Collaborative Research: Effective environmental workshop facilitation and local community action
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. This Research in Service to Practice project examines how informal place-based collaborative learning can support local communities' planning processes related to current environmental changes. As a part of this study workshops will be conducted in 8 communities that have a range of planning mandates based on recent extreme environmental changes such as drought/wildfires, flooding, invasive species, or loss of native wildlife. Place-based adaptation workshops will be designed to be locally relevant and empower people to learn and act on their newly acquired understandings. Local community collective actions may include a range of decisions (e.g., infrastructure changes such as building defenses against sea level rise in coastal communities or improving the quality of roads to withstand higher temperatures.) Collective action may also lead to community wide behavioral changes such as individuals using less water or farmers planting different crops. The study will focus on the efficacy of the methods used in 8 workshops in communities throughout the country. Research objectives include: 1) identifying experts' belief about the most critical components of successful workshops; 2) Understanding of prior workshop outcomes and 3) test hypothesized effective practices and understand how learning takes place and collective action does or does not take place. The project addresses key AISL solicitation priorities including strategic impact on the field of informal STEM learning, advancing collaboration, and building professional capacity. It engages both public and professional audiences as described in the solicitation. Public audiences include stakeholders in each of the 8 communities such as community environmental groups, NGOs, businesses, landowners, and local government planners. Professional audiences include the workshop scientists and facilitators who will be trained in the experimental workshop approach. The project builds upon and expands the existing AISL portfolio of science communication projects such as science cafes, science festivals, science media, and library based projects. This is a collaborative project of EcoAdapt and Virginia Tech with participants from the National Parks Conservation Association, the Desert Research Institute, and the Wildlife Conservation Society and others. The research will progress through two phases. Phase 1 is designed to identify consensus-based effective practices for promoting learning and action in adaptation workshops. It includes a Delphi study to synthesize beliefs about effective practices held by experienced workshop facilitators across the United States. Phase 2 includes iterative design and research of eight adaptation workshops in various communities with a range of planning mandates and recent extreme weather experience. By iteratively revising the workshop design, the study will elucidate how different workshop components influence participant learning, individual behavioral intentions, and subsequent efforts toward collective action. The overall research design will examine the relationships of pedagogical and collaborative techniques to learner outcomes and collective action. Many of these lessons are likely relevant to other collaborative informal science learning contexts. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.