BY JONATHAN FREDERICK
Thanks to the support and foresight of the NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation, we’re fortunate to be able to work with Dr. Karen Peterman, a leading expert on science festival evaluation. She has collected and analyzed data for our 2012 and 2013 science festivals. (Considering the statewide nature of what we do, this is no minor chore.)
On September 12, 2013, Dr. Peterman presented to the NC Science Festival Board of Advisors. We thought we'd share some of our favorite findings from that report.
1. NCSCIFEST events have increased both in quantity and in quality – There's more to do each year AND the activities people get to do get better each year.
2. Our Elementary School Science Night program is so good, we don't need to evaluate it anymore, anytime soon. It’s true. That’s what Dr. Peterman told us. For context: Each year, we provide kits to NC elementary schools to throw science parties. These kits are full of carefully selected and refined hands-on activities. They've been so well received and the evaluation numbers are so solid, we’re going to focus on other things to evaluate in coming years.
FYI: this year our goal is to provide 110 Science Night Kits to elementary schools across the state.
3. The more hands-on and the more experts, the better. People like science events. If you want people to LOVE science events, you add two things: hands-on activities and include a scientist. That’s why we’re always encouraging scientists to get involved in all of our events. Our data clearly shows how much value experts add to the experiences!
(IMPORTANT SIDE-NOTE: Just as the word "Science" in NC Science Festival is meant to be a blanket term referring to STEM, we use "scientist" to refer to all STEM experts, including engineers, computer scientists, mathematicians, and medical professionals.)
4. When people come to NCSCIFEST events, they do more science “stuff” afterward. They talk about it with others. They look for more information. They do more activities related to the Festival event they attended. This is exciting because 1. I'm a nerd; and 2. because we really want to be able to point to longer-term, positive outcomes of our annual celebration.
5. Festival attendees were more racially and ethnically diverse in 2013 as compared to 2012. We still have a ways to go to meet our goals for participation, but we’re on the right track. We are committed to engaging increasingly diverse audiences and look forward to supporting events that do the same.
6. The Festival provides NEW OPPORTUNITIES for our partners. 62% of our hosts reported that they learned new public communication strategies as a result of Festival participation. 80% reported an increase in opportunities to communicate with the public. 68% gained greater confidence. 47% reported new partnerships with community groups. 44% reported new professional collaborations. 37% reported follow up visits or enrollment from Festival attendees. 13% reported new funding opportunities.
The Festival could not/would not exist without our hundreds of event partners across the state, so having these types of outcomes are great. They demonstrate the types of win-wins we’re going for when we invite new partners to get involved.
7. The Festival is FUN. Our events are teaching about STEM careers. We're increasing the awareness of how STEM is connected to our daily lives. We're teaching something new about STEM. But most of all: we're making STEM learning fun, year in and year out. That's probably my favorite fact.
Our long term goal is to have 1 million NC residents participating each year in Festival activities. To learn more about the 2012 and 2013 NC Science Festivals, you can review our final reports here.
The 2014 NC Science Festival will be March 28 - April 13, 2014. Stay tuned -- or better yet -- sign up for our e-Newsletter here: www.ncsciencefestival.org.
Photo: Credit: Dr. Karen Peterman, Karen Peterman Consulting Company