Explore Your Universe: A National Science Engagement Project
Explore your Universe is ASDC's national strategic STEM programme which has been delivered by 23 science centres and partners across the UK. Over 380,987 people took part in Phases 1, 2 and 3 between 2012 and 2018, and with Phase 4 already running in science centres across the country, we look to increase that reach even more over the next two years.
In 2011, The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) began an exciting strategic partnership which brought together some of the most fascinating and diverse cutting-edge science in the country with the talents and infrastructure of the nation’s largest network of dedicated science engagement organisations. This pioneering partnership for the first time leveraged the reach and impact of UK science and discovery centres, which attract 20 million children and adults every year, for a research council.
The partnership began with a two-year national strategic programme called ‘Explore Your Universe: from Atoms to Astrophysics’, which had the goal of ‘inspiring a new sense of excitement amongst young people around the physical sciences by sharing the amazing stories and technologies of STFC’.
Phase 1 of this programme ran for two years (2012-2014). In the first year, ASDC worked with partners at the National Space Centre, Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre and the STFC facilities to create an exceptional set of hands-on activities, experiments, schools workshops, public shows, meet-the-expert sessions, website and a variety of other resources to share the inspirational science of STFC.
Ten UK science and discovery centres were selected through an open tender process to be delivery partners, and they were trained, equipped and supported to run all these inspiring activities and share STFC stories and technologies with their visitors.
In just one year of delivery, Phase 1 engaged 156,880 people through a range of activities, including curriculum-linked workshops, family shows and meet the expert sessions. Over half of those reached were women and girls. This included 45,852 people who met an expert engineer or scientist, 59,236 who took part in the half-hour family show in a science centre, and 9,400 school students aged 10-13 who took part in a one hour workshop. Also participating were 3,174 school students aged 14-16 who spent two hours exploring the latest science in the masterclasses, 1,225 teachers and 3,659 young people in ‘badged groups’ (brownies, guides, cubs, scouts, etc.)
Explore Your Universe: Phase 2
Phase 2 began in early 2014 and completed in March 2016. Its goal was to increase the number and breadth of young people who are inspired to explore the physical sciences by expanding, supporting and further developing the highly successful ‘Explore Your Universe’ national strategic programme.
To achieve this, we invited applications from new centres, through an open tender process, and selected 10 new delivery partners to deliver the whole Explore Your Universe programme. ASDC trained the 10 new delivery partners via a training academy and supported them throughout as they began their delivery with schools and families.
During Phase 2, ASDC also supported and enhanced the work of the first ten Phase 1 Explore Your Universe delivery science centres to ensure they kept at the cutting edge of science and continued the learning and delivery in this area of high-end physics and engineering. This is one of the key strengths of Phase 2 - that an army of professional science engagement staff across the UK, confident in STFC science areas and in the use of the equipment, are bringing all their organisational knowledge, schools and community relationships and embedded partnerships together to celebrate STFC science and UK science in publicly accessible centres across the UK.
The full impact metrics and evaluation results for Phase 2 have been analysed with results showing Phase 2 of the programme reached 184,834 people.
Explore Your Universe: Phase 3
Phase 3 began in April 2016 and was completed in March 2018. The Vision of Phase 3 was to increase the value-for-money, sustainability and legacy of the Explore Your Universe Programme, further extending the reach into disadvantaged and underserved schools and communities to engage those who are remote from STEM (including geographically) whilst inspiring a sense of excitement around the physical sciences with young people and families, through sharing the amazing stories and technologies of STFC.
14 science and discovery centres took part and participating centres chose to organise outreach events involving visits to schools or other locations and/or careers events involving local and national employers. Some centres chose to provide bursaries so that schools could take part in events that they would not normally have been able to afford.
In total, 39,273 people, largely from underserved communities, in 14 regions of the UK and across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland participated in Explore Your Universe activities, workshops and events during Phase 3. This included 25,200 community groups and members of the public who took part in a family or community event (21,768), careers event (2,067) or other EYU related activity (1,365). 2,558 people met scientist or engineer and 13,373 school students engaged in the programme via outreach (8,836), bursary (4,085) or careers (452) events. From across the 14 regions of the UK, 700 teachers took part in Phase 3, with 124 attending a CPD session. Phase 3 was unique in engaging diverse and remote communities that centres had not previously explored. This included a group of 18 prisoners at HMP Leicester.
With the 39,273 participants during Phase 3, this brings the total number of people who have taken part in Explore Your Universe to 380,987, where it is expected that this number is even greater since the Phase 1 and 2 partners continued to deliver EYU related activities past their programme completion dates which have not been included within the Phase 3 evaluation.
Explore Your Universe Phase 4
In 2019, we began Phase 4 of Explore Your Universe with the vision to engage, inspire and involve families with school-age children across the UK with the amazing stories, science and people of STFC's world-leading research, specifically focussing on what successfully builds interest, confidence and supports science capital with children and families in the 40% mose deprived regions of the UK.
Phase 4 is, at its heart, an audience-driven programme, focussed on participatory methodologies and working with the same families multiple times to build trust and truly include and involve those who may not currently walk through the doors of our centres.
Over the 2 ½ year programme, our mission was to identify the practices that successfully build sustainable partnerships between science centres and community-based organisations, in order to truly involve families in areas of socio-economic deprivation and encourage equitable participation with communities who may not currently engage with our science centres.
The foundation of the engagements within EYU4 was the building of relationships between science centres and community partners. In addition a commitment to a multiple-engagement model - engaging with the same families many times for more sustained impact - enabled science centre practitioners to step out of the usual routine of scripts or set shows, and use their knowledge to take a more co-developed and participatory approach.
The programme aimed to support the dimensions of science capital for families taking part, where outcome measures focussed on aspects of inclusion such as agency and belonging, identity and connection to science.
For science centres, the project provided clear methodology and requirements that platformed the EDI agenda amongst a maelstrom of competing strategic priorities, particularly during the project period that spanned the 2020 pandemic lockdown. Evaluation and reporting promoted reflective practice for practitioners - with their community partners and across science centres - in order to identify and nurture positive change and learning for the whole organsation.
Our responsibility now rests with evidencing depth of impact, advocating for inspiring practice, and sharing our learning. This lead to the final output of phase 4 which was the collation of all the learning from the 3.5 year project into the Inclusion Handbook and the Inclusion Portal
The Inclusion Handbook distils the learning from the programme into five main areas:
Why Community Engagement?
Working in partnership
Evaluation in practice
Strategies for engagement
Catalysing organisational change
You can download a digital copy of the Inclusion Handbookhere
Please email ASDC Project manager, Cait Campbel if you have any questions: email@example.com
Evaluation of the Explore Your Universe Programme
The programme was evaluated for impact and delivery during each phase by academics, led by Professor Justin Dillon (King’s College London, The University of Bristol, The University of Exeter). The evaluation results to date have shown that the programme has been very effective in engaging both families and schools audiences and that the programme has had a lasting legacy for the centres involved.
One notable finding was that this physics programme had been equally successful in inspiring interest in both girls and boys. There was no statistical difference between the results of girls and boys on all the measures. This had been a key goal in our development, and something ASDC and science centres aim for in all science programmes, achieved through design, delivery methods, language and the nature of what is delivered.
Full reports and evaluation findings for Phases 1, 2 and 3 of the Explore Your Universe programme are available to view and download here.