Much of what we found supported the literature reviewed that identified the potential variables that affect engagement in education and public outreach. While it has been noted that identifying and defining the characteristics of a volunteer is difficult (Bussell and Forbes 20025
), our findings suggest both individual and club-related variables play a critical role in influencing the likelihood of an amateur astronomer engaging in education and public outreach. Our findings provide the foundation to build a larger body of knowledge focusing on the individual and club-related factors that influence amateur astronomers specifically. Effective policy, particularly in the United States where more extensive funding is available for education and public outreach, designed to increase amateur astronomers becoming involved or increasing their level of education and public outreach must address both categories of variables. This policy design is both appropriate and advantageous for these clubs because, as seen above, in both 2002 and 2008, as overall a high percent of members reported not
being involved in education and public outreach events.
At an individual level, amateurs who engage in training, formal, or informal, related to astronomy, as well as those ages 31 and above are much more likely to engage in some level of education and public outreach. Individuals who have sought either formal or informal training are engaging in a behavior similar to education and public outreach in that they are using their own resources, such as time, to actively engage in astronomy related educational activities. Additionally, as supported by Berendsen (2005)2
, the gain in knowledge from astronomy training might increase the confidence and ability of an individual who engages in education and public outreach. Our findings highlight the need to make both formal and informal training available to amateur astronomers as a way to increase education and public outreach with the goal of improving public understanding of science; certainly, if training opportunities do not exist or are not reasonably available to an amateur astronomer, there is a decreased likelihood of their participation in training.
Examining the club-related variables we found evidence that, as put forth in the literature (Culp and Schwartz 19996
; Wolford, Cox, and Culp 200119
), affiliation or club membership plays a critical role in increasing the likelihood of an amateur engaging in education and public outreach. There are many reasons why being a club member might increase the likelihood of engaging in education and public outreach. Being a member of a club puts volunteers in contact with those who have similar interests and might already be engaging in education and public outreach. Clubs can provide members support both logistically (resources, infrastructure, and partnerships with others) and interpersonally, providing a social channel for volunteers to network with each other. Importantly, a well-established and functional club is likely to be a resource known by the local community and other organizations, which in turn directly request education and public outreach from the club and its members. Regardless, our findings suggest club membership availability is a factor worthy of special attention for increasing the likelihood and amount of education and public outreach amateurs engage in. If an amateur astronomer does not have access to a local club or is not aware of the presence of a local club, there is a reduced chance that he or she will be able to seek out a club and take advantage of the education and public outreach opportunities that exist for club members. Clubs facilitate education and public outreach in a number of ways: they support education and public outreach, members may join clubs to increase their ability to engage in education and pubic outreach, and those who join clubs are exposed to additional opportunities to engage in education and public outreach. The importance of belonging to a club is reinforced by our findings that each of the club-related variables contributed to a higher level of engagement in education and public outreach, while only participant’s sex had meaningful, if unclear, differences in the distribution.
Our findings for likelihood to engage in education and public outreach suggest there is interplay between the individual and club-related variables, displayed in Figure 1
, that is temporal: from joining a club to length of club membership, holding an officer position, and age. While the initial step of joining a club provides an increase in the likelihood to engage, the length of membership and taking on duties of a club officer might serve to enhance this likelihood. The natural progression of time that must pass for these events to occur also serves to increase the age of the person engaging. It may also hold that age is the lead-in factor; that is, the constraints and opportunities that certain age brackets, on average provide individuals more time to dedicate to activities such as club membership, club service, and volunteering in education and public outreach. The findings point to the possibility that amateurs in clubs are likely to remain members for a long period of time. We were not able to analyze the degree of outreach of former club members, however, and it is possible that staying with a club increases outreach over leaving a club. In any case, as the years of membership increase so do the number of members. However, this may also highlight a potentially negative trend in that amateur astronomy clubs are aging and younger potential members are not filling in their ranks. Additionally, our findings suggest that the club-related variable of length of club membership is increased by whether the person has received formal training.
Model of statistically significant relationships between study variables, and proposed directionality of those relationships
Immediately, Figure 1
shows that individual variables influence choices to participate in clubs, and both sets of variables influence participation in education and public outreach. Only gender and service in club predicted level of engagement in education and public outreach. The enclosures distinguish attributes vs choices vs accumulation (i.e., remaining in a club as an example of an accumulation is a choice but not the same kind of choice as choosing to join a club or choosing to receive training) vs outcomes. Of course, only those people who are in clubs can do club service or stay in clubs, so there is no need to draw a line between club membership and the other two club-level variables even if correlated. Arrows in two directions are included where we posit the relationship to be bidirectional and possibly mutually reinforcing.
A beneficial policy design would suggest that astronomy clubs try to increase the amount of service-related positions available to its members. In other words, the more people with a service position, the more likely individual involvement in education and public outreach. Having more people in similar service positions would also lessen individual burden and stress related to these positions and management of the group as a whole could become more effective. However, it is likely most amateurs seeking to hold a service position in a club do so and that those who seek service positions are the same who choose to engage in education and public outreach, suggesting a solution lies in attracting new club members that are both willing to hold service positions and engage in education and public outreach.
Those who create policy at a club level might consider looking into the frequency that clubs engage in or schedule education and public outreach events. Most participants stated they engage in education and public outreach on a monthly basis. This might advocate for having monthly opportunities available or ensuring that events are staggered so that members have a choice of which event to participate in each month without exhausting the supply of club members who might participate in a given month. It would seem that there is the potential for diminishing returns or member burn out if a club were to schedule too many education and public outreach events close together.
Recommendations to increase likelihood and level of engagement in education and public outreach based on our current findings are to focus on the removal of barriers to amateurs joining clubs, participating in the running of clubs, and engaging in formal or informal astronomy-related training. Each of the factors identified in this study are worthy of further explanation, alongside additional factors that might play a role in likelihood and level of amateur engagement in education and public outreach. It is probable that personality factors, past experiences, and attitudes play a role in influencing likelihood and level of engagement. It should be explored whether someone who takes on a service role in an astronomy club is predisposed to being interested in engaging in education and public outreach. This also serves to highlight the potential difficulty in increasing the number of those who engage in education and public outreach. It is unlikely that an amateur who has little desire to take on a service role will do so, though it is also possible that desire could be influenced. Further study is needed to identify common barriers to amateur astronomers’ likelihood and level of engagement in education and public outreach. The authors have begun to identify these barriers through a case study reported elsewhere.
The findings presented above may also serve to inform the efforts of other groups outside of amateur astronomers that engage in education and public outreach. For example, a large group of citizen scientists act on behalf of professional ornithologists to collect data on behalf of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. These data are of high quality and have been used to inform a number of published academic articles (Bonney et al. 20094
). Viewing our findings through the lens of citizen science may serve to inform efforts at increasing the number of participants and level of participation in these endeavors. Additional research on how these findings might apply to citizen science efforts is needed.