Engaging the Public Across Worldviews

In September, I was privileged to be among the more than 400 delegates from 56 countries who attended the 6th Science Centre World Congress (6SCWC) in Cape Town, South Africa. I want to express ASTC’s appreciation to all who organized and participated in this inspiring and highly enjoyable event. It was a learning experience for all, producing a Cape Town Declaration that commits our field to addressing global challenges through science learning.

As I reflect on my experience at 6SCWC, I would like to make both an observation and an affirmation concerning our field today. I have observed that we often describe the common thread of our work as providing experiential learning environments, while viewing our endeavors to embrace cultural diversity as a subset of these efforts.

While I do not diminish the significance of this common theme, I feel that 6SCWC did a marvelous job in “inverting” the emphasis, demonstrating how we can engage diverse cultures first and foremost, with science and learning playing a vital role in strengthening these cultures. Included in this message is the value of cross-cultural understanding, the relevance of Indigenous knowledge, and the importance of ancient science to us now and in the future.

My second point is an affirmation of our field’s work to engage the public on vital (if sensitive) topics, with respect for wide-ranging worldviews. Years ago, while working in Paris, I was visited by a team of legal experts whose mission was to learn the varied public perspectives on the then-emerging field of genetics and biotechnology. With tremendous foresight, this group recognized that navigating the provocative issues raised by this new field would depend not solely upon “hard science,” but also upon diverse societal and cultural orientations.

I am delighted that, in exactly this spirit, a newly formed Community of Practice on Public Engagement in Science will explore best practices and challenges in engaging diverse communities in myriad issues at the intersection of science and society. Many thanks to the science center leaders who are forming this group, one of the growing number of professional development tools offered by ASTC. For more information, contact ASTC’s Laura Huerta Migus.