Towards equity, inclusion and participatory practice

The Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) has a vision of a society where science is accessible, inclusive and valued by all ​as a fundamental part of everyday life.

ASDC is not alone in this vision. Within the wider sector a drive towards diversity, inclusion, equity and science as part of culture is clear. The vision of the British Science Association is of a future where science is more relevant, representative and connected to society, with a mission to ‘transform the diversity and inclusivity of science’. Within international networks of informal science learning (for example the Austrian Science Network, VSC in the Netherlands and the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) based in the USA) the foregrounding of inclusive practice and science for all is a clear requirement for any forward-thinking organisational strategy.

During Explore Your Universe we used STFC science to...

...inspire young people living in one of the most deprived areas of Wales to feel that astronomy and space science is 'for people like me'.

...encourage young people with autism to regularly attend sessions.

...bring families together in a safe and positive environment.

Learning from the wider sector

Across Europe, colleagues within science and discovery centres, museums and networks have pulled together a new framework that identifies 5 areas relevant in our institutions, where change towards equity, diversity and inclusion should manifest itself for embedded organisational change: Strategy, Content, Access, Staff and Partnerships. Explore indicators of inspiring practice, tools and stories from the collective on diversci.eu

Science centres, museums, universities and informal science learning spaces have the opportunity to challenge deeply engrained stereotypes of science, and create safe, welcome and accessible environments where diverse knowledge, experiences and culture is highly valued and included.

Participation in science can expand young people’s sense of possibilities for themselves. It can increase their awareness of experiences that are ‘out there’ in the wider world – beyond their immediate and current experience – to broaden horizons.

Participatory practice is not only the right thing to do, but there is also an increasingly sound business case for it. Being embedded in our community, and addressing that community’s needs, are key elements in attracting sustainable support and funding. Many funding bodies now expect organisations such as museums, galleries and science centres to actively involve diverse communities. In some cases, the only solution to declining funds has been to switch to an explicit policy of community participation, which is seen as essential for financial sustainability. It’s not just about current visitors, but about future, more diverse audiences, and the long-term sustainability, reach and impact of science centres.

The BSA have put equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of our strategy – recognising that for too long, science has not done enough to engage and involve people from all backgrounds. Achieving our vision of science as more representative, relevant and connected to society, requires all of us to reflect on how we work, and who with. Projects like Explore Your Universe 4 help us to learn from historically marginalised communities, and from the organisations who work with them, to help make that vision a reality.

Clio Heslop, British Science Association

Learning from outside the sector

“These organisations felt a mandate to make themselves more financially sustainable and recognized that they needed to become more relevant to those who weren’t well represented in their current audience base in order to survive.”

Quote From S. Lee and K. Gean ‘The Engagement Revolution’ (page 24). US arts organisations have a financial set-up which - with no state funding - is analogous to that of science centres in the UK.

Participatory practice is now well embedded in the science engagement sector. Participatory practice can be defined as doing things 'with' people, not 'for' people. It's about ensuring that the science engagement offer is available and accessible
to everyone - to all sectors of society - and not just a select few, and recognising that it's a two-way relationship, as communities often have resources, knowledge and perspectives that supplement those of the science centre.

Piotr Bienkowski, Director of Our Museum programme, cultural consultant