Informal Science Education Organizational Networks Discussion Continues at 2012 ASTC Conference

November 1st, 2011

Twenty-five participants at an ASTC 2012 pre-conference workshop on Roles, Best Practices, and Future of Informal Science Education (ISE) Networks expanded the conversation begun during a breakout session at the 2012 National Science Foundation ISE PI meeting to a half-day of presentations, tool-sharing, and discussions about the current state of the field with regard to organizational network formation, activities, challenges, and sustainability. Organized by Bob Russell, currently a Senior Education Associate at the National Center for Interactive Learning/Space Science Institute, the workshop attracted a diverse group of exhibit developers, evaluators, project directors, and program managers from the science center and museum field and beyond.

The workshop began by revisiting some of the lessons learned when CAISE convened nine ISE Networks projects this past February. Then a cross-ISE sector group of network leaders provided overviews of their missions, structure, and resources, including NISENet, STAR-Net, National Girls Collaborative, Coalition for Science After School, Celebra la Ciencia, Portal to the Public, and KQED Quest.

In these presentations and the discussions that followed, some of the common questions that emerged, among others, were:

  • What is the value proposition of a network structure to its members and to the field, and who is meant to benefit from its work?
  • What do we know about what constitutes the right balance of resources to dedicate to the management of a network?
  • How does one determine the optimal life span of any given organizational network?

A practical, tool-sharing session followed, where participants compared notes on resources that facilitate communication strategies within networks (including newsletter formats; communication management systems, such as Constant Contact, MailChimp, and Emma), ways to meet virtually, share documents and content (such as Skype, Google Hangout, WebEx, Adobe Connect, Google Docs, and Dropbox), and project management resources (including SharePoint, Central Desktop, Basecamp, FastTrack, Feng Office.) The group also discussed managing network databases along with custom-built applications and the pros and cons of proprietary vs. open source software.

Participants self-organized for closing breakout conversations about evaluating organizational networks’ value and impact, and exploring known strategies for organizational and financial sustainability. There was consensus among the workshop participants that the formation of organizational networks remains a vital strategy for informal science education projects and institutions to have broader impact on their audiences and the field. Several attendees committed to proposing a follow-up day-long workshop on networks either for next year’s ASTC’s conference, or another upcoming ISE gathering. For more details about the ASTC 2012 workshop, contact Robert Russell.