, conducting measurement and evaluation, and supporting research and practice. The Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning at Oregon State University (Martin Storksdieck, Julie Risien, Roberta Nilson, and Kelly Hoke), along with Bronwyn Bevan and Kellie Wills at the University of Washington, led the study. ​The team at Oregon State University also created this visualization of the findings using the Kumu platform.
  2. Are the Fields of Informal Science Education and Science Communication Adjacent or Connected? A Bibliometric Study of Research Journals from 2012 to 2016 is a bibliometric analysis of selected ISE and SciComm research journals, including Science Communication, Journal of Science Communication, Public Understanding of Science, Science Education, Journal of Research on Science Teaching, and the International Journal of Science Education. Kevin Crowley at the University of Pittsburgh conducted the study.

Bringing it Together

The executive summary, Where Informal STEM Education and Science Communication Meet: Two Studies Chart the Intersection of ISE and SciComm, synthesizes findings from both studies. Although differences between the fields are evident, there are promising areas of overlap between ISE and science communication that suggest there is unrealized potential for mutual learning, knowledge-building, and advancement.

Collaboration Now and in the Future

CAISE has convened three task forces that are actively producing tools and resources designed to address common challenges in both fields. As cultivating lifelong engagement with STEM is an overarching goal for both ISE and science communication, efforts to enhance connectivity between the communities can increase capacity in each field and seed future collaboration across the fields.

CAISE welcomes your comments on our work to date. We are interested in any initiatives you’re undertaking that could further connections between the fields of ISE and science communication. Please email Jamie Bell, Project Director and Principal Investigator of CAISE, at