Blog

Maloka: Reaching People Where They Live

By Nohora Elizabeth Hoyos and Sigrid Falla
From ASTC Dimensions
January/February 2010

The public value of science centers is connected to the manner in which they relate to their audiences. Maloka in Bogotá, Colombia, has developed outreach programs for ethnically and socioeconomically diverse audiences nationwide. Our programs aim to reach people where they live, by taking resources directly into their communities and responding to the realities of each region. In particular, our programs are designed to reach vulnerable populations who may never visit our science center, including those who live in remote communities, and others who live in Bogotá but feel a disconnect from science and technology. We aim to start a dialogue and promote lifelong learning by making visible the connections between people’s daily lives and science and technology.

Setting sail

Because there are many municipalities in Colombia without roads or land access, Maloka worked alongside the nation’s Ministry of Communications on the Connectivity Navigator and Pacific Navigator programs. We journeyed by boat on the Magdalena River (the main river of our country) and the Pacific coast to Colombia’s smallest, poorest, and most remote villages. The boats were outfitted as floating classrooms, with computers connected to the satellite Internet system. In all, the Ministry of Communications trained people in 42 communities in how to use the Internet in order to facilitate development and improve quality of life. All the communities either have Internet now or soon will through the Ministry’s efforts. Maloka’s role was to learn about the communities’ realities and share their stories on the project web site (http://colombiaseconecta.gov.co), which has been visited by more than 323,000 people. Through this web site, Maloka also provides tools to help these communities learn more about using the Internet, cell phones, and other mobile technologies.

Cycling for science

As mentioned above, some of Maloka’s programs reach vulnerable public sectors within Bogotá itself. Though these populations are not geographically remote from Maloka, they feel remote and distanced from science and technology topics. They often have no interest in visiting the science center, either because of economic difficulties or because they do not feel a clear connection between science and their daily lives. Therefore, we must make a special effort to carry relevant messages directly to these populations.

Through the Maloka Cycle Science program, we send educators on specially designed bicycles to the Cycle Route, where the streets are closed to traffic on Sundays, and Bogotanos from all walks of life go out bicycling. Maloka’s bicycles carry hands-on activities and are fitted with posters that contain information on science and technology. The public can learn about a diverse range of topics and make close connections between science, technology, and their everyday lives. Activities are designed to answer questions about exercising, such as: Why do I sweat? What do I need to eat to be healthy? How do skaters perform their maneuvers without falling down? For that last example, we invited skaters to do demonstrations and we created hands-on activities that explained the physics of their movements. On an average Sunday, we engage 500 people in activities, and more than 10,000 people can see a different face of Maloka in the streets.

In order to create strong public value, science centers must be able to relate to their communities and understand their realities. They need to cultivate the ability to attract diverse audiences or bring relevant programming directly into communities. In this way, centers can empower individuals to participate actively in learning, knowledge, and innovation processes.

Nohora Elizabeth Hoyos is general director, and Sigrid Falla is associate director of research and development at Maloka, Bogotá, Colombia.