Acknowledging and Shifting the Dynamics of Power: Building Equitable Partnerships Among Informal STEM Learning Practitioners, Researchers, and Communities

September 1st, 2023 - February 28th, 2025 | PROJECT

The National Science Foundation, particularly the Directorate for STEM Education, has long funded work to support collaborations between researchers and practitioners, and to promote the application of research to improve learning outcomes in formal and informal learning environments. Popular and successful approaches have included the development of online repositories that help practitioners access, understand, and apply research knowledge to their work. Increasingly, these efforts involve partnerships that require [1] acknowledging and navigating boundaries by being open and curious to learn about each other and [2] working across these boundaries since effective partnerships work at these intersections as ideas are exchanged and mediated. This project will enhance understanding of how practitioners and researchers can and should form equitable partnerships in service of supporting lifelong STEM learning in informal learning environments. It will also examine how "community" intersects with partnerships, and the different levels or scales of community with which an ISL partnership of researchers and practitioners may intentionally and equitably engage. This two-phase Partnership Development and Planning project is conducted by the Institute for Learning Innovation and Pueblo Collab LLC, a community-centered consulting organization focused on shifting organizational culture to build better relationships with communities.

This project will focus on initial processes of building equitable ISL partnerships between practitioners and researchers by engaging in intentional exercises for co-thinking around issues of equity and power in ISL work. Grounded in Ferrell and colleagues' equity-in-mission and equity-in-process, these efforts are designed to build trust and shared understanding among partners while also confronting systemic power dynamics (and their roles in the team's prior partnerships). In Phase one, the core project members will test and refine the processes examining their own and each other's practices before widening the lens. In Phase two, an expanded group of ISL and ISL-adjacent researchers and practitioners will be engaged. Several claims will be scrutinized using co-constructed process evaluation: 1) Providing sufficient time and space for self-reflection and co-reflection conversations about power in ISL researcher-practitioner relationships can support the development of trust. 2) Providing such time and space to engage in this work is central to the co-creation of a shared research agenda. and 3) Iteratively addressing issues around power and trust is essential to creating a healthy, equitable, and lasting ISL researcher-practitioner partnership. By the end of this project the team will have a) created a strong and expanded partnership; b) developed a collection of conversation prompts and exercises specifically useful for developing equitable partnerships between researchers and practitioners in ISL contexts, c) considered how researcher-practitioner partnerships engage with the communities/public audiences, and d) identified future project ideas that ensure reciprocal benefits for the partners and communities involved. Processes will be shared broadly though a co-written blog series.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2023 AISL Awardee Mini-Poster: 2313994

Team Members

Elysa Corin, Principal Investigator, Institute for Learning Innovation
Daniel Aguirre, Co-Principal Investigator, Pueblo Collab
Deborah Siegel, Co-Principal Investigator, Institute for Learning Innovation
Ashanti Davis, Co-Principal Investigator, Coyote Central


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2313994
Funding Amount: $143,166.00


Audience: Learning Researchers | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Informal | Formal Connections