Science in Places of Grandeur: Communication and Engagement in National Parks

Science in Places of Grandeur: Communication and Engagement in National Parks Abstract The USA has set aside over 400 national parks and other protected areas to be managed by the National Park Service (NPS). Collectively, these sites attract over 300 million visits per year which makes the NPS one of the largest informal education institutions in the country. Because the NPS supports and facilitates scientific studies in parks, the national park system provides abundant opportunity for biologists and other scientists to engage global audiences in learning, exploring, and even conducting science. Those opportunities are best pursued through collaborations among scientists and the professional communication staff (interpreters, educators, media specialists, etc.) of parks and their partner organizations. This article describes unique opportunities and rationale for such collaborations, presents several examples that highlight the range of activities and lessons drawn from them, and invites scientists to conduct studies in parks and bring their science into the public eye. Communicating science to public audiences and engaging those audiences in science is a grand challenge for modern society. Scientists support efforts to do so because of the rapid pace of scientific advancements and the need for people to integrate science with personal values when making important life and policy decisions. Communicating science well can be difficult and requires particular skills (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2017) so collaborations between scientists and professional communicators are valuable. Given that opportunities to learn science are abundant in out-of-school settings over the course of our lives (National Research Council 2009; Falk and Dierking 2010; Fenichel and Schweingruber 2010) informal learning environments (i.e., media and settings like museums, parks, zoos, and after-school programs) are important venues for scientists to collaborate with professional communicators. We contend that national parks in the USA are ideal places for such collaboration. They are similar to field stations, long-term ecological research sites, and experimental forests and ranges in that they host thousands of research projects. But national parks receive many more visitors and their mission includes communicating to and engaging with those visitors. Park staff include professional interpreters, educators, and other communicators who serve that mission. Scientists therefore can conduct research in national parks and collaborate with staff to communicate their science or engage the public through a variety of means. Park audiences—including resource managers, school groups, local residents, and the visiting public—actively seek scientific information and welcome opportunities to learn and experience science in parks (Beard and Thompson 2012; Thompson et al. 2013). Science communication and engagement in science in informal settings is a mature field with its own funding streams (e.g., National Science Foundation’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings), syntheses (e.g., National Research Council 2009; Fenichel and Schweingruber 2010), strategic frameworks and guidelines (e.g., Shirk et al. 2012; Bell et al. 2017), and institutional centers. We still have much to learn, as described in the research agenda laid out by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017). Moreover, while there is some recent literature on effective interpretation and communication in US national parks and other federally protected lands (Stern et al. 2010; Beard and Thompson 2012; Stern and Powell 2013; Thompson et al 2013), it is not focused on science communication and engagement per se. Scientists who communicate or engage the public in their field research in national parks therefore have the opportunity to make additional contributions to our understanding of effective practice in these places. Here we describe how scientists can collaboratively conduct, communicate, and engage the public in research in US national parks. We begin with an overview of national parks’ unique value as venues for such activity. We follow that with examples from parks that span a range of methods (from explaining science to an audience to engaging an audience with science; Bell et al. 2017), audiences (general public, teachers, etc.), and scientist roles, and then draw together some lessons that apply generally. We end with comments on the promising future of science communication in national parks and on the emotional values that scientific discovery and national parks have in common. Throughout, we explore four key messages for scientists interested in bringing their research into the public eye. First, national parks are exceptionally valuable places for research and science outreach. Second, the National Park Service (NPS) has programs and mechanisms to support the work of scientists, including channels for scientists to initiate and grow research and outreach programs. Third, park staff have expertise, ability, and willingness to support the full range of outreach activities. And fourth, scientists can collaborate with park staff as we collectively seek to ensure that research informs management and increases public awareness, understanding, and appreciation for national parks and for science. As we previously alluded, not enough is known about science learning in national parks, including the roles of scientists themselves. The NPS wants and needs to understand more. Parks for research, communication, and engagement The NPS actively conducts and welcomes research by its own staff, other government scientists, and academic researchers (Sauvajot 2016). Its policy is to use best available science to inform management, encourage research studies, cooperate with educational and scientific institutions, and provide facilities and assistance to researchers (National Park Service 2006). It applies this policy to the 417 units (national parks, monuments, seashores, lakeshores, battlefields, historic sites, etc.) across all US states and territories. Given this policy regarding science and the legal mandate of the NPS to preserve places “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations,” national parks are permanently protected long-term research sites with documented natural, cultural, and management history. That documentation includes research reports, data, field notes, maps, specimens, and other records maintained in museums and archives and searchable online (irma.nps.gov, museum.nps.gov, and npgallery.nps.gov). To study in national parks, researchers must submit proposals and apply for permits (irma.nps.gov/RPRS), a process that begins relationships with park resource managers, research coordinators, and interpreters. In 2017 the NPS issued 2990 research permits. Topics ranged widely across social sciences (e.g., visitor use patterns), cultural sciences (zooarchaeology of ancestral Puebloan settlements), earth sciences (snow persistence and alpine stream hydrology), ecology (faunal responses to rapid climate change), evolutionary biology (zooplankton speciation), and so on. Several permits were also issued for educational purposes like undergraduate field courses, macroinvertebrate inventories and water quality testing by high school students, and collection of fish specimens for educational displays at a public aquarium. In addition to being places for research, national parks have unique value for communication and public engagement with science. They are among the most inspiring and unique places in the world, and have been set aside for all people to enjoy. They are sources of pleasure and thus are exemplary places of “learning for fun” (Packer 2006). When visitors to a park encounter science that helps inform that park’s—their park’s—preservation, they have the chance to understand the science and discover its relevance to their lives—a phenomenon known best from research in science museums, centers, zoos, aquariums, and other places where people expect to encounter science (Schwan et al. 2014). Scientists who conduct research in national parks therefore can place their science directly into a personal and civic context and engage a highly interested and receptive audience who are experiencing positive emotions (National Research Council 2009; Rogoff et al. 2016). The thousands of NPS interpreters and other communication professionals draw on special attributes of parks to help visitors build emotional and intellectual connections to these places (Stern et al. 2010; Larsen 2011). They are experts at telling stories in person and through media that enrich the visitor’s experience. The services they provide likely contribute to the consistently high ranking of the NPS among federal agencies in polls of the American public (Pew Research Center 2015). The combination of emotionally appealing public places, well-liked communicators, and breadth of geography and natural–cultural systems available for in situ research is not found among zoos, aquariums, museums, after-school programs, or other informal education settings. With over 300 million visits annually, plus over 90 million web visitors and several million social media followers, the NPS in collaboration with scientists has tremendous potential to foster science learning worldwide. Programs to support research and public engagement in parks Most national parks work with scientists on research and communication activities. The relationships that are established through the permit process enable every permitted scientist to express or respond to interest in communicating science to various audiences. Scientists can use the application form to propose standalone education and outreach activities (e.g., teaching a class) or communication components of a research project. A park may even make outreach and communication a condition of the permit. The NPS has established two programs that facilitate research and science communication beyond the relationships established through the permitting system. Research Learning Centers (RLCs—nps.gov/rlc) are located in several parks across the country. Their staff assist with all aspects of science from proposal development through the conduct of research and communication of results. Most RLCs provide housing, work space, computer network access, access to publications and collections, logistic support, and some equipment. Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (CESUs—cesu.org) facilitate research, education, and technical assistance partnerships among federal agencies and US universities and other non-government organizations. They enable scientists to learn about research opportunities in parks and move federal funds to scientists for projects that meet park needs. The NPS employs research coordinators who work at the CESU host universities and regularly match parks with institutions or individual scientists to collaborate on projects. A typology and examples of science communication and engagement in parks Storksdieck et al. (2016) created a typology of approaches to public engagement with science that can help scientists and other practitioners align their actions with their goals, skills, and interests. The typology uses a set of variables to distinguish among approaches: size, structure, form and depth of engagement, the dominance and authority of the scientist versus others in the audience, interactions between scientists and participants, etc. National parks host science communication and engagement activities that span much of the range described in the typology. Below, we provide examples that illustrate the range from “low hanging fruit” of explaining science to an audience to the “high-hanging fruit” of engaging an audience via contributory citizen science. All our examples illustrate behaviors and attitudes that Storksdieck et al. (2016) identify as critically important: a genuine curiosity about the public; the willingness to listen and learn from audience members; an ability to perceive and respond to the audience’s need for information and detail; and a willingness to make personal connections with audience members. Those behaviors and attitudes are exhibited to one degree or another by scientists; they are also elicited, fostered, and mediated by NPS communications professionals whose knowledge and skills complement those of the scientists. Example 1: Contributing to science communication by others Scientists can advise, review, or otherwise contribute to products made by NPS communications staff. Such collaboration can take little time investment, may be done in or out of a park (e.g., from one’s office), and may not require specialized communication skills beyond the writing, reviewing, and speaking that scientists already perform daily. One example is a US Forest Service bat ecologist doing research in Congaree National Park who fact-checked and reviewed summary documents the park’s RLC staff had created for public audiences about her research (nps.gov/rlc/ogbfrec/bat-research.htm). She also presents occasionally to park staff and the public during a casual seminar series in the visitor’s center. A second example involves biologists from the University of California who conduct research in Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks and Point Reyes National Seashore. They explained their studies on camera for short videos about ocean acidification and species range shifts. The videos were produced by one of us (T.W.) and an undergraduate student for online distribution to the general public (nps.gov/climatechange) and NPS interpreters who were being professionally trained in climate change communication. The scientists were brought to our attention by the CESU research coordinator and RLC staff who liaise regularly with UC faculty. Both of these examples emphasize traditional communication of science to audiences rather than two-way engagement of audiences with science (Bell et al. 2017), though some engagement and mutual learning occurred during the live seminars and during the video production process. In the typology of Storksdieck et al. (2016), these examples involve small group sizes, in-person and online forms of engagement, an overt science focus, the dominance of the scientist’s voice, and heterogeneous adult audiences. Beyond measured outputs (e.g., numbers of attendees at seminars, web article pageviews, or video plays), the NPS and collaborating scientists know little about the impact of their communication on audiences’ knowledge or attitudes about science or parks. Example 2: Scheduled public outreach event in a park A “higher-hanging fruit” opportunity involves engaging public audiences directly through an outreach event planned, organized, and directed by park interpreters and other communicators. Some parks offer science festivals and related outreach events during which scientists can engage visitors. For example, at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, RLC staff organize “Indiana Dunes, Science, and YOU!” on a Friday for school groups, and again on Saturday for the general public. On both days, scientists present their research in an auditorium with discussion moderated by RLC staff. The sessions with school groups also include discussions about what it is like to be a scientist. After the presentations the scientists take participants, with staff and teachers, into the park where they elaborate on their research, demonstrate field methods, and guide participants in using equipment and collecting data. Topics have included the processes of dune movement, bacterial contamination of Lake Michigan beaches, and the preservation of a federally threatened plant species. Because these topics are related to conservation of the park and to the visitors’ enjoyment of it, they are germane to the interests of local residents who frequent the park. To conduct this event, NPS communicators and scientists spend a few hours preparing and collaborating in advance. The RLC staff recruit scientists who they know are good communicators and whose research is inherently interesting to the public. They provide specific guidance and skill-development for communicating with adult and teen audiences, support for field activities, and feedback on draft presentations and plans. The scientists create their presentations and field activities, organize field equipment and supplies, and share their enthusiasm for research. Compared with Example 1, face-to-face outreach described here is an example of engaging the public with science rather than simply communicating science to the public. In the Storksdieck et al. (2016) typology, this event involves larger audiences, is done in-person with a balance of scientist and public voices, involves more support from the communications expert, and engages the audience through demonstrations, data collection, and field expeditions. Consistent with the professional craft of NPS interpreters and science communicators, this face-to-face activity is at heart a dialog in which “publics and scientists both benefit from listening to and learning from one another” (Bell et al. 2017). While rigorous evaluation and research on outcomes has not been conducted, feedback from participating scientists and teachers reveals that this type of event allows the public to talk and share views about how they relate to science, and the scientists to develop and refine their communication skills. Example 3: Planning for communication in a research project The previous examples illustrate science communication and public engagement that emerges after a research project is underway or complete. Communication can also be intentionally included, and funded, in a research project from the outset. Doing so entails sustained collaboration between scientists and communications experts, delineation of roles, and recognition of each other’s expertise. “Changing Tides” is a three-year study of how brown bears forage and use resources in the intertidal zones at Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks in Alaska (nps.gov/katm/learn/changing-tides.htm). It involves biologists from NPS, US Geological Survey, Washington State University, and other institutions and science communication experts from the RLC that serves the two parks. The communications work was supported by undergraduate communications interns hired by the RLC who collectively provided direction and guidance to senior scientists and graduate student researchers. Because the parks are remote the team developed digital products: the project website with links to a “scientist in the field” blog and an interactive story map, emailed newsletters, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and a live online chat with project biologists. These resources were also incorporated into a high school teacher training workshop conducted by RLC staff with involvement of the lead scientist. The RLC staff led all communications activities during the project and had co-PI status. The biologists collaborated by responding to draft communication plans, advising on key science messages, and accommodating communication logistics. They sat for video interviews, wrote blog entries, fact-checked newsletters, explained their science and offered stories from the field in the teacher workshop, and provided datasets that teachers and students use in class. With the exception of the teacher’s workshop, communication was mostly unidirectional. In the typology of Storksdieck et al. (2016), the audience was very large and heterogeneous, the engagement was online, the focus was overtly scientific, the voice and authority was centered on the scientist rather than the public, and the research was basic but with strong implied societal dimensions (e.g., conservation of an iconic and economically valuable species). The live online chat, Facebook posts, and blog comments allowed some synchronous and asynchronous two-way conversation with public audiences. Impacts of the web-distributed products (as opposed to outputs like number of pageviews) were not assessed. Teachers at the workshop placed very high value on the products and indicated they would use them in their teaching. They also specifically valued the presentation by one of the scientists, the opportunity to get to know him, and to hear his stories about his professional life as a field researcher (J. Pfeiffenberger, personal communication). Example 4: Training and practice in science communication In 2016, NPS partnered with the Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Schoodic Institute (a close science partner of Acadia National Park) in launching the Second Century Stewardship initiative (SCSParkScience.org) to encourage science that informs conservation decisions and engages the public. It provides early-career scientists (Ph.D. students, post-docs, and junior faculty) with three benefits: (1) competitive funding for innovative research in national parks; (2) training and opportunities to enhance learning and engagement of students, educators, and the broader public; and (3) opportunities to inspire and inform stewardship of our natural and cultural heritage. The initiative began at Acadia National Park and will expand to more parks in the near future. A key feature of the program is a workshop (with about 25 attendees in 2017) that provides research fellows, NPS staff, and professionals from partner organizations with training in a variety of communication methods—presenting to the public; writing magazine articles and blogs; recording podcasts; posting social media with the hashtag #ParkScience; creating videos; and briefing officials. Outside experts (e.g., professional video producers, social media experts, and public affairs officers) provide specific training, and the fellows bring their own expertise, curiosity, and enthusiasm. The intent is not that all attendees become proficient in all of the skills, but rather that they get exposed to them and then focus on the techniques and media most appropriate for their interests, abilities, and goals. Most of the attendees in 2017, for example, did not have Twitter or Instagram accounts before the workshop, nor had they written blog posts or recorded videos about their work. All of the fellows said that the workshop turned them on to communication strategies they would not have considered before (e.g., videos and social media), and they are all communicating much more now than they would have without the workshop. These workshops do not directly engage the public, but rather give selected participants the skills to communicate and engage the public in science using methods across the typology of