The digital publication of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)

ASTC Releases Data on Science Engagement Interests, Motivations, and Barriers among Adults in the U.S. 

How do Americans want to engage with science? Although many studies have explored public opinion and perceptions of science, few have explored if, how, and under what circumstances adults in the U.S. actually want to encounter science content and participate in science-related activities. From 2021-2022, Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) team members and social scientists Dr. Rose Hendricks (Senior Advisor for Research) and Eve Klein (Senior Advisor for Public Engagement with Science) co-led a year-long study to examine Americans’ appetite for engaging with science, their motivations for participating in science-related activities, and the barriers that stand in the way. Their study paid particular attention to the experiences of African American and Hispanic communities. 

Now, ASTC is pleased to release the data and the survey questions used in this study. These materials can be accessed via the Open Science Framework. 

The project was driven by ASTC’s Leaders in and Science and Technology Engagement Networks (LISTEN) Network initiative, in collaboration ScienceCounts, Edge Research, and LabX of the National Academy of Sciences. It arose from a LISTEN Network conversation on challenges that public engagement practitioners face. The LISTEN group recognized that they had many questions about the audiences and communities with whom they work—what activities are people with different backgrounds and identities most interested in? On what topics? What do they hope to get from engaging with science? What limits their ability to engage? Without answers to some of these questions, practitioners often struggle to design engagement experiences that are accessible, responsive, and satisfying. As social scientists with backgrounds in understanding the ways that people think and behave, Rose and Eve were well suited to co-lead this study with additional project partners. 

At the 2022 ASTC Annual Conference, Rose and Eve shared preliminary findings from the study. A recording of the session can be found at the end of the blog post. During the session, they touched on a range of key takeaways, including the following: 

  • Why are people motivated to engage with the science topics that interest them? Sparking a sense of wonder or imagination, and gaining knowledge and skills emerge as the principal motivators of science interest. Other motivators that rise to the top include bringing joy or making someone feel good, being able to engage on one’s own, and being able to physically, mentally, or emotionally recharge.    
  • Do science engagement interests differ for people in different demographic groups? Race, ethnicity, and age influence interests in some engagement activities. Other demographic variables, like religiosity and political affiliation, have less impact on whether people are interested in participating in particular science engagement activities. 
  • Are barriers to participation in science engagement activities experienced differently for people of different races or ethnicities? People who are African American or Hispanic are more likely to report barriers to participation related to feelings of belonging or identity than people who are white. 

This research is ongoing—the team continues to explore new patterns in the data and contextualize them in the broader literature on public engagement. In the coming months, we will continue to share deeper and more nuanced analyses of some of our key findings, including at ASTC 2023. In the meantime, we hope that others in the broader science engagement ecosystem will dive in and add additional perspectives to our own analysis of findings as we collectively work to understand ways to make the public engagement field more effective and equitable. We encourage you to share additional insights, call out layers of complexity, challenge our own interpretations, and recommend opportunities for further analysis and/or further data collection.  

To connect with the team, please contact Eve Klein (, Senior Advisor for Public Engagement with Science. To receive future updates on this project, please sign up here

The project was possible thanks to the financial support of the Rita Allen Foundation, The Kavli Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

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