Engaging Citizens in Science Dialogue: An Evaluation of the Nurture Nature Foundations’s Flood Forum Project

November 1st, 2010 | EVALUATION

The Nurture Nature Foundation’s Flood Forum project, funded by a two-year National Science Foundation (NSF) planning grant effective August 1, 2009, explored innovative means to promote science learning by and for local communities. The NSF planning grant allowed Nurture Nature Foundation (NNF) to develop a model of outreach for science centers that engages rural and underserved audiences in public dialogue on the science underlying an issue of high public concern—frequent flooding in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Building on a public forum model used by other science centers such as the Museum of Science, Boston, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the Nurture Nature Foundation sought to include audiences that that are not generally reached by informal science programs and that are often neglected constituencies, specifically residents of rural areas, low-income and/or minority citizens, first responders, and teenagers. Further, the Nurture Nature Foundation’s model based science learning on a foundation of interest in an issue of community concern. The centerpiece of the pilot project was a series of paired focus groups and forums conducted with citizens in three communities in the Lehigh Valley area within the Delaware River watershed. Focus groups in the three communities targeted the underserved audiences and provided a ground-level profile of community interests, science knowledge, and concerns. Findings from these focus groups shaped forums later held in each municipality that were open to a broader cross-section of citizens in each community, drawing outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists, artists, business people, and other residents. The forums were aimed at engaging diverse audiences in dialogue about flooding, land-use, and risk management and related issues, and at building individual and community capacity for participating in discussions leading to decision-making through an enriched scientific understanding of floods. Challenges included engaging a diverse cross-section of local populations and creating a safe space for informationsharing, dialogue, and learning while discussing potentially contentious and divisive issues. The results of these community-centered events were presented in two regional flood forums held at the end of the pilot project period. These forums were attended by a mix of past participants, newcomers to the Flood Forum project, scientists, and local decision-makers. The regional forums were designed to continue the community dialogue about flooding across social and economic groups. Findings from community focus groups and forums were summarized in a decision-makers’ report and shared at these regional forums. Those findings, along with scientific presentations, served as a jumping-off point for additional discussion of flooding priorities in the region. While decision-makers were excluded from the community forums to give people a chance to speak freely, decision-makers were included in the regional forums to provide an opportunity for one-on-one dialogue.



Team Members

Alice Apley, Evaluator, RMC Research Corporation
Nurture Nature Foundation, Contributor


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 0917439
Funding Amount: 74999

Related URLs

Planning Public Forums on Flooding


Access and Inclusion: Rural
Audience: Evaluators | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals | Scientists | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Education and learning science | Engineering | History | policy | law
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Summative
Environment Type: Community Outreach Programs | Public Events and Festivals | Public Programs