I’d agree that any formal segmentation of ASC would be a bad idea – we’re small enough, why get smaller?
At the same time I think interest groups that emerge from the grass roots of the organisation would be healthy. This kind of thing can happen without splintering the organisation as a whole, and an online forum (with member-started discussion threads, etc) could possibly facilitate this better than an email list (and best of all, are available for free!).
Thoughts from anyone?
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One of the things that strikes me as a foundation member of ASC is the way some of these issues resurface on a cyclical basis. That is not to say that they should not, of course, but it does give a sense of deja vu.
Decades ago there was a concern among some of us that ASC was becoming a bit journalism-oriented, and that "science communicator" and "journalist" were starting to be used almost interchangeably. That is, I think, because the hard-working and very dedicated executive members were mostly journalists then, and that tended to push things in that direction.
At that point my professional preoccupations and particular focus were in writing science books, especially for the education market, and making science TV (for the ABC and commercial networks).
I was part of a group that argued for the kind of segmentation in ASC being mooted now in this discussion. We actually used the term "Chapters" to describe the proposed groupings, which were (from memory) things like education (school and tertiary), writing (books and similar), program-making (TV and Radio) and some others.
Because my work has involved editing for various journals, I have on several occasions been asked to talk to the (science) editors' conference, and I discussed with them the idea that they should be a chapter of ASC (too many professions start their own associations, but don't have the numbers to make them work as well as they might). The editors, I think, decided not to let go of the association they had already formed, and kept going successfully on their own, although some were also ASC members.
This notion of chapters was taken up and discussed widely in ASC, but it never really happened. I don't think that anyone was to blame for this; there were many reasons. One was that some groups that seemed natural ASC chapters to us, did not particularly attract those who we saw as filling them. An example (at that time) was Museum and Zoo educators. I was then President of Zoos SA (our zoos are run by a society and not the government) so I was in a good position to encourage this, but the practitioners themselves didn't make the connection that seemed so obvious to me. Around that time we also had some trouble attracting significant numbers of teachers and other educators; certainly not enough to form a vibrant chapter.
Now we have educators and museum educators as active members arguing for chapters, or similar, and, in the past few years, educators on the Executive have been enormously productive in advancing ASC in that direction, just as the journalists had been previously.
I suspect that, as people change their professional focus, the amount of time they have to commit, the intensity of their commitment etc etc, the numbers in each of these prospective chapters will cycle. My own ASC experience has involved roles as university educator, writer, broadcaster, editor, interactive science outreach administrator and more. At each stage I would have welcomed involvement with others similarly employed, but there were probably not enough at any one time to make a chapter strong enough to work well, and that professional landscape kept changing - for others as it did for me.
It is probably also true that the strengths of the executive members vary in the same way, and because so much of what the executive does is governed by what they can do in spare time as volunteers, there will always be a tendency for them to have ideas and wish to pursue opportunities that connect with their professional activities and interests. In many years as VP and Executive member of ASC, I have seen this emphasis shift, and some of the excellent achievements (like our involvement in IA) have been directly attributable to the professional focus of the President and other Exec members at that time.
I suspect that this mobility within Science Communication means that the composition of our proposed chapters becomes something of a moving target, with numbers often too small to create a workable unit within ASC. You see it reflected when we survey our members (as I did in ASCSA a few years ago) and try to discover where we might best offer activities. We had many suggestions, but they varied widely; from networking and museum visits to media training and theatrical performances. We did most of them at some stage over a two-year period, but not all events interested all members. so numbers were sometimes lower that we would have liked.
I suspect that is why we all, in the end, fall back on the loose connection of ASC being for people who are interested in science, which is true, but hard to make work in a professional sense as it is the practicalities of professional work that we want to explore.
From: ASC-list <email@example.com> on behalf of Jess Tyler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Tuesday, 19 November 2013 4:12 PM
To: Ward, Wesley
Cc: ASC Lists
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] Past, present and future of ASC
I love the idea of interest-based groupings. There is no reason geography can't play a role, but ongoing day to day interactions would be great on Skype and Google.
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On Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 4:34 PM, Ward, Wesley <WWard@csu.edu.au> wrote:
Hi, as a long-term ASC member, occasional ASC conference goer and very regional member (Albury - are we in NSW or Victoria anyway?), I would agree with more interest based SIGs rather than geographic basis. I am a science communication PhD student/researcher and an organisational communicator - and comparatively isolated - so this would better suit my situation, and might widen membership outside the cities, where a lot of science is done.
So, are any other members in the same boat? Time to talk!
Cheers, Wes Ward
CSU Media and PhD trekker
From: ASC-list [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Regan Forrest
Sent: Tuesday, 19 November 2013 4:28 PM
To: Jess Tyler; George Aranda
Cc: ASC Lists
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] Past, present and future of ASC
Like Merryn, I have experience of SIGs within Museums Australia (I'm one of the people keeping the Evaluation and Visitor Research Network going). I'm also President of the SA Branch for my sins (see why I usually take a back seat with ASC? ;) )
Looking at how the discussion is unfolding, I'm starting to wonder whether geography (ie. state branches) is necessarily the best way to organise such a diverse group as ASC, particularly in the era of Skype, Wikis and Google Hangouts. Geography-based branches are starting to feel like the legacy of a bygone era.
This is not to denigrate what happens at state level by any means. But in my experience of comparable organisations, it does kind of build up the assumption that "something", usually event-focused, needs to happen in each state for people who happen to be there to feel like they're getting a slice of the action. And events are time consuming and increasingly costly to organise (unless you have a tame venue provider who can offer you space for free or as good as). Also, smaller states are always going to struggle to 'compete' (not quite the right word,
sorry) with those that have larger memberships and so can put more things on. Then of course there are the members based outside of capital cities.
ASC is a big tent and grouping people by geography seems a bit arbitrary when shared interest might be a better way of doing it. This would be a longer-term decision than for next week's AGM, but maybe ASC might want to entertain the prospect of de-emphasising a state-based branch structure and building more activity around groups with shared interest such as SIGs.
Just putting it out there . . .
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