Storksdieck et al. (2016)—big or small programs, in-person or remote engagement, and in-depth or minimal engagement (e.g., citizen science or a tweet). One important aspect of public engagement with science is the practice and refinement of scientists’ own communication skills (Bell et al. 2017), which is an explicit goal of the SCS initiative. Example 5: Citizen science in parks The Dragonfly Mercury Project (DMP: nature.nps.gov/air/Studies/air_toxics/dragonfly/) is a citizen science initiative focused on accumulation of airborne mercury in aquatic biota. Scientists from the University of Maine, US Geological Survey, and the NPS collaborate with park staff who lead citizen scientists (mostly middle and high school groups, as well as community volunteers; Fig. 1) in collecting dragonfly larvae and submitting them for mercury analysis. The DMP began in 2012 as the feasibility of citizen science became more apparent and as new technology enabled inexpensive analysis of tissue mercury (e.g., Nelson et al. 2015; Eagles-Smith et al. 2016). The project launched in 11 national parks and has grown to involve more than 90 parks and 3000 citizen scientists nationwide. Fig. 1 View largeDownload slide A wide range of local participants was engaged in the dragonfly citizen science project through national and local partners. TRT, teacher ranger teacher; SCA, student conservation association; YCC, youth conservation corps; GIP, geoscientists in parks; TNC, the nature conservancy. Courtesy of Maine Policy Review. Reprinted with permission. Fig. 1 View largeDownload slide A wide range of local participants was engaged in the dragonfly citizen science project through national and local partners. TRT, teacher ranger teacher; SCA, student conservation association; YCC, youth conservation corps; GIP, geoscientists in parks; TNC, the nature conservancy. Courtesy of Maine Policy Review. Reprinted with permission. The DMP started in response to State and Federal funding for science teacher professional development in Maine. It is now funded by the NPS, with individual parks paying for materials and supplies needed to participate. Based on relationships cultivated during a decade of research in Acadia National Park, one of us (S.J.N.) collaborated with Schoodic Institute and teachers across northern New England to develop and test protocols for sampling aquatic invertebrates, resulting in a co-created pilot effort (Shirk et al. 2012). Subsequent collaboration with NPS Air Resources Division experts enabled us to expand to additional parks and engage more scientists to extend the scope and capabilities of the research team. As the project expanded to ∼25 national parks, it became more of a collaborative model (Shirk et al. 2012), in which staff at those parks helped refine communication and outreach materials. The DMP adapts Zoellick et al.’s (2012) framework for formal science education to the informal setting of national parks: scientists and NPS staff share roles in the project’s design and implementation, but their goals and desired outcomes diverge. NPS goals often focus on connecting people to parks whereas scientists’ goals focus on collecting and interpreting data. Citizen science collection events allow both scientists and park staff to share the implementation of this program, and yield outcomes that are meaningful for scientists, citizens, and the parks. Parks commonly report success at getting kids outside, which meets those parks’ biodiversity discovery goal (Flanagan Pritz and Nelson 2017). And the scientists benefit because without local citizens who collect samples, they would not be able to get data from 90+ parks around the country. In the typology of Storksdieck et al. (2016), the DMP generally exemplifies more intensive interactions: small groups are engaged in-person by a professional practitioner and/or scientist for several hours to a day (or days) in collecting, identifying, and preparing samples. The activity is overtly about science, with groups ranging across ages and genders (Flanagan Pritz and Nelson 2017), and with interactions that generally allow for all voices to be heard and questions to be asked by participants. In many ways, the DMP is an example of public participation in research (i.e., co-production of knowledge). It deviates from the example in Storksdieck (2016) in that communication with the public is mediated by NPS staff in most cases. However, many NPS staff who participate in the project and lead citizen groups in the field are themselves scientists, or have training and degrees in science. Lessons learned From the examples above we extract some lessons about science communication in parks and factors that promote successful collaborations between biologists and NPS staff and partners. Readers may identify and draw additional meanings. Researchers in parks may encounter visitors who ask them about their work:Even if public outreach is not part of a study plan, scientists should talk in advance with park staff about responding to public interest. The bat ecologist working in Congaree, for example, often speaks with visitors who are curious about her radio telemetry equipment. She embraces the unplanned outreach opportunities and collaborates with RLC and park staff to make the most of them. Often researchers in parks cite these interactions as unexpected bonuses—positive interactions with park visitors reinforce the value of their work and expertise. Such interactions can carry a cost, however, as they can disrupt field work if they are too frequent. The key is to communicate clearly with the public and get park staff assistance on managing visitors’ engagement. The SCS initiative provides fellows with training on how to manage such unplanned interactions without compromising their ability to do their research. Success in outreach may depend on the relationships that scientists and park staff establish: Not all scientists are skilled at communicating with the public. Research on interpretation in national parks (Stern and Powell 2013) shows that positive outcomes for visitors are correlated with program qualities (e.g., good organization, relevance to audience, links to intangible ideas and emotions) and presenter qualities (e.g., confidence, authentic emotion, humor) that require training and practice. NPS communicators have and routinely employ those qualities. When good relationships allow those qualities to be combined with the deep content knowledge, enthusiasm, and other characteristics of scientists, communication and engagement is successful. The complex and well-received products of the Changing Tides project were possible because the RLC communications staff and research scientists related as co-equal professionals and collaborated in all phases of the project. A similar set of co-equal and complementary roles existed among scientists and park interpretive staff in the DMP project. Building the collaborative relationships takes time (including time away from research) but the payoffs are proportional if not greater. Planning for communication and engagement is important, and it is probably safe to err on the side of too much planning: Both the RLC staff and scientists in the events at Indiana Dunes realized afterward that more practice with public speaking and “dry run” demonstrations in the field would have improved the program, but each was hesitant to take up the other’s time before the event. But in a good relationship, all parties can push for detailed information and preparedness without worrying about impinging on each other. It is important to match goals, audiences, and methods: Researchers in parks commonly file reports with NPS, contribute to brief summaries of their work, or give general talks to park staff, academic audiences, or the public. Where the goal is to inform the awareness or behavior of particular audiences—e.g., to make local residents aware of the damage that non-native plants cause and see the value of planting native species, or to inspire science-interested visitors to participate in citizen science activities in the park and at home—other more targeted communication methods are more effective. Communicating with local residents about exotic and native plants might involve giving talks at garden clubs. Recruiting for citizen science might involve attention-getting posters, instructional and inspirational videos, and social media posts with updates on research. Different audiences are interested in different aspects of science and turn to different media for information. Scientists and/or communication professionals (ideally both, working together) need to define their audiences, desired outcomes, and select engagement practices accordingly. The collaboration is important, as NPS staff and academic scientists may have different connections, knowledge, and skills to reach different audiences in different ways. Audiences may want to do science more than listen to people explain science: Teachers who brought their classes to Indiana Dunes specifically pointed this out on evaluation forms when recommending a smaller ratio of lecturing to field work. And the scientists realized afterward that they needed more advice from RLC staff on actively engaging the public in the field and refining their communication skills. All professional participants in that case—communications experts, scientists, and teachers—have a role to play in fostering active, hands-on learning in parks. Doing science rather than hearing about it takes more time but the interests and rewards are great. The DMP leaders soon discovered that sampling events often continued past the published ending time. Students were reluctant to stop searching for invertebrates; parents and teachers asked scientists follow-up questions about what happens with samples sent to USGS laboratories, about mercury, and about food webs. As one teacher helped a student use calipers to measure larvae, other students observed dragonfly feeding behaviors and pressed the teacher for information on food webs. This teacher called it “One of the best teaching days of my life.” Observing, developing questions out of natural curiosity, and testing concepts about how the world works are the foundation of the scientific enterprise—and these students genuinely experienced it through a project that sent them into the water to look closely at a new ecosystem, and with a teacher who was ready to provide answers and seed new questions. Audiences like insight into scientists as real people: Biologists who tell stories about their research reveal not only the methods, results, and significance of their work; they also reveal themselves as interested, animated, passionate human beings who do exciting things. Teachers at the Changing Tides workshop said their students would love to Skype the bear biologists and follow their projects on social media—that is, to establish relationships with them, see what their lives are like, and understand who they are and what motivates them. Students at the Indiana Dunes events were asked in advance to describe character traits of scientists; Curious, Intelligent, Inquisitive, and Observant were among the most-used terms. Scientists at the event talked in person about how they embody those characteristics. Communication may take a lot of work: The Second Century Stewardship initiative requires all fellows to budget for at least 80 h of