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Science capital and the Science Museum Group

'The powerful concept of science capital can change the practice of the Science Museum Group and potentially that of many people involved in informal science learning.'
Tom O'Leary, Director of Learning SMG

The Science Museum Group's learning vision is 'to enrich the lives of a large and diverse audience by igniting their curiosity in science'.

With awe-inspiring authentic objects, cutting-edge science stories and hands-on activities, our museums celebrate and showcase the past, present and future of science and technology. We want people of all ages and backgrounds to have the opportunity to explore and engage with the wonders of science.

With this as our focus, we believe the concept of science capital can help us better fulfil our vision. You can see some of our work and tools that are in development here.

Science capital and museums

Museums and science centres are part of a learning ecology. We already know that people engage with us in different ways – or not at all. Science capital offers us a lens for understanding what influences our visitors' attitudes towards science, and the reasons for the differences in their engagement with science. It shows us the reasons why some people do or don't take part in the experiences we offer.

For example, the research highlights how visitors' cultural references and values can affect their attitudes about science. This makes them more or less likely to feel that the museum is a place for them, which influences their chance of getting something life-enhancing from their experience. We believe that we can use science capital principles to shape how we deliver our experiences throughout the museum, so that they are as equitable and accessible as possible.

If we can provide experiences that help more people make deeper connections with science by accessing the 'capital' they already have, we can help to change people's attitudes towards science in the long term. This will lead them to value it and to use it to improve and enrich their lives. Most importantly, we want to develop our experiences so that they do not perpetuate inequality in society, but instead offer something valuable to everyone.

Ultimately, we want to create environments where science is inspiring, interesting, enjoyable and beneficial to all our visitors. We also want to reach out and connect with people who aren't yet using us, in ways that value what they bring to the table.

Applying science capital research to our practice

Through the Enterprising Science project, the Science Museum Group has been exploring ways to apply a science capital approach for the informal learning sector and to integrate its principles into our everyday practice. It's a work in progress. To date, we are using the science capital concept to:

  • Audit and reflect on our current offer to help us recognise our strengths and to identify challenges and new opportunities in our existing offer
  • Using the dimensions of science capital to shape the development of new experiences
  • Review and redefine learning outcomes and what success looks like
  • Review and improve the support and information we provide for schools and families to maximize the learning opportunities of museum visits, including teacher CPD, museum resources and home and classroom activities
  • Dissemination workshops, seminars and online content for informal science learning practitioners

You can see some of our work and tools that are in development here

Transforming practice seminar and blog

In October 2015 we held our first 'Transforming Practice' seminar at the Science Museum to introduce the value of science capital research and our efforts to translate it into practice. Download a copy of the Transforming Practice seminar report here

We share our adventures and reflections of putting science capital into practice in our Transforming Practice blog and we welcome your contribution if you are also working to integrate the concept in your organisation.

For further information please contact us at: learningresources@sciencemuseum.ac.uk