About Portal to the Public
The Portal to the Public approach helps informal learning organizations connect public audiences with current science in their own communities through conversations with local scientists and engineers. The Portal to the Public framework has been implemented at over 50 organizations that form the Portal to the Public Network (PoPNet), a community of practitioners dedicated to sharing ideas and strategies for scientist-and-public engagement. Through funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Science Foundation, PoPNet has expanded to a range of informal science settings including science centers, museums, universities, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and research organizations. Find out more information about joining PoPNet.
- The Portal to the Public approach is a tested strategy for connecting public audiences with the scientists working in their communities.
- New sites join an active community of practitioners dedicated to sharing ideas and strategies for scientist-and-public engagement.
- Portal to the Public activities can build and strengthen long-term relationships among regional STEM-focused institutions.
- The professional development elements, along with other components of the framework, can be used to support a wide variety of institutional needs and goals.
- Member sites receive individualized support from the PoPNet team at Pacific Science Center and other experienced PoPNet Faculty.
- Members also have access to shared resources including access to the Portal to the Public Implementation Manual, an online community, and opportunities for in-person meetings which support ongoing collaboration and connection between sites.
Portal to the Public was originally funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 2007 through 2012. The program was developed as a collaboration between Pacific Science Center, Explora, North Museum of Natural History and Science, and The Institute for Learning Innovation. The intention was to develop a model for informal science education institutions to build programs that would allow for face-to-face interactions between scientists and public audiences. Instead of a prescriptive model, the guiding framework is a structured set of concepts designed to be flexible to suit the needs of any institution.
Portal to the Public looks different at each institution, but all are designed around the same guiding framework, described visually in the graphic below. When building a new program, institutions go through a guided conceptual planning process that begins by identifying desired impacts, as well as institutional strengths and resources. This guides how an institution develops their program components (relationships, professional development, and face-to-face public programs), designing and selecting approaches to meet their desired impacts. The framework is specific but flexible, allowing each institution to select and scale the strategies best suited to their unique informal learning environment.
In some cases, an institution may already have established relationships with local (or internal) scientists or industry professionals, while other institutions will develop a plan to build new relationships with local universities or research centers. All institutions create professional development experiences for the scientists they work with, but those experiences range from half-day workshops to a three-month long series of workshops and activity development support. Public programs vary widely between sites, especially since many incorporate scientists and professional development into existing programming. Each institution chooses which public program format(s) will create an engaging event, bringing scientists and visitors together in face-to-face interactions that encourage rich dialogue.
Subsequent funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and NSF have allowed for expansion of the Network to new sites, including new institution types such as zoos, aquariums, natural history museums, botanical gardens, universities, and research groups.
Advisors and Evaluators
Beck Tench, becktench.com
Catherine Halversen, Director of Communicating Ocean Sciences Informal Education Network, Lawrence Hall of Science
Chuck Lennox, Principal, Cascade Interpretive Consulting
Guillaume Mauger, Researcher, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington
Karen Peterson, CEO, EdLab Group; Principal Investigator, National Girls Collaborative Project
Stephen Jett, Professor and Director of Electron Microscopy Facility, University of New Mexico
Tiffany Lohwater, Director of Meetings and Public Engagement, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Vrylena Olney, formerly Program Manager of NISE Network, Museum of Science, Boston
Martin Storksdieck, External Evaluator, Director, Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning at Oregon State University
Angie Ong, External Evaluator, Principal, Spotlight Impact
Jessica Sickler, External Evaluator, Principal, J. Sickler Consulting
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.
This project has been made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.
The Portal to the Public Network is facilitated by Pacific Science Center.