The Road Ahead: ASTC’s New Strategic Direction

By Lesley Lewis
From ASTC Dimensions
September/October 2008

In April, representatives of the ASTC Board, Committee Chairs, and Governing Members met in Birmingham, Alabama, to review the organization’s purpose and strategic directions. As a group, we were truly representative of ASTC members, with both small and large institutions at the table. We all left enthusiastic about the new strategies that emerged, and with a renewed sense of conviction about the powerful role science centers can play in a rapidly changing world.

The new strategic direction and priorities position ASTC and its members for today’s world, addressing relevant local and global issues. ASTC’s new focus had already been a priority at many member institutions and has been increasingly evident in ASTC Annual Conference sessions, ASTC Dimensions themes, and international activities like ASTC’s IGLO initiative.

As your association, ASTC will continue to define its impact through the success of its members. Our intent is to ensure that science centers worldwide are valued by the public and regarded as essential to their communities. All of the participants in Birmingham acknowledged that science centers must no longer be seen solely as resources for families and children—science has relevance for people of all ages. The main new ASTC strategy will be to address critical science and society issues proactively, in order to expand our reach, relevance, impact, and sustainability. To achieve this, ASTC’s priorities will be to

  • address key issues where public understanding and engagement with science are essential, such as climate change
  • seek out and build alliances with those creating science knowledge or disseminating it to the public
  • document and communicate the impact of science centers
  • effectively serve the many levels of professionals and executives in science centers.

You will hear more about each of these priorities at the ASTC Annual Conference in October. Each of them—science and society leadership, alliances and partnerships, impact and communications, and professional development—has a task force already hard at work developing an action plan.

The new focus at ASTC was underscored at the Fifth Science Centre World Congress in June and through the Toronto Declaration issued at its conclusion. For the first time, the global science center community has developed a common statement of beliefs and commitment. The Declaration acknowledges that science centers and science can be “a powerful force for good.”

As chair of the Fifth Science Centre World Congress, I was honored to lead the Toronto Declaration’s development, along with Graham Durant (Australia), Emlyn Koster (United States), Per-Edvin Persson (Finland), Julia Tagüeña (Mexico), and Tuan Chew (Singapore). These five individuals are also active participants in ASTC and leaders in their own regional networks. The Declaration was endorsed by the International Program Committee and the boards of the regional networks. Science center and museum professionals are invited to add their names in support.

ASTC’s strategic direction and the Toronto Declaration both resonate with the work of the Ontario Science Centre. We use science as the lens to inspire and actively engage people in new ways of seeing, understanding, and thinking about themselves and the world. Our goal is to create science-literate citizens who will contribute to solving the very real problems the world faces.

The world is eager for trusted sources of information on global issues. Science centers have a role to play not only in helping people to learn about issues, but perhaps even more importantly, in encouraging them to engage and become part of the solutions.

Lesley Lewis is president of ASTC, chair of the Fifth Science Centre World Congress, and CEO of the Ontario Science Centre, Toronto.