The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) is delighted to be working in partnership with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to create and deliver Phase 2.5 of ‘Operation Earth’, a national STEM programme which has climate change, environment, and inclusive engagement at its heart.
This programme follows on from the success of ASDC’s Operation Earth Phase 1, which engaged 201,639 children and adults, including 37,145 who met and discussed the latest research directly with NERC scientists. Phase 2 continued this success whilst changing the focus on reaching out to local community groups and audiences that hadn’t previously engaged with the project. Science centres worked in partnership with 28 community groups, and together engaged with a total of 152,231 through a blended approach of engagements, including remote/at-a-distance and digital during the 2020 lockdown, with a total reach of 339,764 including through social media platforms.
Building on the impressive legacies of Operation Earth 1 and 2, and the strategic partnership with NERC, Operation Earth 2.5 utilised existing equipment and collaborations, and the expertise of ASDC and the participating science centres and museums, to widen access and bring UK environmental science and research to life - involving and inspiring children and their families across the UK. Key Content Areas focussed on Climate Change and COP26, Biodiversity, Clean Air and Oceans.
The timing of the project was crucial to harness the interest and enthusiasm surrounding COP26, which took place in Glasgow 1-12th November and was partly hosted at Glasgow Science Centre, one of the Operation Earth delivery partners. The programme was delivered over a short timescale of 6 months, and at a time when science centres and museums were reopening and restarting their public and schools programming. This phase specifically gave them flexibility to adapt their current programmes and events to incorporate Operation Earth into their current plans, they achieved incredible success in engaging with their audiences on the key topics.
Overall, the ten centres and museums engaged with 67,430 through a mix of in-person, digital and remote delivery as well as a further estimated 60,000 who tuned in to their local community radio shows in Glasgow for an Operation Earth themed show in March.
At the start of this year the project grew even bigger with the introduction of three new centres to the programme. The addition of the three new centres; Exeter Science Centre, Life Science Centre, and Science Oxford, increases the overall geographical reach of the programme to new regions across the UK with delivery taking place in Spring.
Due to the flexibility in delivery this phase has seen a variety of different engagements from big COP themed events to small community workshops and pop-ups in local shopping centres. Engagements have taken place at libraries, as well as STEM boxes being sent out to families and Operation Earth themed radio shows presented by science centre staff alongside their partnering NERC researchers. Dynamic Earth’s Climate Science Showcase saw 1,500 people engage with 50 different environmental scientists on the key content themes of Operation Earth including ocean acidification, biodiversity and many more, all held under Luke Jerram’s impressive Gaia.
Externally evaluated by Ondata Ltd in a separate report, the impact of these interactions are as follows:
In terms of the programme’s vision, mission and key goals Operation Earth Phase 2.5 has been very successful. The programme has been able to “engage, inspire and involve families” and to “bring the relevance of the UK’s climate and environmental science and research to life”.
Families have reported an increased interest in climate and environmental science, with them intending to go on to read and discuss more about the topics.
Science centres have been able to empower families to make informed decisions in relation to their own lives, with them seeing the relevance of climate and environmental science.
Science centres have been supported by ASDC to run high-quality activities, delivered by confident and knowledgeable staff and in many cases in partnership with researchers and other stakeholders.
“I believe the biggest impact has been visitors wanting to make a real change, and many of them already committing to making small changes for the greater good.” (Science centre staff)
The Operation Earth mini campaign ASDC wanted to showcase all of this incredible work that science centres and museums were doing to engage with the public on these difficult but urgent themes across the UK. Centres took part in the campaign by taking photos of their activities and posting on social media using the project hashtags. Overall, there were more than 150 tweets relating to the project during the period of COP26, including retweets from MPs such as Kevin Brennan and Sarah Atherton who were invited to visit their local centres to see the work they were doing as part of this project, as well as Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor.
Through Operation Earth 2.5, ASDC has partnered with science centres and museums around the country engaging a wide range of audiences, including families, community groups, science communicators and NERC researchers, with the aim of bringing people together on a shared mission to combat climate change by increasing knowledge and relevance of the latest NERC science to people’s everyday lives.
As a nation and as a global society we have some major challenges ahead, especially in relation to climate, energy, water and the other finite resources of our planet. Now, more than ever we need our young people, and society more widely, to be inspired by environmental science and innovative new approaches and technologies that can make the world a better place.
The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres is delighted to be working in partnership with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to create and deliver Phase 2 of ‘Operation Earth’, a national STEM programme which has Climate Change, environment, inclusion and communities at its heart. This programme follows on from the success of ASDC’s Operation Earth Phase 1, which engaged 201,639 children and adults, including 37,145 who met and discussed the latest research directly with environmental scientists.
