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Reaching out to bring people in

On Sunday morning at ASTC 2012, attendees learned about strategies for using outreach programs that complement onsite exhibits and activities during Engaging Communities Outside Our Walls, Bringing Visitors In. Panelists shared how their science centers have used outreach programs to increase awareness of their centers, build relationships with people who have yet to visit, and establish themselves as an integral part of the community.

Steve Snyder from The Franklin Institute talked about their efforts to take science out to people where they are even before those people have come to the science center. Making digital connections is an important part of their plan—the center has, for example, begun offering Discovery Camps online as well as onsite. Their goal is to establish relationships through outreach and increase recognition of their brand and resources so that for many, actually visiting The Franklin comes later rather than an onsite visit being visitors’ introduction to all the center has to offer.

Eric Meyer described how Explora’s outreach programs have allowed them to reach new audiences and increase support for further outreach and school field trips. Projects such as holding family science festivals and sending outreach exhibits to libraries and community centers in rural areas have raised awareness of the center’s programs. That increased exposure has led to increased support and funding from communities for both school field trips and outreach programs.

OMSI has been successful in reaching new audiences through nontraditional outreach, including Star Parties held in spring and summer at two Oregon state parks. Tim Hecox described the benefits of the program to all involved: the program is free for attendees, the state parks see increased parking revenue those nights, and both OMSI and the astronomy clubs that volunteer to run the programs gain exposure for other programs they offer.

Catherine Paisley from Ontario Science Centre (OSC) shared several ways the center has worked to reach new and diverse audiences in Toronto. The center participates in several community festivals each year, including the Word on the Street literacy festival where their booth promotes science literacy. They also participate in a program that allows families to check out one-week passes to OSC from libraries in neighborhoods identified as “at risk,” as well as the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s Cultural Access Pass program, which gives new Canadian citizens free admission to cultural institutions across the nation for one year.

Michelle Kortenaar talked about Sciencenter outreach programs that have helped to boost onsite program participation. At Community Science Nights, participants are given free passes to visit the center itself. Staff have also found that afterschool enrichment drives attendance for Sciencenter’s summer camps.

All of the panelists stressed that onsite attendance, while a benefit of outreach, has not been the primary focus when designing outreach programs. Rather, the focus has been on building relationships and establishing strong community ties, which in turn, can encourage more people to visit the center.