I recently “googled” the words “mayor,” “commission,” “task force,” and “science” and was astounded at the extensive number of socially relevant topics that are being considered by local decision makers in every corner of the globe. In nearly every instance, a body of scientific experts conveys wise counsel to policy planners. Occasionally, such initiatives include “public forums,” often composed of representatives of various special interests.
More than ever, though, our local leaders are recognizing that lasting and positive policies require not only scientific rigor and integrity, but also transparency and determined efforts to build and retain public trust—which begins with a fundamental public grasp of the science in the policies.
Science centers and museums strive to be valued learning environments and trusted platforms for engagement between citizens, scientists, and decision makers. From our perspective, we may feel a growing confidence that we are serving these needs in our local communities. Yet, this perspective may not be entirely recognized by key stakeholders and decision makers who are charged with representing the public’s best interests on these critical issues.
Within the very communities that we serve, our local leaders are tackling wide-ranging, interrelated challenges—greener cities; sustainable energy and transport systems; land and water use; health and wellness in diverse populations; innovations for progress, security, and education; and more—all embracing key aspects of science and technology.
On these topics, we have an opportunity not just to inform, but to be enormously proactive in bringing local actors together around issues of science, commerce, culture, and public policy. We should envision science centers and museums as the brokers and the builders of alliances between policymakers and the publics that they serve.