Kick off meeting at ASTC: Multi-Site Public Engagement with Science – Synthetic Biology (MSPES)

content_mapI attended the kick off meeting for the NSF funded MPES project at the annual meeting of the Association for Science Technology Centers. The aim of this three year project is to create conversations in science museums among scientists, engineers, and public audiences about an emerging research field, synthetic biology. Synthetic biology applies science and engineering to create new biological systems, and re-design existing biological systems, for useful purposes.

This is an important new area of research and development that raises societal
questions about potential benefits, costs, and risks. Conversations between
researchers and public audiences will focus not only on what synthetic biology is
and how research in the field is carried out, but also on the potential products,
outcomes, and implications for society of this work. Researchers and publics will
explore personal and societal values and priorities as well as desired research
outcomes so that both groups can learn from each other. Public participants will
benefit from knowing about this field of research, and researchers will benefit from
hearing public perspectives directly from the public participants. This project will
be led by the Museum of Science with partners at the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, the
Science Museum of Minnesota, the Ithaca Sciencenter, and several other universities
and science museums. It is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based
understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal
environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to
and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on
and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing
understandings of deeper learning by participants.

This project is aimed at pushing beyond traditional modes of communicating with
public audiences rooted in “public understanding of science” modalities into the
mechanisms and perspectives associated with “public engagement with science”
(PES). The project will support informal educational institutions as facilitators of
such PES activities through which mutual learning takes place among research
experts and various publics. Formative evaluation will support the development of
evaluation tools that practitioners can use themselves to measure impacts of public
engagement activities on both scientist and public participants.