communication work (in addition to a 3-day communication workshop) during their 1- or 2-year fellowships. Many applicants are initially surprised by that requirement, but once in the program, realize that it is an underestimate—recording, editing, and producing videos, or polishing a good talk or popular article, or keeping up with social media all takes time. It is important that researchers recognize this and budget accordingly at the beginning of projects, especially those with goals like improving management or education. The impacts of science communication and public engagement with science in parks need rigorous study: As we previously noted, research on informal science learning in national parks is generally missing from an otherwise vast literature. Typically, we measure outputs—like how many interpreters have viewed videos about climate change science in the course of their training—or gain some feedback on what participants get out of an outreach event. There is little rigorous evaluation of outcomes like changing participants’ understanding of science, attitudes about science, desire to learn more science, etc. As a federal agency, the NPS has reduced leeway to survey the public and assess such outcomes. Academic researchers (including social scientists who could collaborate with natural scientists in studying the efficacy of science communication and public engagement) have more leeway to study outcomes. This is a rich and untapped area of cross-disciplinary research. Conclusion and prospects Over the past 100 years, interpreters, educators, and other communicators in the NPS have become experts at informing visitors about the unique resources (e.g., the world’s tallest trees) found in national parks. They have consistently mastered and applied the art of explaining the significance of resources, helping visitors find personal meaning in them, and inspiring people to care about these protected places (Larsen 2011). Communicating the science through which we understand these unique places and resources, however, is a relatively new role. It is one that the NPS is increasingly embracing and refining. Interpreters and other communicators now communicate both the results and the processes of science—i.e., not just what we know about the tallest trees, but also how we know it. Relevant messages include: How is science done? How do scientists connect evidence to conclusions? How do scientists change their view of the world as a result of doing research? What do scientists not know, and what do they debate? What value do visitors place on science in their lives? Interpreters engage visitors in these and other ideas through audience-centered techniques that are similar to what some faculty use in classrooms. They tell stories about scientists to convey the content, excitement, and meaning of science. They collaborate on citizen science and other forms of participatory learning. They prompt visitors through dialog to wonder, explore, and pose their own questions about data, graphs, and models. Like many faculty, interpreters are transitioning from “the sage on the stage to the guide on the side.” Given this change in interpretation, scientists have endless opportunities to share their experience and collaborate with the NPS in developing, testing, and refining science communication and engagement in parks. The “Science as a Way of Knowing” initiative of the SICB (Moore 1984) highlights integrative and comparative biologists’ innovative thinking about science education. Although it is 35 years old, it offers timeless ideas and common language that enable biologists and interpreters to tap the science education potential of national parks for the next 100 years. We close with a question that is implicit to our essay: why is science worth understanding and experiencing? Apart from the economic and democratic reasons we alluded to at the start, there is at least one humanistic reason and it has much in common with national parks. Charles Darwin expressed it when he concluded The Origin of Species with an ode to science: There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. We think all integrative and comparative biologists would agree that this view of life does contain grandeur, and likely even more. Dawkins (2003) extended Darwin’s idea: “There is more than just grandeur in this view of life … . There is deep refreshment to be had from standing up full-face into the keen wind of understanding (p. 13).” Furthermore, “The real world, properly understood in the scientific way, is deeply beautiful and unfailingly interesting. It’s worth putting in some honest effort to understand it properly, undistracted by false wonder and prostituted pseudoscience (p. 43).” These words—grandeur, beautiful, wonderful—point to aesthetic and emotional values of scientific experience outside the practical value of scientific knowledge. Those emotional values invite and reward the intellectual pursuit of science and we suspect they have accompanied and sustained every scientist’s educational and professional life in science. They are worth sharing. National parks offer everyone the chance to experience the unique grandeur, beauty, and wonder of natural features like Yosemite Valley and to connect with shared human experience in cultural landscapes like Gettysburg or Ellis Island. Surely they offer as well the chance to experience the grandeur, beauty, wonder, and human experience of science. The future is bright as more and more scientists come to parks and collaborate with NPS staff to make their science part of the visitors’ experience. Acknowledgments We thank M. Byappanahalli, M. Nevers, J. Pfeiffenberger, D. Shelley, W. Smith, and S. Thurston for invaluable information about their science outreach and engagement examples in parks. We thank M. Storksdieck, J. Thompson, M. Stern, and J. Dennis for helpful discussions and suggestions about the manuscript, including references to published literature. We thank several anonymous reviewers for their comments that greatly improved this manuscript. The views in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily of the NPS. Funding This work was supported by the National Park Service, the US Geological Survey-NPS Water Quality Partnership, and the University of Maine. References Beard CA , Thompson JL. 2012 . Engaging visitors in climate change communication: a case study of southern Florida’s national parks and wildlife refuges . Appl Environ Educ Commun 11 : 25 – 34 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bell L , Lowenthal C , Sittenfeld D , Todd K , Pfeifle S , Kollmann EK. 2017 . Public engagement with science: a guide to creating conversations among publics and scientists for mutual learning and societal decision-making . Boston : Museum of Science . Dawkins R. 2003 . A devil’s chaplain . Boston : Mariner Books . Eagles-Smith CA , Ackerman JT , Willacker JJ , Tate MT , Lutz MA , Fleck JA , Stewart AR , Wiener JG , Evers DC , Lepak JM , et al. . 2016 . Spatial and temporal patterns of mercury concentrations in freshwater fish across the Western United States and Canada . Sci Total Environ 568 : 1171 – 84 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Falk JH , Dierking LD. 2010 . The 95 percent solution . Am Sci 98 : 486 – 93 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Fenichel M , Schweingruber HA. 2010 . Surrounded by science: learning science in informal environments. Board on science education, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education . Washington, DC : The National Academies Press . Flanagan Pritz C , Nelson SJ. 2017 . Collecting data on Charismatic Mini-Fauna: public participation and the dragonfly mercury project . Maine Policy Rev 26 : 50 – 4 . Larsen DL. 2011 . Meaningful interpretation: how to connect hearts and minds to places, objects, and other resources . 2nd ed . Fort Washington: Eastern National . Moore JA. 1984 . Science as a way of knowing—evolutionary biology . Am Zool 24 : 467 – 534 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine . 2017 . Communicating science effectively: a research agenda . Washington, DC : The National Academies Press . National Park Service . 2006 . Management policies 2006 . Washington, DC : National Park Service . National Research Council . 2009 . Learning science in informal environments: people, places, and pursuits. In: Bell P, Lewenstein B, Shouse AW, Feder MA, editors. Committee on learning science in informal environments. Board on Science Education, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press. Nelson SJ , Webber HM , Flanagan Pritz CM. 2015 . Citizen scientists study mercury in dragonfly larvae: dragonfly larvae provide baseline data to evaluate mercury in parks nationwide. Natural Resource Report Series NPS/NRSS/ARD/NRR—2015/938. Fort Collins, CO: National Park Service. Packer J. 2006 . Learning for fun: the unique contribution of educational leisure experiences . Curator 49 : 329 – 44 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pew Research Center . 2015 . Beyond distrust: how Americans view their government. Washington DC: Pew Research Center. Rogoff B , Callanan M , Gutierrez KD , Erickson F. 2016 . The organization of informal learning . Rev Res Educ 40 : 356 – 401 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sauvajot RM. 2016 . Science for our National Parks’ second century: a view from the top . Ecosphere 7 : e01607 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Schwan S , Grajal A , Lewalter D. 2014 . Understanding and engagement in places of science experience: science museums, science centers, zoos, and aquariums . Educ Psychol 49 : 70 – 85 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Shirk, JL, Ballard HL, Wilderman CC, Phillips T, Wiggins A, Jordan R, McCallie E, Minarchek, M, Lewenstein BV, Krasny ME, et al. 2012. Public participation in scientific research: a framework for deliberate design. Ecology and Society 17:29. Stern MJ , Powell RB. 2013 . What leads to better visitor outcomes in live interpretation? J Interpret Res 18 : 9 – 43 . Stern MJ , Powell RB , Cook C. 2010 . The benefits of live interpretive programs to Great Smoky Mountains National Park . Park Sci 27 : 62 – 6 . Storksdieck M , Stylinski C , Bailey D. 2016 . Typology for public engagement with science: a conceptual framework for public engagement involving scientists . Corvallis, OR : Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning . Thompson J , Davis S , Mullen K. 2013 . Climate change communication campaign planning: using audience research to inform design . George Wright Forum 30 : 182 – 9 . Zoellick B , Nelson S , Schauffler M. 2012 . Participatory science and participatory education: bringing both views into focus . Front Ecol Environ 10 : 310 – 3 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology 2018. This work is written by US Government employees and is in the public domain in the US. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Integrative and Comparative Biology Oxford University Press

Science in Places of Grandeur: Communication and Engagement in National Parks

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Oxford University Press
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Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology 2018. This work is written by US Government employees and is in the public domain in the US.
