Connecting Scientists and Communities: Evaluation from NAS Science Ambassadors

Monday, 16 February 2015: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Room 210AB (San Jose Convention Center)
Jessica Sickler,Lifelong Learning Group, Columbus, OH
The Science & Engineering Ambassadors (an NAS and NAE program) selects, prepares, and supports a team of scientific experts to work within their community to engage influential citizens in ideas and conversations around a topical issue of science and society. The program is meant to be co-designed with a host city to be responsive to community context; for its pilot, the program focused on energy and was implemented in Pittsburgh, PA. From 2012-2014, an initial cohort of 26 scientists and engineers was recruited and trained as Ambassadors, and they led a set of community events of varying formats and topics with invited audiences (which are still ongoing). Evaluation looked at the outcomes for Science Ambassadors and event attendees, using a variety of measures, including pre/mid/post surveys with Ambassadors, program observations, post- and delayed-post surveys of event attendees, and one-on-one interviews with attendees.

The evaluation found that the program led to a significant increase in Ambassadors' feelings of preparedness to engage and communicate with public audiences; specific areas of greatest improvement were those that the training targeted (development of visuals, media training, and managing probing/hostile questions). Further, all reported applying their communication skills in settings outside of the Ambassador program. Ambassadors also showed they had internalized the communication strategies emphasized by the program, and event attendees responded very positively to their demonstrated skills, showing awareness of Ambassadors' success at making complex information understandable and using engaging and personable communication styles.

Understanding the benefit and value perceived by Ambassadors is essential to maintaining an engaged volunteer corps in a high-requirement program. These findings showed that seven specific benefits were experienced by a majority of Ambassadors.  But taken together, multiple lines of data were clear that the program provides value to scientists by training them for public engagement and doing the legwork to provide a meaningful venue to engage with the public. Looking toward the future, the program will consider how to improve recruitment and training of new Ambassadors, furthering training and interaction opportunities among existing Ambassadors, and creating public programs that use more dialogue to engage scientists and community leaders.