846   Individual paper

Transforming science communication at Informal Learning Institutions: Using collections and evaluation to tell the story of science and expertise

Author: Sarah Sargent
Morton Arboretum, United States

Using collections held at Informal Learning Institutions (ILI) to communicate science poses a unique set of challenges and opportunities. A study conducted throughout the United States, showed that ILI such as museums or botanical gardens rank as trusted sources of science expertise, yet, the public does not rely on ILI as a primary source of scientific information. ILI are uniquely positioned to communicate science through collections, both through conducting research and serving as destinations to millions of visitors each year. In order to bridge this gap between expertise and the public, these institutions must improve their efforts to make their science content and collections resonate with their audiences, and to be seen as leaders in original research. The Morton Arboretum outside of Chicago, IL USA, is an outdoor living tree museum that is working to connect its visitors (>1 million per year) to its research and expertise. 

The latest permanent exhibition at the Arboretum, the Gateway to Tree Science, introduces visitors to tree science through growing and ever-changing displays showing the effects tree care choices over time. The exhibition concept depends on successful science communication; the Arboretum engaged in an external audience research firm to support this exhibition's development and understand its impact. This presentation explores how and why an institution prioritizes its expertise, the role of audience research in developing and evaluating exhibitions, the importance of incorporating communication strategy to inform experiential learning, and the impact of the exhibition and its content on visitors. The Arboretum is transforming ongoing research and a physical space into a public resource that serves visitors, informed through the evaluation of its audiences’ needs and knowledge. The practices and principles of transforming science communication discussed in these linked papers can apply to all ILI, beyond those with living collections.

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