“It Takes a Network”: Building National Capacity for Climate Change Interpretation

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 8:45 AM
William Spitzer, New England Aquarium, Programs, Exhibits and Planning, Boston, MA, United States
Since 2007, the New England Aquarium has led a national effort to increase the capacity of informal science venues to effectively communicate about climate change. We are now leading the NSF-funded National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI), partnering with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, FrameWorks Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and National Aquarium, with evaluation conducted by the New Knowledge Organization, Pennsylvania State University, and Ohio State University.

More than 1,500 informal science venues (science centers, museums, aquariums, zoos, nature centers, national parks) are visited annually by 61% of the U.S. population. These visitors expect reliable information about environmental issues and solutions. NNOCCI enables teams of informal science interpreters across the country to serve as “communication strategists” – beyond merely conveying information they can influence public perceptions, given their high level of commitment, knowledge, public trust, social networks, and visitor contact.

Beyond providing in-depth training, we have found that our “alumni network” is assuming an increasingly important role in achieving our goals:

1. Ongoing learning - Training must be ongoing given continuous advances in climate and social science research.

2. Implementation support – Social support is critical as interpreters move from learning to practice, given complex and potentially contentious subject matter.

3. Leadership development – We rely on a national cadre of interpretive leaders to conduct workshops, facilitate study circle trainings, and support alumni.

4. Coalition building – A peer network helps to build and maintain connections with colleagues, and supports further dissemination through the informal science community.

We are experimenting with a variety of online and face to face strategies to support the growing alumni network. Our goals are to achieve a systemic national impact, embed our work within multiple ongoing regional and national climate change education networks, and leave an enduring legacy.