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New toolbox helps scientists measure impact science communication

Scientists regularly appear in the media. They participate in science cafés, write a popular-science book or visit school classes. In that way, they want to convey their knowledge and enthusiasm to society. But do they succeed? To answer that question, a new website is launched, with a toolbox full of instruments to evaluate the effect of science communication activities.

‘We noticed that scientists struggle with the question of what their activities bring about in visitors or listeners. Do they learn something, do they get more enthusiastic, or do they think more positively about science? All are important outcomes of science communication, but it is often not clear if scientists reach these goals,’ researcher Ward Peeters explains. ‘These scientists and organizers of science events are asking for some sort of support.’

Toolbox as an overarching measuring device

To fulfil this need, Impactlab was created. It consists of researcher Anne Land of Leiden University, Madelijn Strick of Utrecht University, and Ward Peeters, associated with both universities. They developed a toolbox for scientists for the Nationale Wetenschapsagenda (Dutch Science Agenda). The box consists of various measuring instruments originating from social sciences and can be found on the Impactlab website. For now, the toolbox is made in Dutch, even though an English version will be made eventually. 

Professor visiting a primary school in february 2020

The recipe for a successful event

‘On the one side, the toolbox helps individual scientists to measure the impact of their projects,’ Strick says. By evaluating to which extend you have reached your goals during a public activity, you can improve the project step by step. Land gives an example: ‘If you notice that a festival to attract people to science for the very first time, instead is visited by people already interested in science, you know you have to reach your target audience differently next time.’
Strick continues: ‘On the other side, Impactlab will look for patterns and similarities if we combine results of many different projects. In this way, we hope to conclude what makes a project a success.’ To achieve this, they collaborate with honored projects of the NWA and the KNAW-program Gewaardeerd!

Looking like a real professor on the International Women and Girls in Science Day

Target audience, form and influence

‘Now that we have launched the toolbox on our website, all Dutch researchers can use our measuring instruments,’ Peeters says. Additionally, researchers can use a standard measurement for their activity, that can easily be compared with similar events. It looks at which target audience is reached and how the activity has influenced the participants generally.
Also, there is a variety of so-called precision instruments. This enables researchers to look at their activities more specifically. It helps them reach the right audience, think about the form of the activity and the goals of the activity. For example, the toolbox contains ideas on how to test the impression you left on visitors by using short interviews, so-called vox pops. Or how to integrate an evaluation into an event easily by working with a post-it wall. By asking a few questions, the toolbox guides you to the most useful instrument.

Measure your own impact

Now that the toolbox is accessible for everyone, Impactlab hopes many researchers will use it to evaluate their outreach activities. In the coming year, they expect to research the usability of the toolbox and simultaneously improve the quality of science communication in the Netherlands. Researchers interested in measuring the impact of their public activities, find all necessary information, instructions and support in the toolbox on Impactlab’s website.

Visit the website and toolbox of Impactlab
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