Extending the Conversation
Now that the actual day of World Wide Views on Biodiversity is over, those of us working in science museums as part of ECAST have a lot of work to do. I’m neither referring here to the myriad of easels, flip charts, and leftover program materials on my desk that need to be to put away, nor do I mean the policy report that a number of us are writing collaboratively around the results of the US National Question, the process of holding WWV across four coordinated US sites, and the potential learning points that can be applied to the US policy context. That stuff needs to get done, but a major next step for informal science education professionals is getting everyone else involved in the discussions around biodiversity so that they, too, can have their say.
To understand who I mean by “everyone else”, it’s important to briefly consider the selection processes that have to be followed for an event like WWViews. Site hosts had to recruit an applicant pool of hundreds of people, so that we could select about 100 on the basis of a number of carefully chosen demographic factors. Most of these criteria were consistent across all of the 32 global sites, and included categories like age, gender, education, geographic zone, and income. Each site also needed to add in considerations that were deemed to be particularly relevant for that country’s population; for example, in the United States, all four of our sites included race as a targeted demographic. After we have the applicant pool, each group notified 120 people (we had to pick more than we actually would need, because not all of them will show up even when you pay them a stipend and feed them) to tell them they were selected. These are the people who held the conversations yesterday in 32 places around the world that will provide input to the United Nations’ Convention on Biodiversity.
I understand the rationale for the selection process, because it’s necessary to get a somewhat representative sample that can serve as a proxy for the population. But as someone who works with the public at the Museum of Science, I found the idea challenging as we were making it happen. We strive to be a place that invites everyone to participate in our activities. Of course, we only have so many seats in our Theater of Electricity – but if we reach our capacity limit, we explain to the people who have come to our Museum to see the largest Van de Graaf generator in the world that we have more shows that day, or that we operate it every day of the year. If it’s a particularly busy day on the halls, we might add presentations to accommodate more guests. And science centers constantly strive to bring informal science education to schools, libraries, festivals, and other kinds of community settings so that science can be a little more fun and accessible for everyone.
So the prospect of telling hundreds of people that we couldn’t include them in something like World Wide Views on Biodiversity wasn’t an easy thing for those of us in the informal science education community to face. We just couldn’t tell them that. And what about all of the people who didn’t even know about it? A number of us working together in ECAST have designed different kinds of experiences that we are going to offer to the general public so that they can also be participants in a broader conversation around biodiversity policy in the United States. So what’s on tap? Well, it’s different at different places, but there are a number of things that science museums, zoos, and aquaria will be doing to bring more people into the discussion. There are some things available right now, and others that will be happening later on this year.
One exciting thing anyone can do is to participate in the online poll and discussion that has been set up by the Koshland Museum of the National Academies. As part of the US National Question, WWV participants in the United States first considered what actions they themselves would be willing to do to address the issue of biodiversity loss, before deciding whether or not the nation should adopt a national biodiversity strategy. The folks at the Koshland Museum have adapted this part of the process for an online poll where anyone can respond to the same options that were presented to the WWV participants, make comments, and read what others think.
Also, we at the Museum of Science have created activities that anyone can do to explore biodiversity and consider biodiversity policies around the Museum and out in the communities. My colleague Katie Behrmann has developed a “Choose Your Own Biodiversity Adventure” activity that will bring people around a spontaneous, ever-changing tour of the Museum’s exhibit halls as they consider the connections between humans and living things in nature, focusing on concepts such as ecosystems services and biodiversity loss. And Don Salvatore, the creator of the Museum’s innovative Firefly Watch citizen science project, has developed five biodiversity quests that people can do in their own neighborhoods in partnership with the Encylopedia of Life. Anyone can download the activity, go out into places like an urban park, a forest, a field, or a freshwater marsh, and upload their observations through iNaturalist so people can track their progress and see what others have found.
Our big event for the public will happen after COP-11 in India has been completed. On Sunday, November 18th, a public Biodiversity Day will bring together everyday citizens with scientists working on biodiversity issues, policymakers, and stakeholders for a special afternoon at the Museum of Science. Visitors will get a chance to hear from and interact, thinking about biodiversity and ecosystems services, learning about how scientists assess biodiversity and what policies are in place to protect it, and participate in a forum about who should manage biodiversity issues in the United States created by Caroline Lowenthal. Anyone who has done one of the downloadable biodiversity quests will be recognized at the event as a biodiversity champion, and we will be inviting back all of the World Wide Views on Biodiversity participants to be part of the day.
We’re making all of these materials available to anyone from the informal science education community who would like to adapt them in their institutions, as well as to teachers, libraries, and anyone else who can think of a use for them. So we hope you’ll take part and share your voice!