Journal Archives > Roots > Botanic Gardens and the Public Understanding of Science: a Management Framework
Botanic Gardens and the Public Understanding of Science: a Management Framework
Volume 1 Number 18 - July 1999
Botanic garden education staff worldwide were consulted about the issues which affect the success of education programmes. The results of this research have been developed to establish an 'ideal educational profile' of botanic gardens, to be considered during the development and running of garden education activities.
The aim of the research was to investigate the role of public education in botanic gardens and to explore the activities undertaken by gardens in the public understanding of science. Through the identification of the elements which contribute to successful events programmes and consideration of management practice and educational learning theory, the intention was to form an 'ideal educational profile' of a botanic garden, which could be used throughout the world.
The Public Understanding of Science
The public understanding of science is an area into which botanic gardens have expanded in recent years although traditionally most of the activities in the public understanding of science have focused on medical and physical sciences. Exhibits in hands-on science centres have invariably been based on physical science phenomena, whilst plants and plant science have been neglected, partly due to the slow response rates of most plants to stimuli. This should not be a problem for botanic gardens. Although gardens may have traditionally had an aura of 'hands-off' about them, their plant collections are unique scientific resources and should be used to their fullest extent when being displayed to the public.
What Methods Were Used?
Practitioners in the field were consulted using case studies, questionnaires and interviews. Eleven gardens responded to a questionnaire, which was distributed to just under thirty botanic gardens worldwide, and detailed interviews were held with staff of three UK botanic gardens. Staff were asked about the important elements in ensuring successful educational activities. The research included an in-depth consideration of educational learning theory and management strategies, in order to consider the variety of influences which affect the running of public education in botanic gardens.
What Was Discovered?
Botanic gardens vary widely in the breadth and depth of events programmes offered. Guided tours were the most widely used activity for public education and were also identified by practitioners as being one of the most powerful tools for increasing the public understanding of science in botanic gardens. However, educational activities consist of more than guided tours and include self-led trails, lectures, hands-on workshops and drop-in sessions, adult education programmes, family gardens and other special events. The ability of gardens to offer activities may depend on factors such as staffing, funding and resources, and although individual activities have separate strengths and weaknesses, many can be transferred between gardens with only minor alterations.
An Educational Profile for Botanic Gardens
The topics identified during the research were developed with respect to learning and management theories to form an ideal educational profile for botanic gardens. This profile has been determined to help establish a framework for the provision of successful education programmes, and gardens should consider each of the points below in order to achieve a high standard for their education programmes. This profile incorporates the following seven points:
Aims and Objectives of Education Programmes
The identification of the role of education within the garden's mission is one of the most important factors that must be considered. How is education incorporated into the overall role of the garden? What are the aims of the education programme? Only when these issues have been clarified and understood by all relevant parties can a programme be developed which is oriented to fulfilling the aims. Isaf (1995) highlights the importance of a focused purpose when providing teacher-training courses, and this applies equally to all events. Without a defined aim, the development of public understanding of science programmes within gardens will in all likelihood be incoherent and confusing.
The ideal educational profile of a botanic garden is a useful checklist for the development and running of education programmes and activities within botanic gardens. Each of the areas indicated in the educational profile contributes to a successful public education programme. It is important that due attention is paid to each section, to ensure that the resources available to botanic gardens can be used effectively and successfully in running public education programmes.
Isaf, A. (1995). Teacher Training: Introduction. Roots 11:2-3. Botanic Gardens Conservation International UK.
Les personnels chargés de l’éducation ont été consultés au niveau international sur ce qui fait le succès des programmes éducatifs. Les résultats de cette recherche ont permis d’établir le profil pédagogique idéal des jardins botaniques qui serait à considérer pour tout développement d’activités pédagogiques.
Se ha consultado a personal educativo de todo el mundo acerca de los problemas que afectan al éxito de los programas de enseñanza. Se han desarrollado los resultados de esta investigación, con el fin de establecer el “perfil educativo idóneo” de los jardines botánicos, que se examinará durante el progreso y la organización de las actividades educativas.
About the Author
Alice Hague, 14 Dalhousie Terrace, Edinburgh, EH10 5NE, Scotland. Tel/Fax: (44) 131 447 5265
Public Education Programmes