News Updates » 05 November 2009
Tips for Ensuring a Legacy
I’m sure all of us involved with the Year of Astronomy hope some level of similar programming will continue in 2010 and beyond in our communities, to bring astronomy to as wide an audience as possible. Here are some of my thoughts on how best to make that happen.First…Why Astronomy Is So Great!
What sets astronomy apart from other sciences is that many professional researchers were once (or still are!) amateur astronomers and enthusiastically support what the amateur community does. They know that grass-roots outreach efforts increase public support for the science. And amateurs are keenly interested in learning about what the pros are doing, and might even be helping to conduct research programs.
Plus, in astronomy we have an established network of institutions devoted to promoting the science: clubs, planetariums, science centres, public observatories and, increasingly, nature centres and parks.
Locally and worldwide, we also have an astronomy community that knows how to make extensive use of the web to disseminate images and information. It’s easy to find understandable information about astronomy and space science. Not so for many other sciences.
So, in every city and town we usually have a mix of organizations and institutions, all with a common cause and with talented, passionate people, many being volunteers.
Everything we do requires those dedicated people “buying in” to the task at hand and working together. I think we get so much more done if we cooperate and pool our resources. The worldwide success of the Year of Astronomy has surely been due to the unprecedented level of cooperation among so many astronomy-related groups, amateur and professional. The pros provide expertise and money; the amateurs provide front-line “people power” and passion.
Here in Calgary we decided very early on that IYA would be a joint venture of all the key organizations: the science centre (TELUS World of Science), the university observatory (Rothney Astrophysical Observatory) and the astronomy club (Calgary Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada). We all seem to get along. Even after a busy IYA, we’re still talking to each other! We assist each other with our programs, with staff and volunteers from each organization helping to work each other’s events.
My advice: leave egos at the door. No one institution should try to garner all the publicity and control. They’ll soon find themselves struggling on their own and accomplishing far less.Coordinate
Also early on, we planned the year’s schedule of events together, in meetings that were often enjoyable social evenings and dinners, hammering out a schedule with as few conflicting or overlapping events as possible. We didn’t want to compete with ourselves nor unduly tax volunteers’ time. The schedule had to be “do-able.”
While every group was free to organize and promote their own events, we maintained a “master calendar” that everyone could see, so we all had the big picture of the year’s schedule of events. Very few would get added at the last minute and without the knowledge of the rest of the group. Having one person maintain this calendar and watch for conflicts is a good idea.Communicate
It is much easier to round up volunteers for events (and we have a great contingent of people to draw upon) when people know about them! Of course. But it is a fact too many groups forget. In our case, the master calendar let everyone know what was going on, or at least what was planned.
But plans change. And details need to be worked out. To handle this, we managed to maintain an air of friendly cooperation throughout the year. That made it easy to zap messages back and forth among key members of the organizing groups. We could get decisions made efficiently without the need for hard-to-schedule meetings, bureaucratic decision trees, or wading through reams of convoluted messages and minutes. We trusted one another! It was a lot more fun that way!
In early 2009, our calendar of events went public on the web so everyone — public, volunteers, and organizers — could see all that was going on in and around the city, all listed in one place on an uncluttered master website. Key organizers each have “admin” access to the website to update information about their events. All our publicity through the year drove people to that one website (www.astronomycalgary.com) for the details of all public astronomy events in Calgary. It seemed to work. We plan to continue this in 2010, as one legacy of IYA.Fund-Raise
By packaging all our astronomy programs under one banner we were able to secure corporate funding, which we used in part to hire staff dedicated to IYA events. While the science centre spearheaded this fund-raising, it has benefited all parties. This is sponsorship that no single event or program could have attracted. Yet logistically, one organization might need to take the lead to make it happen.Friend-Raise
As many groups have done this year, we also set up a Facebook page, a Flickr photo gallery and Twitter feeds for our events, to grow groups of loyal friends.
As great as the new social networks can be, reaching a wide audience still requires the support of traditional news media. We get that here by routinely sending out concise one-page press releases about our programs and for celestial events in general, and by having astronomers on hand whom editors and reporters know will provide excellent interviews on mic or on camera about anything astronomical in the news.
We are fortunate in all these efforts in having the support of the professional marketing staff at the science centre. Not every community will have such people — and budgets — to back their efforts. Even so, volunteer groups in communities without professional institutions to assist can do a lot to make friends with local media. It’s important to make astronomers available to serve as “go to” people when local media need interviews and information. Get to know and trust the media, and they’ll get to know and support you.Thank People
A little recognition goes a long way. We’ve had a few thank-you dinners and barbeques through the year for staff and volunteers and will certainly have a big post-IYA bash in 2010. Let people know their efforts are very much appreciated. And …Have Fun!
As I’m sure everyone has found, a great IYA outreach event is a lot of fun. The public love astronomy and astronomers love to talk about the sky. Don’t let bureaucracy and egos (and certainly not a lack of money!) get in the way of a great team of friends passionately having fun showing people the wonders of the universe.