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Science Center World Summit Mechelen Declaration

Written By Erik Jacquemyn, Chair of the 1st Science Centre World Summit (SCWS)

From Monday, March 17 until Wednesday, March 19, 2014, the Science Centre World Summit took place in Mechelen, Belgium, bringing together CEOs, managers, decision makers, and experts from within and outside the science centre field. In total, 464 participants from 58 different countries attended the Summit.

The purpose was to create a global network of diverse organizations in order to make society aware of the opportunities science holds for the sustainable advancement of society. In this way, the Summit differs from former world congresses that mainly focused on the role that the science centre sector can play in increasing public engagement in science and technology.

One of the outcomes of the World Summit is the “Mechelen Declaration.” Building on the 2008 Toronto and 2011 Cape Town Declarations, the Mechelen Declaration sets out a plan for the international science centre field and its strategic partners to commit to seven concrete actions for the enhancement of public engagement for a better world. Like the 2008 and 2011 Declarations, the Mechelen Declaration has been developed in close consultation with the regional science centre networks.

The Declaration was presented at the beginning of the 2014 Summit, which enabled session presenters and participants to reflect on its messages throughout the Summit programme.

The day prior to the Summit, 78 science centre CEOs met to prioritize key actions and suggestions for implementation of the Mechelen Declaration to form the basis for developing a guide for science centres and partner organizations to plan and measure their contributions to the advancement of the Declaration goals.

In a plenary session on Tuesday, March 18, all attendees were invited to take part in a voting round about the priorities of the seven action points. Attendees were asked in three consequent voting rounds to prioritize the three most important action points.

All the discussions about the Declaration resolved that:

  • The Mechelen Declaration is to be viewed as a starting point and a framework for discussion. Although it was meticulously prepared by an editorial committee and approved by the regional networks, it will be supplemented by a memorandum to guide science centres, networks, and partner organizations in their follow-up to the Declaration goals.
  • Although needing to work together as a global science centre community, it is important for science centres to implement the Declaration in their own localities as appropriate to their local contexts and opportunities.

Summit participants reached a consensus on the following two goals as high immediate priority within the Declaration:

  • Investigate how to engage even more effectively with local communities and increasingly diverse audiences, and keep the focus on gender differences in engagement.
  • Take the lead in developing the best methods for engaging learners and optimizing their education in both formal and informal settings using appropriate technologies in widely varying contexts.

The Mechelen Declaration was signed not only by delegates from within the science centre field and their networks, but also by other international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM). The chief scientific adviser to the head of the European Commission also endorsed the Declaration. By signing the document, they agree to promote the Declaration to their organizations and to respond to future invitations to discuss potential partnerships.

At the end of the Summit, participants signed the Declaration to personally commit to bring the seven goals into reality.

Towards 2017
The next Science Centre World Summit will be organized in Tokyo (November 15-17, 2017).

Since the 2014 Summit in March, there have been consultations amongst the networks and it was agreed that there will be no “Tokyo Declaration.” Instead, working towards 2017, the networks are committed to work on the implementation of the outcomes of the Mechelen Declaration. In 2017 the focus will be on the evaluation of these efforts. The Declaration will guide part of the activity of the networks in the future and it will be seen by all.

And it starts here at the 2014 ASTC conference. Go to the ASTC Resource Center in the Exhibit Hall to see the declaration, and follow ASTC social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, ASTC General Forum) to contribute your views.