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1540-7063
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Abstract

Abstract The USA has set aside over 400 national parks and other protected areas to be managed by the National Park Service (NPS). Collectively, these sites attract over 300 million visits per year which makes the NPS one of the largest informal education institutions in the country. Because the NPS supports and facilitates scientific studies in parks, the national park system provides abundant opportunity for biologists and other scientists to engage global audiences in learning, exploring, and even conducting science. Those opportunities are best pursued through collaborations among scientists and the professional communication staff (interpreters, educators, media specialists, etc.) of parks and their partner organizations. This article describes unique opportunities and rationale for such collaborations, presents several examples that highlight the range of activities and lessons drawn from them, and invites scientists to conduct studies in parks and bring their science into the public eye. Communicating science to public audiences and engaging those audiences in science is a grand challenge for modern society. Scientists support efforts to do so because of the rapid pace of scientific advancements and the need for people to integrate science with personal values when making important life and policy decisions. Communicating science well can be difficult and requires particular skills (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2017) so collaborations between scientists and professional communicators are valuable. Given that opportunities to learn science are abundant in out-of-school settings over the course of our lives (National Research Council 2009; Falk and Dierking 2010; Fenichel and Schweingruber 2010) informal learning environments (i.e., media and settings like museums, parks, zoos, and after-school programs) are important venues for scientists to collaborate with professional communicators. We contend that national parks in the USA are ideal places for such collaboration. They are similar to field stations, long-term ecological research sites, and experimental forests and ranges in that they host thousands of research projects. But national parks receive many more visitors and their mission includes communicating to and engaging with those visitors. Park staff include professional interpreters, educators, and other communicators who serve that mission. Scientists therefore can conduct research in national parks and collaborate with staff to communicate their science or engage the public through a variety of means. Park audiences—including resource managers, school groups, local residents, and the visiting public—actively seek scientific information and welcome opportunities to learn and experience science in parks (Beard and Thompson 2012; Thompson et al. 2013). Science communication and engagement in science in informal settings is a mature field with its own funding streams (e.g., National Science Foundation’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings), syntheses (e.g., National Research Council 2009; Fenichel and Schweingruber 2010), strategic frameworks and guidelines (e.g., Shirk et al. 2012; Bell et al. 2017), and institutional centers. We still have much to learn, as described in the research agenda laid out by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017). Moreover, while there is some recent literature on effective interpretation and communication in US national parks and other federally protected lands (Stern et al. 2010; Beard and Thompson 2012; Stern and Powell 2013; Thompson et al 2013), it is not focused on science communication and engagement per se. Scientists who communicate or engage the public in their field research in national parks therefore have the opportunity to make additional contributions to our understanding of effective practice in these places. Here we describe how scientists can collaboratively conduct, communicate, and engage the public in research in US national parks. We begin with an overview of national parks’ unique value as venues for such activity. We follow that with examples from parks that span a range of methods (from explaining science to an audience to engaging an audience with science; Bell et al. 2017), audiences (general public, teachers, etc.), and scientist roles, and then draw together some lessons that apply generally. We end with comments on the promising future of science communication in national parks and on the emotional values that scientific discovery and national parks have in common. Throughout, we explore four key messages for scientists interested in bringing their research into the public eye. First, national parks are exceptionally valuable places for research and science outreach. Second, the National Park Service (NPS) has programs and mechanisms to support the work of scientists, including channels for scientists to initiate and grow research and outreach programs. Third, park staff have expertise, ability, and willingness to support the full range of outreach activities. And fourth, scientists can collaborate with park staff as we collectively seek to ensure that research informs management and increases public awareness, understanding, and appreciation for national parks and for science. As we previously alluded, not enough is known about science learning in national parks, including the roles of scientists themselves. The NPS wants and needs to understand more. Parks for research, communication, and engagement The NPS actively conducts and welcomes research by its own staff, other government scientists, and academic researchers (Sauvajot 2016). Its policy is to use best available science to inform management, encourage research studies, cooperate with educational and scientific institutions, and provide facilities and assistance to researchers (National Park Service 2006). It applies this policy to the 417 units (national parks, monuments, seashores, lakeshores, battlefields, historic sites, etc.) across all US states and territories. Given this policy regarding science and the legal mandate of the NPS to preserve places “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations,” national parks are permanently protected long-term research sites with documented natural, cultural, and management history. That documentation includes research reports, data, field notes, maps, specimens, and other records maintained in museums and archives and searchable online (irma.nps.gov, museum.nps.gov, and npgallery.nps.gov). To study in national parks, researchers must submit proposals and apply for permits (irma.nps.gov/RPRS), a process that begins relationships with park resource managers, research coordinators, and interpreters. In 2017 the NPS issued 2990 research permits. Topics ranged widely across social sciences (e.g., visitor use patterns), cultural sciences (zooarchaeology of ancestral Puebloan settlements), earth sciences (snow persistence and alpine stream hydrology), ecology (faunal responses to rapid climate change), evolutionary biology (zooplankton speciation), and so on. Several permits were also issued for educational purposes like undergraduate field courses, macroinvertebrate inventories and water quality testing by high school students, and collection of fish specimens for educational displays at a public aquarium. In addition to being places for research, national parks have unique value for communication and public engagement with science. They are among the most inspiring and unique places in the world, and have been set aside for all people to enjoy. They are sources of pleasure and thus are exemplary places of “learning for fun” (Packer 2006). When visitors to a park encounter science that helps inform that park’s—their park’s—preservation, they have the chance to understand the science and discover its relevance to their lives—a phenomenon known best from research in science museums, centers, zoos, aquariums, and other places where people expect to encounter science (Schwan et al. 2014). Scientists who conduct research in national parks therefore can place their science directly into a personal and civic context and engage a highly interested and receptive audience who are experiencing positive emotions (National Research Council 2009; Rogoff et al. 2016). The thousands of NPS interpreters and other communication professionals draw on special attributes of parks to help visitors build emotional and intellectual connections to these places (Stern et al. 2010; Larsen 2011). They are experts at telling stories in person and through media that enrich the visitor’s experience. The services they provide likely contribute to the consistently high ranking of the NPS among federal agencies in polls of the American public (Pew Research Center 2015). The combination of emotionally appealing public places, well-liked communicators, and breadth of geography and natural–cultural systems available for in situ research is not found among zoos, aquariums, museums, after-school programs, or other informal education settings. With over 300 million visits annually, plus over 90 million web visitors and several million social media followers, the NPS in collaboration with scientists has tremendous potential to foster science learning worldwide. Programs to support research and public engagement in parks Most national parks work with scientists on research and communication activities. The relationships that are established through the permit process enable every permitted scientist to express or respond to interest in communicating science to various audiences. Scientists can use the application form to propose standalone education and outreach activities (e.g., teaching a class) or communication components of a research project. A park may even make outreach and communication a condition of the permit. The NPS has established two programs that facilitate research and science communication beyond the relationships established through the permitting system. Research Learning Centers (RLCs—nps.gov/rlc) are located in several parks across the country. Their staff assist with all aspects of science from proposal development through the conduct of research and communication of results. Most RLCs provide housing, work space, computer network access, access to publications and collections, logistic support, and some equipment. Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (CESUs—cesu.org) facilitate research, education, and technical assistance partnerships among federal agencies and US universities and other non-government organizations. They enable scientists to learn about research opportunities in parks and move federal funds to scientists for projects that meet park needs. The NPS employs research coordinators who work at the CESU host universities and regularly match parks with institutions or individual scientists to collaborate on projects. A typology and examples of science communication and engagement in parks Storksdieck et al. (2016) created a typology of approaches to public engagement with science that can help scientists and other practitioners align their actions with their goals, skills, and interests. The typology uses a set of variables to distinguish among approaches: size, structure, form and depth of engagement, the dominance and authority of the scientist versus others in the audience, interactions between scientists and participants, etc. National parks host science communication and engagement activities that span much of the range described in the typology. Below, we provide examples that illustrate the range from “low hanging fruit” of explaining science to an audience to the “high-hanging fruit” of engaging an audience via contributory citizen science. All our examples illustrate behaviors and attitudes that Storksdieck et al. (2016) identify as critically important: a genuine curiosity about the public; the willingness to listen and learn from audience members; an ability to perceive and respond to the audience’s need for information and detail; and a willingness to make personal connections with audience members. Those behaviors and attitudes are exhibited to one degree or another by scientists; they are also elicited, fostered, and mediated by NPS communications professionals whose knowledge and skills complement those of the scientists. Example 1: Contributing to science communication by others Scientists can advise, review, or otherwise contribute to products made by NPS communications staff. Such collaboration can take little time investment, may be done in or out of a park (e.g., from one’s office), and may not require specialized communication skills beyond the writing, reviewing, and speaking that scientists already perform daily. One example is a US Forest Service bat ecologist doing research in Congaree National Park who fact-checked and reviewed summary documents the park’s RLC staff had created for public audiences about her research (nps.gov/rlc/ogbfrec/bat-research.htm). She also presents occasionally to park staff and the public during a casual seminar series in the visitor’s center. A second example involves biologists from the University of California who conduct research in Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks and Point Reyes National Seashore. They explained their studies on camera for short videos about ocean acidification and species range shifts. The videos were produced by one of us (T.W.) and an undergraduate student for online distribution to the general public (nps.gov/climatechange) and NPS interpreters who were being professionally trained in climate change communication. The scientists were brought to our attention by the CESU research coordinator and RLC staff who liaise regularly with UC faculty. Both of these examples emphasize traditional communication of science to audiences rather than two-way engagement of audiences with science (Bell et al. 2017), though some engagement and mutual learning occurred during the live seminars and during the video production process. In the typology of Storksdieck et al. (2016), these examples involve small group sizes, in-person and online forms of engagement, an overt science focus, the dominance of the scientist’s voice, and heterogeneous adult audiences. Beyond measured outputs (e.g., numbers of attendees at seminars, web article pageviews, or video plays), the NPS and collaborating scientists know little about the impact of their communication on audiences’ knowledge or attitudes about science or parks. Example 2: Scheduled public outreach event in a park A “higher-hanging fruit” opportunity involves engaging public audiences directly through an outreach event planned, organized, and directed by park interpreters and other communicators. Some parks offer science festivals and related outreach events during which scientists can engage visitors. For example, at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, RLC staff organize “Indiana Dunes, Science, and YOU!” on a Friday for school groups, and again on Saturday for the general public. On both days, scientists present their research in an auditorium with discussion moderated by RLC staff. The sessions with school groups also include discussions about what it is like to be a scientist. After the presentations the scientists take participants, with staff and teachers, into the park where they elaborate on their research, demonstrate field methods, and guide participants in using equipment and collecting data. Topics have included the processes of dune movement, bacterial contamination of Lake Michigan beaches, and the preservation of a federally threatened plant species. Because these topics are related to conservation of the park and to the visitors’ enjoyment of it, they are germane to the interests of local residents who frequent the park. To conduct this event, NPS communicators and scientists spend a few hours preparing and collaborating in advance. The RLC staff recruit scientists who they know are good communicators and whose research is inherently interesting to the public. They provide specific guidance and skill-development for communicating with adult and teen audiences, support for field activities, and feedback on draft presentations and plans. The scientists create their presentations and field activities, organize field equipment and supplies, and share their enthusiasm for research. Compared with Example 1, face-to-face outreach described here is an example of engaging the public with science rather than simply communicating science to the public. In the Storksdieck et al. (2016) typology, this event involves larger audiences, is done in-person with a balance of scientist and public voices, involves more support from the communications expert, and engages the audience through demonstrations, data collection, and field expeditions. Consistent with the professional craft of NPS interpreters and science communicators, this face-to-face activity is at heart a dialog in which “publics and scientists both benefit from listening to and learning from one another” (Bell et al. 2017). While rigorous evaluation and research on outcomes has not been conducted, feedback from participating scientists and teachers reveals that this type of event allows the public to talk and share views about how they relate to science, and the scientists to develop and refine their communication skills. Example 3: Planning for communication in a research project The previous examples illustrate science communication and public engagement that emerges after a research project is underway or complete. Communication can also be intentionally included, and funded, in a research project from the outset. Doing so entails sustained collaboration between scientists and communications experts, delineation of roles, and recognition of each other’s expertise. “Changing Tides” is a three-year study of how brown bears forage and use resources in the intertidal zones at Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks in Alaska (nps.gov/katm/learn/changing-tides.htm). It involves biologists from NPS, US Geological Survey, Washington State University, and other institutions and science communication experts from the RLC that serves the two parks. The communications work was supported by undergraduate communications interns hired by the RLC who collectively provided direction and guidance to senior scientists and graduate student researchers. Because the parks are remote the team developed digital products: the project website with links to a “scientist in the field” blog and an interactive story map, emailed newsletters, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and a live online chat with project biologists. These resources were also incorporated into a high school teacher training workshop conducted by RLC staff with involvement of the lead scientist. The RLC staff led all communications activities during the project and had co-PI status. The biologists collaborated by responding to draft communication plans, advising on key science messages, and accommodating communication logistics. They sat for video interviews, wrote blog entries, fact-checked newsletters, explained their science and offered stories from the field in the teacher workshop, and provided datasets that teachers and students use in class. With the exception of the teacher’s workshop, communication was mostly unidirectional. In the typology of Storksdieck et al. (2016), the audience was very large and heterogeneous, the engagement was online, the focus was overtly scientific, the voice and authority was centered on the scientist rather than the public, and the research was basic but with strong implied societal dimensions (e.g., conservation of an iconic and economically valuable species). The live online chat, Facebook posts, and blog comments allowed some synchronous and asynchronous two-way conversation with public audiences. Impacts of the web-distributed products (as opposed to outputs like number of pageviews) were not assessed. Teachers at the workshop placed very high value on the products and indicated they would use them in their teaching. They also specifically valued the presentation by one of the scientists, the opportunity to get to know him, and to hear his stories about his professional life as a field researcher (J. Pfeiffenberger, personal communication). Example 4: Training and practice in science communication In 2016, NPS partnered with the Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Schoodic Institute (a close science partner of Acadia National Park) in launching the Second Century Stewardship initiative (SCSParkScience.org) to encourage science that informs conservation decisions and engages the public. It provides early-career scientists (Ph.D. students, post-docs, and junior faculty) with three benefits: (1) competitive funding for innovative research in national parks; (2) training and opportunities to enhance learning and engagement of students, educators, and the broader public; and (3) opportunities to inspire and inform stewardship of our natural and cultural heritage. The initiative began at Acadia National Park and will expand to more parks in the near future. A key feature of the program is a workshop (with about 25 attendees in 2017) that provides research fellows, NPS staff, and professionals from partner organizations with training in a variety of communication methods—presenting to the public; writing magazine articles and blogs; recording podcasts; posting social media with the hashtag #ParkScience; creating videos; and briefing officials. Outside experts (e.g., professional video producers, social media experts, and public affairs officers) provide specific training, and the fellows bring their own expertise, curiosity, and enthusiasm. The intent is not that all attendees become proficient in all of the skills, but rather that they get exposed to them and then focus on the techniques and media most appropriate for their interests, abilities, and goals. Most of the attendees in 2017, for example, did not have Twitter or Instagram