Running a community outreach program is an idea that benefits the entire community in the long run. You see, the only way for the community to prosper is to make an investment in their youth, and a good outreach program is the embodiment of this idea.
Still, there are a lot of factors that you need to understand before attempting to make your community outreach program work. You need to understand what you are doing it all for, what kind of activities are considered to fall under this category, what challenges you stand to face, and more.
With all of this in mind and without further ado, here are some benefits and peculiarities of community outreach programs that you need to be aware of in time.
What is the purpose of community outreach?
The purpose of community outreach is to strengthen a bond between the science community and the local community. Here, experts from various fields have a chance to interact with the representatives of the local community and explain how the work they do impacts their everyday life.
However, this outreach can take many different forms. So, what is an outreach program? Simply put, it’s a form of your outreach efforts. In order to be effective, it needs to be clearly structured in terms of activities, target audience, messaging, and, most importantly, measurable results.
Keep in mind that, most commonly, community outreach programs are aimed at the younger members of the community. It won’t be long until some of these kids are on the path toward becoming leading scientists themselves. However, they need to be properly guided and motivated. Giving them a first-hand insight into what you’re doing might just be the best way to get there.
What are examples of outreach activities?
The number of examples is quite numerous, ranging from public lectures all the way to community-organized field trips. Then, partnering with K-12 teachers and developing educational brochures or citizen guides are also quite common community outreach programs.
The key thing in determining the right community outreach program lies in the identification of the target audience and clearly outlining the desired outcome. When working with younger audiences, it’s important to find a program that will be both immersive and interesting enough.
The hardest thing about picking the right outreach program lies in finding the need for the program. You need to have a specific problem and a measurable outcome to figure out whether it actually had the effect that you were looking for. For instance, if trying to positively impact the local educational system, you could easily measure the effect via the change in students’ scores.
Keep in mind that the importance of investing in the betterment of the lives of the underprivileged in the local community goes beyond cleaning projects, public kitchens, and social housing. It’s also about giving young people a chance to make decisions that will turn their lives around for the better. Here, outreach activities are second to none.
What are some community outreach program challenges?
The first thing that you need to understand is that a lot of the outreach is handled by early-career scientists. However, their schedules are incredibly busy. They probably already have all sorts of work and teaching commitments, which is why it’s quite hard for them to find time for these programs.
Another challenge is the audience involvement which has to be organic. You see, the thing is that no matter how well you make your program, the key thing is the way in which the audience responds to it, and such a thing is not always predictable. The best thing you can rely on is intrinsic motivation. For instance, if you have a guest speaker from an esteemed school or university, there’s a high chance that some students in your audience have an agenda of enlisting there. This already ensures that they’ll pay more attention.
Identifying helpful partners who are more familiar with the target audience is difficult, but it can completely change the success rate of your outreach program. Just keep in mind that these partners need something in return, as well. A shoutout or even a public show of appreciation can make all the difference in the world.
What are the key resources for a successful community outreach program?
The first thing you need is experience. A mentor who has already participated in such a program can be completely indispensable. Community organizers are also essential for the success of this program, seeing as how they’re supposed to run the logistics behind all the elements that are not directly controlled by the outreach program managers.
The use of materials shouldn’t be underestimated either. Regardless of what kind of demonstrations you’re going to make and what experiments you’re going to conduct, you need to provide enough materials. Moreover, you need to ensure that they are handled safely. If it’s the sampling of products that we’re talking about, you need to ensure that they’re distributed fairly.
Now, feedback is a bit of a controversial issue, seeing as how it’s a resource that you gain in the aftermath but get to use the next time you’re ready to run an outreach program. You see, you need to be able to make an evaluation of your own, but you also want to listen to what the participants have to say. Moreover, harvesting data during every stage of the project is important. In other words, you want to get some feedback:
This is the only way to establish where the problems/opportunities are with a higher degree of certainty. As a tool, you can either distribute some questionnaires (the old-school way) or ask everyone to visit your online survey and give some answers.
In the end, the benefits should always outweigh the investments. However, in order to understand how big the returns we’re talking about, you need to have measurable objectives. In order to understand how big of an investment it was, you need to establish what kind of resources you’re dealing with. The problem is that these things are not always measurable or quantifiable. Nonetheless, in order to get access to actionable data, you need to do your best to make it so.