science festival at A&T Park in Bay Area, CA. Man bending over.

Article: “Why people attend science festivals: interests, motivations and self-reported benefits of public engagement with research”

What do we know?

  • There is growing interest in understanding that public science events play an important role in encouraging engagement with science.
  • Irwin’s (2008) taxonomy of science engagement provides a useful conceptual framework for describing engagement at science events: Firsy order science engagement invites publics to learn more about science and science-related careers, but does not require scientists to learn more about publics; second order engagement emphasizes bi-directional dialogue where scientists and publics exchange perspectives and knowledge; and third order engagement emphasizes connecting science with the broader social context and directed toward social needs.
  • Respondents who attended with children were more likely to identify the hands-on activities and lectures geared toward families.
  • Distinctive patterns of visitor reception to live engagement activities offered during a science festival. Participants emphasized the immediacy and interactivity of the science festival experience, the diversity of public engagement formats, opportunities for social interaction and learning, and access to scientific researchers as unique to science festivals (compared to other science engagement settings).
  • The most significant self-reported impact of attending a science festival was the development of increased interest and curiosity about new areas of scientific knowledge within a socially stimulating and enjoyable setting.

How do we know?

Researchers used an on-site questionnaire, an online questionnaire, and focus groups to understand motivations for attending a university-based science festival and feedback on the event. Respondents who completed the on-site survey were invited to participate in a follow-up online survey and focus groups to share in greater detail their thoughts about the science festival event they recently attended.

Where do we go to learn more?

Eric Jensen & Nicola Buckley. 2012. Why people attend science festivals: interests, motivations and self-reported benefits of public engagement with research. Public Understanding of Science, 23(5), 557-573.