accounts before the workshop, nor had they written blog posts or recorded videos about their work. All of the fellows said that the workshop turned them on to communication strategies they would not have considered before (e.g., videos and social media), and they are all communicating much more now than they would have without the workshop. These workshops do not directly engage the public, but rather give selected participants the skills to communicate and engage the public in science using methods across the typology of Storksdieck et al. (2016)—big or small programs, in-person or remote engagement, and in-depth or minimal engagement (e.g., citizen science or a tweet). One important aspect of public engagement with science is the practice and refinement of scientists’ own communication skills (Bell et al. 2017), which is an explicit goal of the SCS initiative. Example 5: Citizen science in parks The Dragonfly Mercury Project (DMP: nature.nps.gov/air/Studies/air_toxics/dragonfly/) is a citizen science initiative focused on accumulation of airborne mercury in aquatic biota. Scientists from the University of Maine, US Geological Survey, and the NPS collaborate with park staff who lead citizen scientists (mostly middle and high school groups, as well as community volunteers; Fig. 1) in collecting dragonfly larvae and submitting them for mercury analysis. The DMP began in 2012 as the feasibility of citizen science became more apparent and as new technology enabled inexpensive analysis of tissue mercury (e.g., Nelson et al. 2015; Eagles-Smith et al. 2016). The project launched in 11 national parks and has grown to involve more than 90 parks and 3000 citizen scientists nationwide. Fig. 1 View largeDownload slide A wide range of local participants was engaged in the dragonfly citizen science project through national and local partners. TRT, teacher ranger teacher; SCA, student conservation association; YCC, youth conservation corps; GIP, geoscientists in parks; TNC, the nature conservancy. Courtesy of Maine Policy Review. Reprinted with permission. Fig. 1 View largeDownload slide A wide range of local participants was engaged in the dragonfly citizen science project through national and local partners. TRT, teacher ranger teacher; SCA, student conservation association; YCC, youth conservation corps; GIP, geoscientists in parks; TNC, the nature conservancy. Courtesy of Maine Policy Review. Reprinted with permission. The DMP started in response to State and Federal funding for science teacher professional development in Maine. It is now funded by the NPS, with individual parks paying for materials and supplies needed to participate. Based on relationships cultivated during a decade of research in Acadia National Park, one of us (S.J.N.) collaborated with Schoodic Institute and teachers across northern New England to develop and test protocols for sampling aquatic invertebrates, resulting in a co-created pilot effort (Shirk et al. 2012). Subsequent collaboration with NPS Air Resources Division experts enabled us to expand to additional parks and engage more scientists to extend the scope and capabilities of the research team. As the project expanded to ∼25 national parks, it became more of a collaborative model (Shirk et al. 2012), in which staff at those parks helped refine communication and outreach materials. The DMP adapts Zoellick et al.’s (2012) framework for formal science education to the informal setting of national parks: scientists and NPS staff share roles in the project’s design and implementation, but their goals and desired outcomes diverge. NPS goals often focus on connecting people to parks whereas scientists’ goals focus on collecting and interpreting data. Citizen science collection events allow both scientists and park staff to share the implementation of this program, and yield outcomes that are meaningful for scientists, citizens, and the parks. Parks commonly report success at getting kids outside, which meets those parks’ biodiversity discovery goal (Flanagan Pritz and Nelson 2017). And the scientists benefit because without local citizens who collect samples, they would not be able to get data from 90+ parks around the country. In the typology of Storksdieck et al. (2016), the DMP generally exemplifies more intensive interactions: small groups are engaged in-person by a professional practitioner and/or scientist for several hours to a day (or days) in collecting, identifying, and preparing samples. The activity is overtly about science, with groups ranging across ages and genders (Flanagan Pritz and Nelson 2017), and with interactions that generally allow for all voices to be heard and questions to be asked by participants. In many ways, the DMP is an example of public participation in research (i.e., co-production of knowledge). It deviates from the example in Storksdieck (2016) in that communication with the public is mediated by NPS staff in most cases. However, many NPS staff who participate in the project and lead citizen groups in the field are themselves scientists, or have training and degrees in science. Lessons learned From the examples above we extract some lessons about science communication in parks and factors that promote successful collaborations between biologists and NPS staff and partners. Readers may identify and draw additional meanings. Researchers in parks may encounter visitors who ask them about their work:Even if public outreach is not part of a study plan, scientists should talk in advance with park staff about responding to public interest. The bat ecologist working in Congaree, for example, often speaks with visitors who are curious about her radio telemetry equipment. She embraces the unplanned outreach opportunities and collaborates with RLC and park staff to make the most of them. Often researchers in parks cite these interactions as unexpected bonuses—positive interactions with park visitors reinforce the value of their work and expertise. Such interactions can carry a cost, however, as they can disrupt field work if they are too frequent. The key is to communicate clearly with the public and get park staff assistance on managing visitors’ engagement. The SCS initiative provides fellows with training on how to manage such unplanned interactions without compromising their ability to do their research. Success in outreach may depend on the relationships that scientists and park staff establish: Not all scientists are skilled at communicating with the public. Research on interpretation in national parks (Stern and Powell 2013) shows that positive outcomes for visitors are correlated with program qualities (e.g., good organization, relevance to audience, links to intangible ideas and emotions) and presenter qualities (e.g., confidence, authentic emotion, humor) that require training and practice. NPS communicators have and routinely employ those qualities. When good relationships allow those qualities to be combined with the deep content knowledge, enthusiasm, and other characteristics of scientists, communication and engagement is successful. The complex and well-received products of the Changing Tides project were possible because the RLC communications staff and research scientists related as co-equal professionals and collaborated in all phases of the project. A similar set of co-equal and complementary roles existed among scientists and park interpretive staff in the DMP project. Building the collaborative relationships takes time (including time away from research) but the payoffs are proportional if not greater. Planning for communication and engagement is important, and it is probably safe to err on the side of too much planning: Both the RLC staff and scientists in the events at Indiana Dunes realized afterward that more practice with public speaking and “dry run” demonstrations in the field would have improved the program, but each was hesitant to take up the other’s time before the event. But in a good relationship, all parties can push for detailed information and preparedness without worrying about impinging on each other. It is important to match goals, audiences, and methods: Researchers in parks commonly file reports with NPS, contribute to brief summaries of their work, or give general talks to park staff, academic audiences, or the public. Where the goal is to inform the awareness or behavior of particular audiences—e.g., to make local residents aware of the damage that non-native plants cause and see the value of planting native species, or to inspire science-interested visitors to participate in citizen science activities in the park and at home—other more targeted communication methods are more effective. Communicating with local residents about exotic and native plants might involve giving talks at garden clubs. Recruiting for citizen science might involve attention-getting posters, instructional and inspirational videos, and social media posts with updates on research. Different audiences are interested in different aspects of science and turn to different media for information. Scientists and/or communication professionals (ideally both, working together) need to define their audiences, desired outcomes, and select engagement practices accordingly. The collaboration is important, as NPS staff and academic scientists may have different connections, knowledge, and skills to reach different audiences in different ways. Audiences may want to do science more than listen to people explain science: Teachers who brought their classes to Indiana Dunes specifically pointed this out on evaluation forms when recommending a smaller ratio of lecturing to field work. And the scientists realized afterward that they needed more advice from RLC staff on actively engaging the public in the field and refining their communication skills. All professional participants in that case—communications experts, scientists, and teachers—have a role to play in fostering active, hands-on learning in parks. Doing science rather than hearing about it takes more time but the interests and rewards are great. The DMP leaders soon discovered that sampling events often continued past the published ending time. Students were reluctant to stop searching for invertebrates; parents and teachers asked scientists follow-up questions about what happens with samples sent to USGS laboratories, about mercury, and about food webs. As one teacher helped a student use calipers to measure larvae, other students observed dragonfly feeding behaviors and pressed the teacher for information on food webs. This teacher called it “One of the best teaching days of my life.” Observing, developing questions out of natural curiosity, and testing concepts about how the world works are the foundation of the scientific enterprise—and these students genuinely experienced it through a project that sent them into the water to look closely at a new ecosystem, and with a teacher who was ready to provide answers and seed new questions. Audiences like insight into scientists as real people: Biologists who tell stories about their research reveal not only the