What People Think “Outreach” Is

Yesterday’s poll about “outreach” activities drew 117 responses by this morning. Since PollDaddy stupidly calculates percentages for ticky-box polls based on the number of total selections, not the number of people who vote, the graph you get when you view the results is kind of useless. A better version, using the “CHECK THIS BOX” count, is here:


These responses line up reasonably well with my own impressions of the term. I’m a little surprised that “Demo Shows” doesn’t get 100%, even if you factor out the three people who clicked “I would not deign to know what outreach is.” This probably gives you an estimate of the “people who click buttons at random” contribution to the overall uncertainty. Some of the “other” responses were pretty good, too– I’ll put those below the fold.

In general, though, huge majorities agree that presentations to general audiences are “outreach,” tailing off a bit as you get to more promotional-type activities. Media relations activities are clearly not considered “outreach.”

This is pretty much what I would expect– activities that necessarily involve scientists are “outreach,” while those that are most likely pushed off on press officers are not. In terms of actual impact– that is, the number of people who get some information about science as a result– the media stuff is probably more effective, but it’s not something that takes up researchers’ time, so it doesn’t get put in the same mental category.

It’s interesting to note that media appearances and the like are counted under “service” in our faculty activity reports for the merit pay system here, along with other “outreach: type activities. Anything that gets “Union College” mentioned in a positive media context counts toward the service expectation for faculty.

The “Other” responses to the poll:

  • Speaking to children in schools about science and being a scientist.
  • Weekly after school programs
  • podcasts
  • being your friendly neighborhood scientist!
  • Short (news) videos in YouTube
  • Curriculum design below the undergraduate level

Nothing too surprising in any of this. I figured as long as I have the data, though, I might as well present it in a useful format.

One thought on “What People Think “Outreach” Is

  1. Outreach talk can indicate that what we do and our clients needs have become divergent.

    I am sure it is not always true but in my experience and IMHO: When people or groups want to do “outreach” it strongly suggest they are already “out of touch.”

    The normal course of entropy seems to be that the original mission seems to receive less and less attention and self-serving organizational issues become the “real” mission.

    Outreach implies that we are satisfied with what we do and how we it. We simply need to add on a appendage so we can convince outsiders of our usefulness. It says we have a problem but none of us need to change. We just need someone to change our community, clients or customers and then our solutions will become widely adopted because they will then know how right we really are.

    Talk of outreach can be an indicator of important problems. At the very least one might consider that outreach is one of those mushy terms that lacks a defined measurement to evaluate effectiveness. Just do anything, call it outreach and we can all feel good about ourselves.

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