For Operation Earth Phase 2, ASDC selected eight Science Centres across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to run this new programme. The project delivery was due to begin in communities just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK in March 2020 which had a significant impact on the entire programme. In particular, the nation went into lockdown, and the Science Centres closed. Many remained shut for a year (the duration of this programme), with staff on furlough and widespread redundancies.
However, the Science Centres made astonishing efforts and pivoted their planned community events and hands-on activities to digital and blended delivery. They found innovative new approaches and new ways of working with communities to make up for the fact that neither the Science Centre staff nor the community groups were allowed to physically meet together for the majority of the year due to Covid-19 restrictions. Operation Earth Phase 2 began in early 2020 and completed in March 2021.
The Science Centres delivering Operation Earth worked in partnership with a total of 28 community groups, and together engaged with 5,239 people in communities who participated in their Operation Earth specific blended programmes. They engaged a further 85,959 people through various specific digital programmes highlighted in this report, making a total of 91,016. An additional 61,033 people interacted (briefly) through social media platforms. All together 152,231 people touched the programme at various levels of involvement. There is also an additional, but less well-defined social media reach of 126,500, taking the overall total to 339,764.
In partnership with ASDC, all the Science Centres redesigned their Operation Earth projects in the spring and summer of 2020, when it was clear the pandemic would prevent almost all the planned activities with community groups detailed in Science Centre’s original proposals. From this point on, all delivery pivoted to digital or blended (hands-on and remote (e.g. Earthy boxes and resources with foodbanks), or other non-contact delivery, combined with a digital component.
Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh partnered with the Young Carers community group in Edinburgh and created and sent out bespoke ‘Earthy Boxes’ (also known as STEM Care packages) to 36 families from the most deprived areas of the city (mainly the most deprived 40% on the SIMD) who were also facing additional and considerable challenges. Glasgow Science Centre worked in partnership with two local radio stations to engage with 14 different community groups in areas of deprivation, as well as creating activities within their Spark magazine, such as build your own Terrarium activity kits.
W5 in Belfast sent out bespoke Operation Earth activity packs through food banks to families and groups experiencing food poverty and other challenging socio-economic issues. Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, Xplore! In North Wales and the National Space Centre in Leicester worked with libraries, schools and community groups in some of the most socio-economically deprived areas of their regions and combined the Operation Earth kit with their own newly created Operation Earth-themed activity packs to run online workshops and activities with families and groups of children from some of their most deprived regions, including opportunities to meet and talk (virtually) with NERC researchers. Thinktank ran a hugely successful online event throughout the summer called the #BigBrumBioBlitz campaign, which 74,393 children and adults participated with via the BigBrumBioBlitz website, blogs and video animations.
ASDC and Operation Earth trained all the Science Centre staff at a 2-day Training Academy with a host of external speakers and experts. This received hugely positive evaluations from the Science Centre staff. Fourteen Science Centre staff from 7 Science Centre were trained on all aspects of the programme including running the activities, using and maintaining the equipment, finding the latest environmental science, especially climate change and earth observation, and a masterclass in diversity and inclusion, along with one in behavioural psychology and its vital importance to having conversations about climate.
Although we had selected 8 centres in March 2020, in autumn 2020, one member sadly had to relinquish their role as a delivery partner due to the impacts of Covid-19 and their consequent redundancies and restructuring. Their staff were trained, and they already had the equipment and expect to run many of the experiments and activities in the future when they re-open.
Overall, the programme trained 33 NERC researchers and scientists at ASDC’s bespoke Operation Earth Training Academy. Of those participating, 80% of researchers said the Training Academy was very successful or successful in increasing their confidence or ability to engage the public with environmental science. Some researchers told us they would like more time to network with the Public Engagement professionals from Science Centres (like it were an ‘in-person’ event). To help the researchers achieve this, and for the benefit of Science Centre staff, ASDC brought them together by organising two additional coffee morning events, where participants could talk in small groups. Further collaborations sprang from these.
The evaluation was light touch and was achieved in multiple practical ways outlined in the evaluation report. It focussed on the participants, the community groups and the staff. Overall, the results reveal the following:
87.5% of participants, following their family’s participation in Operation Earth, said they felt they all learned something about our climate or environmental science.
87.5 % of participants, thought it was very important that Scientists research our planet and climate.
62.5% said they now felt more interested in reading or finding out about the science around climate and the environment? The remainder were not sure.
75% said they and their family enjoyed the activities, with the remainder saying they didn’t know.
41 people took part in the Researchers Training Academy of which 33 were Environmental researchers.
The results were overwhelmingly positive from both Training Academies (Science Centre staff and researchers) with great quotes showing how enthused and motivated they felt after the academy, and how it had increased their confidence to engage the public more.
