The New Mexico Informal Science Education Network

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October 14th, 2014

Professional networks can provide a supportive, common framework for increasing capacity and development of informal science education (ISE) resources and professionals. In this Perspectives post, Selena Connealy, coordinator of the New Mexico Informal Science Education Network (NM ISE Net) describes how the network got started, what it is doing for its diverse ISE professional members in New Mexico, and challenges and opportunities as it moves into its next phase of existence. Image above: NM ISE Net members at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Spring 2014.

History and Funding for NM ISE Net

When Charlie Walter arrived in Albuquerque to take the reins as the director of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (NMMNHS) in the fall of 2011, he had a vision for a statewide network of Informal Science Education (ISE) institutions. As a founding member of the Informal Science Education Association of Texas (ISEA), Charlie knew first-hand how a network of science-rich institutions could foster collaborations between formal and informal science educators.

The opportunity to start a New Mexico network came when New Mexico Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NM EPSCoR) issued a call for proposals for Innovation Working Groups (IWGs) to support small groups organized around a research or education challenge. Equipped with $8,000 in funding to support travel, meals and housing for 20, plus the support of NM EPSCoR staff, Charlie and his team hosted the first meeting of the New Mexico Informal Science Education Network (NM ISE Net) at a research station on the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. Nineteen people representing 11 institutions participated in the three-day meeting to learn about each others’ work and explore opportunities for collective impact.

In 2013, NM ISE Net secured nearly $360,000 as the External Engagement component of a five-year award that NM EPSCoR received from NSF (Award #IIA-1301346). NM ISE Net is charged with increasing public understanding of New Mexico’s potential for sustainable energy development, engaging more New Mexicans in STEM-related activities and disseminating NM EPSCoR research results. Funded activities include capacity building for NM ISE Net members through meetings and professional development opportunities, and a shared commitment to present an elementary teacher institute over five consecutive summers and development of three small exhibitions about energy research. Small seed grants are also available for members to present a public program on an energy-related topic.

Also in 2013, NM ISE Net received funding to be part of the Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) initiative. Funded activities include more capacity building for NM ISE Net members and strengthening ties to NM EPSCoR researchers through shared meetings and public programs.

NM ISE Members and Priorities

NM ISE Net is currently comprised primarily of museums and institutions that are open to the public, e.g. NM State Parks. Two other organizations that focus on STEM education are also members, the Math and Science Bureau of the NM Public Education Department and the NM Afterschool Alliance. A list of NM ISE Net members can be found on the project website.

NM ISE Net is governed by the five conditions of successful collective impact as identified by Kania and Kramer (2011):

Common Agenda.The mission was adopted in 2013: The mission of the New Mexico Informal Science Education Network (NM ISE Net) is to provide opportunities and resources for informal educators to work together to impact science teaching, science learning, and science awareness throughout the state of New Mexico. The NM Museum of Natural History and Science leads NM ISE Net with support from NM EPSCoR.

Shared Measurement. Both of the grants come with significant requirements for evaluation, but also the human resources to help shape and carry out the evaluation activities. External evaluator Kirk Minnick has helped to develop metrics for measuring success and conducted baseline mapping of the NM ISE Net’s capacity. Minnick used social network analysis to map member relationships across a continuum (networking, cooperation, coordination, coalition and collaboration) and found that most of the relationships were at the networking/coordination end. The baseline evaluation report can be accessed here.

Mutually Reinforcing Activities. Networking is an important component of each NM ISE Net-sponsored meeting or event, but it is collective work on the specific deliverables (exhibits, teacher institutes, museum professional programs), which provides a purpose for coming together.

Continuous Communication. NM ISE Net communication is supported electronically through a collaboration website powered by Sgrouples, by the NM EPSCoR website, and by an email listserve. In addition to NM ISE Net meetings, all members are encouraged to participate in EPSCoR-support events such as the annual Research Symposium and All-Hands meetings.

Backbone Support Organizations. NMMNHS and NM EPSCoR provide logistical support through dedicated staff who plan and manage the work of NM ISE Net. It is not enough to have money to fund projects and initiatives—you must also have people to handle the logistical and administrative details!

Next Steps

Now, at the beginning of its third year, NM ISE Net has identified its challenges as fourfold:

  • Keeping founding members engaged through meaningful work
  • Planning for expansion to include institutions beyond the founding members
  • Engaging a distributed leadership team
  • Thinking about sustainability beyond the support of NM EPSCoR, which will end in 2018.

Our next NM ISE Net meeting will be in February 2015 when Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) Project Director Jamie Bell will visit Albuquerque to meet with members and make a presentation to the broader ISE community in New Mexico about what CAISE is learning from tracking field-wide discussions on the uses, strengths and challenges of organizational networks. Small committees are also in place to work on museum exhibition front-end evaluation, planning for the 2015 Teacher Institute, and professional learning for NM ISE Net members.


Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2011). Collective impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 1(9), 36-41.