methods, results, and significance of their work; they also reveal themselves as interested, animated, passionate human beings who do exciting things. Teachers at the Changing Tides workshop said their students would love to Skype the bear biologists and follow their projects on social media—that is, to establish relationships with them, see what their lives are like, and understand who they are and what motivates them. Students at the Indiana Dunes events were asked in advance to describe character traits of scientists; Curious, Intelligent, Inquisitive, and Observant were among the most-used terms. Scientists at the event talked in person about how they embody those characteristics. Communication may take a lot of work: The Second Century Stewardship initiative requires all fellows to budget for at least 80 h of communication work (in addition to a 3-day communication workshop) during their 1- or 2-year fellowships. Many applicants are initially surprised by that requirement, but once in the program, realize that it is an underestimate—recording, editing, and producing videos, or polishing a good talk or popular article, or keeping up with social media all takes time. It is important that researchers recognize this and budget accordingly at the beginning of projects, especially those with goals like improving management or education. The impacts of science communication and public engagement with science in parks need rigorous study: As we previously noted, research on informal science learning in national parks is generally missing from an otherwise vast literature. Typically, we measure outputs—like how many interpreters have viewed videos about climate change science in the course of their training—or gain some feedback on what participants get out of an outreach event. There is little rigorous evaluation of outcomes like changing participants’ understanding of science, attitudes about science, desire to learn more science, etc. As a federal agency, the NPS has reduced leeway to survey the public and assess such outcomes. Academic researchers (including social scientists who could collaborate with natural scientists in studying the efficacy of science communication and public engagement) have more leeway to study outcomes. This is a rich and untapped area of cross-disciplinary research. Conclusion and prospects Over the past 100 years, interpreters, educators, and other communicators in the NPS have become experts at informing visitors about the unique resources (e.g., the world’s tallest trees) found in national parks. They have consistently mastered and applied the art of explaining the significance of resources, helping visitors find personal meaning in them, and inspiring people to care about these protected places (Larsen 2011). Communicating the science through which we understand these unique places and resources, however, is a relatively new role. It is one that the NPS is increasingly embracing and refining. Interpreters and other communicators now communicate both the results and the processes of science—i.e., not just what we know about the tallest trees, but also how we know it. Relevant messages include: How is science done? How do scientists connect evidence to conclusions? How do scientists change their view of the world as a result of doing research? What do scientists not know, and what do they debate? What value do visitors place on science in their lives? Interpreters engage visitors in these and other ideas through audience-centered techniques that are similar to what some faculty use in classrooms. They tell stories about scientists to convey the content, excitement, and meaning of science. They collaborate on citizen science and other forms of participatory learning. They prompt visitors through dialog to wonder, explore, and pose their own questions about data, graphs, and models. Like many faculty, interpreters are transitioning from “the sage on the stage to the guide on the side.” Given this change in interpretation, scientists have endless opportunities to share their experience and collaborate with the NPS in developing, testing, and refining science communication and engagement in parks. The “Science as a Way of Knowing” initiative of the SICB (Moore 1984) highlights integrative and comparative biologists’ innovative thinking about science education. Although it is 35 years old, it offers timeless ideas and common language that enable biologists and interpreters to tap the science education potential of national parks for the next 100 years. We close with a question that is implicit to our essay: why is science worth understanding and experiencing? Apart from the economic and democratic reasons we alluded to at the start, there is at least one humanistic reason and it has much in common with national parks. Charles Darwin expressed it when he concluded The Origin of Species with an ode to science: There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. We think all integrative and comparative biologists would agree that this view of life does contain grandeur, and likely even more. Dawkins (2003) extended Darwin’s idea: “There is more than just grandeur in this view of life … . There is deep refreshment to be had from standing up full-face into the keen wind of understanding (p. 13).” Furthermore, “The real world, properly understood in the scientific way, is deeply beautiful and unfailingly interesting. It’s worth putting in some honest effort to understand it properly, undistracted by false wonder and prostituted pseudoscience (p. 43).” These words—grandeur, beautiful, wonderful—point to aesthetic and emotional values of scientific experience outside the practical value of scientific knowledge. Those emotional values invite and reward the intellectual pursuit of science and we suspect they have accompanied and sustained every scientist’s educational and professional life in science. They are worth sharing. National parks offer everyone the chance to experience the unique grandeur, beauty, and wonder of natural features like Yosemite Valley and to connect with shared human experience in cultural landscapes like Gettysburg or Ellis Island. Surely they offer as well the chance to experience the grandeur, beauty, wonder, and human experience of science. The future is bright as more and more scientists come to parks and collaborate with NPS staff to make their science part of the visitors’ experience. Acknowledgments We thank M. Byappanahalli, M. Nevers, J. Pfeiffenberger, D. Shelley, W. Smith, and S. Thurston for invaluable information about their science outreach and engagement examples in parks. We thank M. Storksdieck, J. Thompson, M. Stern, and J. Dennis for helpful discussions and suggestions about the manuscript, including references to published literature. We thank several anonymous reviewers for their comments that greatly improved this manuscript. The views in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily of the NPS. Funding This work was supported by the National Park Service, the US Geological Survey-NPS Water Quality Partnership, and the University of Maine. References Beard CA , Thompson JL. 2012 . Engaging visitors in climate change communication: a case study of southern Florida’s national parks and wildlife refuges . Appl Environ Educ Commun 11 : 25 – 34 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bell L , Lowenthal C , Sittenfeld D , Todd K , Pfeifle S , Kollmann EK. 2017 . Public engagement with science: a guide to creating conversations among publics and scientists for mutual learning and societal decision-making . Boston : Museum of Science . Dawkins R. 2003 . A devil’s chaplain . Boston : Mariner Books . Eagles-Smith CA , Ackerman JT , Willacker JJ , Tate MT , Lutz MA , Fleck JA , Stewart AR , Wiener JG , Evers DC , Lepak JM , et al. . 2016 . Spatial and temporal patterns of mercury concentrations in freshwater fish across the Western United States and Canada . Sci Total Environ 568 : 1171 – 84 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Falk JH , Dierking LD. 2010 . The 95 percent solution . Am Sci 98 : 486 – 93 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Fenichel M , Schweingruber HA. 2010 . Surrounded by science: learning science in informal environments. Board on science education, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education . Washington, DC : The National Academies Press . Flanagan Pritz C , Nelson SJ. 2017 . Collecting data on Charismatic Mini-Fauna: public participation and the dragonfly mercury project . Maine Policy Rev 26 : 50 – 4 . Larsen DL. 2011 . Meaningful interpretation: how to connect hearts and minds to places, objects, and other resources . 2nd ed . Fort Washington: Eastern National . Moore JA. 1984 . Science as a way of knowing—evolutionary biology . Am Zool 24 : 467 – 534 . 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Learning for fun: the unique contribution of educational leisure experiences . Curator 49 : 329 – 44 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pew Research Center . 2015 . Beyond distrust: how Americans view their government. Washington DC: Pew Research Center. Rogoff B , Callanan M , Gutierrez KD , Erickson F. 2016 . The organization of informal learning . Rev Res Educ 40 : 356 – 401 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sauvajot RM. 2016 . Science for our National Parks’ second century: a view from the top . Ecosphere 7 : e01607 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Schwan S , Grajal A , Lewalter D. 2014 . Understanding and engagement in places of science experience: science museums, science centers, zoos, and aquariums . Educ Psychol 49 : 70 – 85 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Shirk, JL, Ballard HL, Wilderman CC, Phillips T, Wiggins A, Jordan R, McCallie E, Minarchek, M, Lewenstein BV, Krasny ME, et al. 2012. Public participation in scientific research: a framework for deliberate design. Ecology and Society 17:29. Stern MJ , Powell RB. 2013 . What leads to better visitor outcomes in live interpretation? J Interpret Res 18 : 9 – 43 . Stern MJ , Powell RB , Cook C. 2010 . The benefits of live interpretive programs to Great Smoky Mountains National Park . Park Sci 27 : 62 – 6 . Storksdieck M , Stylinski C , Bailey D. 2016 . Typology for public engagement with science: a conceptual framework for public engagement involving scientists . Corvallis, OR : Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning . Thompson J , Davis S , Mullen K. 2013 . Climate change communication campaign planning: using audience research to inform design . George Wright Forum 30 : 182 – 9 . Zoellick B , Nelson S , Schauffler M. 2012 . Participatory science and participatory education: bringing both views into focus . Front Ecol Environ 10 : 310 – 3 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology 2018. This work is written by US Government employees and is in the public domain in the US. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Integrative and Comparative BiologyOxford University Press

Published: Jul 1, 2018

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