Are you engaging the public or just conducting outreach?

Lab Note #3
Feb 27, 2015

I am interested in crowd-funding and citizen science because they both seek to engage the public, but is launching this project really engaging the public?

I hope this lab note inspires some conversation—please comment if you feel at all compelled to do so.

Since I used the word "hope" in the previous sentence of this lab note, I would categorize this lab note as a form of outreach. However, if a conversation of comments does begin, perhaps we could categorize this lab note as a form of engagement?

"Hope" is in the nature of outreach. I feel like outreach is generally one sided—like listening to most radio programs. People share their stories or ideas and "hope" that it impacts someone else.

During my MS at Oregon State University, a friend of mine—Zhian Kamvar—and I, started a radio program called Inspiration Dissemination on our local college radio station, 88.7fm KBVR, Corvallis.

Amazingly, after more than three years and despite my graduation, the radio program continues to exist—mainly because Zhian is an incredible person, but also because of the ambition of Matthew McConnell.

The objective of the radio program and every show/podcast that it produces, is to conduct outreach—to share the stories of graduate students, introduce their research topics, and "hope" that it has an impact on a random listener.

If the example of Inspiration Dissemination represents outreach, what does engaging the public look like? Some radio programs attempt to engage their listeners by inviting listeners to call in and comment, or inviting listener feedback through a webpage. There are certainly more advanced definitions of the outreach and engagement (http://www.scholarshipofengagement.org/benchmarkin...), but to me, the basic difference is whether the conversation is one-sided or two-sided.

Trying to engage rather than conduct outreach is one thing that would improve Inspiration Dissemination. However, the program is still extremely valuable and was awarded Most Innovative Radio Program in 2014. If you want to learn more about the program, here is an article produced by OSU: Science through a microphone

Back to the main question: Are you actually using your crowd-funding project to engage the public? How do I use this to start a two-sided conversation?

Two days after I launched my project I realized I wasn't reaching the public, simply using twitter or spreading the word to friends and colleagues isn't really engaging the public. Maybe it is enough to get funded, but that isn't the only reason I wanted to launch a crowd-funding project. Upon realizing this, I set out on my bicycle to a few local trailheads (one of the best things about Corvallis, Oregon) with some flyers and a positive attitude.

After five or so conversations with complete strangers about what I was trying to do, I began to notice how much I actually love talking to strangers about my passions. Sure many of the conversations I had were one-sided, where I simply shared about the project and sent them away with the flyer—"hoping" they would go home and at least watch the video. However, many of the conversations were two-sided, where individuals were sharing stories about how they had a tree die in their yard (related to my project), or about the generally overlooked scientific issues they were passionate about.

To me, these conversations represent real public engagement and it is because of conversations like these that I have confidence in the value of my project.



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