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Science Festival Accelerator: Diversity First

Photo courtesy of spectrUM Science Learning Tent at the Arlee Celebration


Every science festival values diversity. However, the demands of the first years of festival organizing can relegate some diversity issues to the background. This is particularly the case for smaller-scale festivals that may not initially have the capacity to stage a wide range of events encompassing their region.

But we’re working on it!

Thanks to funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Science Festival Alliance office at the MIT Museum is now supporting the following activity over the 2018-2021 period:

  • support for 4 lead science festivals, all with multiple years of experience, and selected by a competitive award process;
  • a mandate for the 4 leads to prioritize diversity issues, accompanied by evaluation support to measure any change in outcomes;
  • matching grants for 12 new, start up science festival initiatives, to be awarded at the end of 2019;
  • professional development support in 2020 for all 12 start up festivals; and
  • the systematic integration of the start up festivals into the larger Science Festival Alliance network.

The first year of running a new festival is adrenaline fueled: you do everything you can and see what sticks. The second year is all about fixing the mistakes you noticed in the second year. By the third, you are finally able to start to work really strategically. There are now many smaller-scale science festivals in the US that have been through this roller coaster ride. They are established enough to make diversity and inclusion issues their number one priority to systematically address, and the “Diversity First” version of the Science Festival Accelerator now provides the resources to do just that.


The Four Lead Festivals

In 2018, the Accelerator named it’s four lead festivals:

  • Flagstaff Festival of Science
  • Mississippi Science Festival
  • Sitka WhaleFest
  • Wisconsin Science Festival

These four are in the midst of developing and implementing customized diversity and inclusion plans. The project is not looking for leads to deliver a certain set of predesignated products, but is working with a team of advisors to help the festivals refine their own goals, and then assess their progress.


Become One of 12 New Start Up Festivals

As the four lead festivals gear up for their first baseline festival celebrations in the fall of 2019, SFA staff are gearing up for 12 new start up festivals. These 12 new start up festivals will be selected by competitive applications, and will receive, among other things:

  • $10,000 matching grants
  • An intensive 6 month course of professional development
  • The support of a mentor festival and cohort of other start ups

Stay tuned for start up application, coming this summer!


Follow Along As We Learn

It is our hope that at the end of this program, we will have a host of well-networked festival leaders prepared to guide and mentor other festivals in the process of building enduring relationships with and within diverse, underserved communities.

This Diversity First tool kit will grow with resources in the years to come, and it complements the existing Science Festival Accelerator tool kit (found here) and Small Resource Festival tookit, which each highlight resources related to starting festivals in communities with a relatively small resource base.


What We’re Reading:

We’re currently reading the following articles and encourage you to surface these as well. Of course this list will be evolving and growing so follow along to see what gets added. If you have suggestions for titles to add–especially if they’ve helped you make better production decisions for your science events–please share!

Dawson, E., (2017). Social justice and out-of-school science learning: Exploring equity in science television, science clubs and maker spaces. Science Eduaction. Vol 101 (4). pp. 539-547.

Dawson, E., (2013). “Not Designed for Us”: How Science Museums and Science Centers Socially Exclude Low-Income Minority Ethnic Groups. Science Education. Vol 98 (6). pp. 981-1008.

Dawson, E., (2014). Equity in informal science education: developing an access and equity framework for science museums and science centers. Studies in Science Education. Vol 50 (2). pp. 209 – 247.

Dawson, E., (2018). Reimagining publics and (non) participation: Exploring exclusion from science communication through the experiences of low-income, minority ethnic groups. Public Understanding of Science. Vol 27 (7). pp. 772-786.

Risien, J., Storksdieck, M., (2018). Unveiling Impact Identities: A Path for Connecting Science and Society. Integrative and Comparative Biology. Vol 58 (1). pp. 58-66.

Bevan, B., Calabrese, A., Garbiay, C., Ballard, M., Bell, J., (2018). Access Isn’t Enough. Dimensions. September-October 2018. pp. 26-29.

Chinn, P., (2006). Decolonizing Methodologies and Indigenous Knowledge: The Role of Culture, Place and Personal Experience in Professional Development. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. Vol 44 (9). pp 1247-1268.

Wellcome Trust. (2014). Experiments in Engagement: Engaging with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Science beyond the classroom. Online. Available at: https://dlcs.io/file/wellcome/1/ae259988-e69c-489b-af52-7bbc50149bbd#_ga=2.169370277.580087100.1562107657-1725591478.1562107657. [Last accessed 2 July 2019].


Resources from the AAM:

New Resources from the AAM around many DEAI topics. If you’re looking for support for your events, these are a great place to start reading and researching on how to start changing and improving practice within your institution. While the AAM is designing resources to try and change the path of museums, many of these are applicable to ISE as a whole and can be helpful to festivals and events.

Building Audiences;

Updates from the AAM around creative solutions in museums and informal education to building community with diverse audiences.

Resources around DEAI in Public Programs;

A whole list of resources to break out from all on the AAM site. These include resources on engaging with aging audiences, underserved or underrepresented audiences, LGBTQIA+ audiences, rural audiences and more.

Resources around DEAI in Governance and Board;

Diversifying your audience begins at the top and you can’t reflect your community needs without having those people being reflected in upper management and governance.

Staff Diversity;

Just like with trying to reflect the community in upper management, it’s important for front line staff to reflect the community you’re engaging with; these resources are around this topic and best practices for the sector.

Community Engagement;

Program development, inclusion tools, visitor voices, racial relations tools, a great place to start for actionable items to move forward with a new path for your event and festival.


Toolkit Resources


Science Events Spotlight #4

Just Add Science talks a lot about the power of 'just showing up'. That it's important to create a sense of presence in a community by BEING present. ...


Article [Off Site] - Building an evidence base for stakeholder engagement

This is an outstanding article in Science magazine about community stakeholder engagement. Hosted on the AAAS site/Science Magazine, we are hopeful th...



Science Festival Accelerator: Diversity First Application [Lead Festivals]

Application for lead festivals to apply to the program.


[Past/Closed] Call for Applications: Science Festival Accelerator: Diversity First LEADS

THIS GRANT IS NOW CLOSED FOR APPLICATIONS. THIS IS KEPT AS AN ARCHIVE ONLY.   We’re excited to announce the launch of the latest iteration o...


[Example] Needs Analysis/Needs Assessment

This is a final exam paper written by a student in a Science Communication and Public Engagement Masters program and is meant to be a Needs Analysis/N...



Diversity and Inclusion Plan

Outline and example of a diversity and inclusion plan and how to create one for a festival or event based around the one created by Princeton Universi...


Behavioral Code of Conduct I

During the 2019 Science Events Summit a round table of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion festival leads surfaced that one of the things ...


Behavioral Code of Conduct II

During the 2019 Science Events Summit a round table of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion festival leads surfaced that one of the things ...