Communicating science through informal avenues, such as museums and interpretative centres, is characterized by choice. People may choose to notice and accept the opportunities to learn about science, or they may not. If they do choose, then they are generally in control of how they interpret the science information that is offered. However, the science that is offered is not the science that scientists work with. Instead, most informal avenues of science communication, including museums, zoos, botanical gardens and environmental centres, print and electronic media, present their information in story form. This requires selecting, packaging and presenting science information in such a way that the intended audience is motivated to engage with it. The term “story” is used to describe the result of this process of deconstructing and then reconstructing the target science information, because by selectively presenting ideas and information a story is created. Developing that science-related story needs a thorough understanding of the audience, because the audience members will understand and make use of it, according to their own needs, interests and experience.

This paper explores some of the factors that determine how such science stories are developed and presented, and provides examples from science centres and museums of how the stories are interpreted. The paper begins with an exploration of the typical agendas of science museums and their audiences, then moves to a discussion of how science-based exhibits are developed as a means of communication the science stories and the factors that determine how the audience responds to them. It is emphasized that for communication to occur, there must be a two-way dynamic interaction between the science story and its audience. Specific research examples are presented to illustrate audience responses to science stories that are both intended and unintended. The paper concludes with a discussion of the issues science exhibit developers need to consider in order to promote effective communication of science through the stories that are told by their exhibits.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Communicating science in museums and science centres
How stories are told and interpreted

Leonie Rennie   Curtin University

Communicating science through informal avenues, such as museums and interpretative centres, is characterized by choice. People may choose to notice and accept the opportunities to learn about science, or they may not. If they do choose, then they are generally in control of how they interpret the science information that is offered. However, the science that is offered is not the science that scientists work with. Instead, most informal avenues of science communication, including museums, zoos, botanical gardens and environmental centres, print and electronic media, present their information in story form. This requires selecting, packaging and presenting science information in such a way that the intended audience is motivated to engage with it. The term “story” is used to describe the result of this process of deconstructing and then reconstructing the target science information, because by selectively presenting ideas and information a story is created. Developing that science-related story needs a thorough understanding of the audience, because the audience members will understand and make use of it, according to their own needs, interests and experience.

This paper explores some of the factors that determine how such science stories are developed and presented, and provides examples from science centres and museums of how the stories are interpreted. The paper begins with an exploration of the typical agendas of science museums and their audiences, then moves to a discussion of how science-based exhibits are developed as a means of communication the science stories and the factors that determine how the audience responds to them. It is emphasized that for communication to occur, there must be a two-way dynamic interaction between the science story and its audience. Specific research examples are presented to illustrate audience responses to science stories that are both intended and unintended. The paper concludes with a discussion of the issues science exhibit developers need to consider in order to promote effective communication of science through the stories that are told by their exhibits.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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