Understanding and Catalyzing Equity-Oriented Change in Museums and Science Centers
This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which 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 study will contribute to these goals by providing empirical evidence about how and under what circumstances science museums, science centers, and other designed settings for informal science education (ISE) can change so that they will reach more diverse audiences with the full range of their educational activities. This study will deepen understanding of equity norms and practices at ISE organizations, as well as the internal and contextual factors that shape them. The project builds on a unique opportunity provided by the widely known and critically acclaimed exhibition "RACE: Are We So Different?" After traveling to dozens of museums and science centers, and being seen by over three million people, RACE is returning home to the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) where it was created. Strand 1 of this study will examine the processes underlying organizational change at SMM as it attempts to use RACE to leverage organization-wide change. In Strand 2, the project team will compare the experiences of ISE organizations around the country that hosted RACE, focusing on the conditions that influence reflection and lead to (or prevent) lasting impact. These two studies will inform the design of Strand 3: a national survey on equity norms and practices, and the potential for equity-related change, in designed settings for ISE. Four research questions guide all project activities: 1)How can such Informal Science Education organizations leverage an unusual event, such as a traveling exhibition, to catalyze and sustain change in their equity-related norms and practices? 2) How and when does the deep reflection required to change entrenched norms and practices manifest itself in ISE organizations that attempt to change their equity norms and practices? 3) What contextual factors support or oppose the achievement and maintenance of organization-wide changes in equity norms and practices? 4) How common are these supportive and opposing conditions in the institutional field of museums and science centers, and how prevalent are different norms and practices related to equity?