100% said the Training Academy was successful in increasing their confidence and contacts to engage with their local science centre.
80% of researchers said the Training Academy was very successful or successful in increasing their confidence and/ or ability to engage the public with environmental science.
We highlight we had evaluation forms returned in small numbers, as detailed in the full evaluation report. We have however also compared the results with other peoples quotes, and find them in harmony.
Most UK hands-on interactive Science Centres plan to re-open to the public in mid-May 2021 when restrictions ease for the first time. They have all said they are keen to run Operation Earth content more in the future, and to ensure the legacy of Operation Earth continues.
Through Operation Earth and ASDC’s pioneering delivery model, ASDC has created a step-change in the way Science Centres and Museums use and share the latest environmental science to engage the public and communities with the issues and challenges around Climate Change and the environment. This has been achieved by creating a highly inspirational, new and exciting national hands-on environmental science programme and training UK Science Centres and museums to deliver it with communities. Operation Earth is also building relationships with researchers who in turn are helping Science Centres to embrace more challenging topics around climate and navigate global environmental issues with members of the public who may initially have no interest, or feel climate change is not happening.
The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres has been delighted to work in partnership with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to create and deliver an exciting new national STEM programme ‘Operation Earth’.
The vision of this national programme was to engage inspire and involve families with school-age children across the UK with the amazing stories, science and people of NERC’s world-leading environmental research, highlighting the relevance of contemporary environmental science issues to people’s daily lives and to society's future.
In partnership with NERC, the Natural History Museum, Dynamic Earth and Eden Project and a wide range of other experts from across academia and the NERC research centres, ASDC created, developed and delivered an inspirational suite of hands-on activities, experiments and demonstrations for families to be delivered in Science Centres and Museums, including a bespoke wearable ‘Earthy suit’. ASDC also created a new interactive ‘Operation Earth’ family show and a series of busking activities, a meet the expert format and introductions to environmental scientists, a website, social media channels, project branding and a set of marketing assets along with a bespoke training handbook.
ASDC then selected, trained and equipped eleven Science Centres and Museums in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver the full Operation Earth Programme. This included bringing their staff together for a two-day Training Academy to learn all aspects of the programme including running the shows and activities, using and maintaining the equipment, training on the latest environmental science, and a guide to behavioural psychology as it relates to climate conversations. ASDC continued to support the Centres during their delivery period, answering questions and introducing them to experts.
ASDC also ran a similar national training academy for over 40 environmental researchers which took place at the Natural History Museum.
Operation Earth launched in UK Science Centres and Museums on February 10th 2018, and delivery continued across the summer until the October half-term 2018. Overall the programme began in January 2017, and completed in January 2019 with an aim to reach 100,000 children and adults in family groups.
In total, 201,639 children and adults participated in the Operation Earth activities and programmes for families. Of these, 89,742 participated in the Operation Earth family show, and 37,145 met and talked to one or more environmental scientists in ‘meet the expert’ events.
Throughout Operation Earth, we aimed to create a step-change in the way Science Centres and Museums deliver the latest science around the environment, making the science more cutting-edge and engaging, building relationships with researchers and helping centres to embrace more challenging topics around climate and other global issues with members of the public who may not be initially receptive to this science.
The programme evaluation was undertaken by an independent academic with a specialism in informal Science Learning in environmental science, who analysed the responses of 1,130 children and 665 adults (1,795 people in total) who had taken part in The Operation Earth shows and activities.
The key findings are summarised below:
83% of children and 77% of adults said they were more interested in environmental science after the Operation Earth show or activities.
81% of children and 67% of adults said their understanding of our environment and the current issues faced had increased after watching the Operation Earth family show or taking part in the activities.
79% of children and 63% of adults said that their understanding of the range of people who study the environment had increased after watching the Operation Earth family show or taking part in the activities.
91% of children and 96% of adults said they thought environmental science is ‘very important’ after watching the family show or taking part in the activities.
87% of children and 92% of adults said that sharing the latest environmental science in this way was ‘very important’ after watching the family show or taking part in the activities.
Children were slightly more positive in their answers than adults, this was a small but statistically significant difference.
Girls (86%) were more likely to say they were more interested in environmental science than male children (80%). This was a small but statistically significant difference. Overall, there was no other difference in response to the questions due to the gender of children.
Centres unanimously reported that the programme had benefited their centre. It had been a key part of many centres’ programming and had attracted large audiences whenever it was put on. Feedback from Science Centres and Museum staff indicate they and their visitors enjoyed and valued this STEM programme sufficiently that they delivered to considerably more families than their collective target of 100,000 people.