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IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholder’s Workshop – Day 3 December 17, 2011

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
Tuesday December 15, 2011

The morning began with two presentations about funding. One was given by Ravi Sheth about International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy; the other by Ernst van Groningen about International Science Programme of Uppsala University, Sweden. Dr. van Groningen’s presentation included a framework much like a spreadsheet of things to think about and include before writing a request for funding that I thought was particularly useful. His talk can be seen at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/19135075 starting at about 15 minutes into the broadcast. The rest of the morning was dedicated to two talks by popular vote: one by Pedru Russo and Valerio Ribeiro about Evaluation Metrics, the other by Carolina Govender about Evaluation & Planning focusing on having evaluation at every step of project planning. The first talk starts at about five minutes into the stream and the second about twenty one minutes into the stream.

The unique activity of the workshop was the Unconference Topics. Over the workshop there was a place for participants to write down topics that they wanted to discuss that they thought were important. Then the participants voted on each topic, those that received the most votes won. There were five popular topics:
1. Citizen Science,
2. Mobile Planetaria,
3. Distance Education,
4. Managing Volunteers, and
5. Evidence for economic development resulting from astronomy.

I joined the last group. After much discussion we determined there were four steps that OAD should take
A. The OAD should host a webpage where links to previous reports can be accessed. For example, it is possible to get actual amounts that governments spend on astronomy, as well as organizations such as NASA in the USA produce annual reports by state of the impact of NASA funding.
B. OAD should analyze the metrics and evaluation methods used in these existing reports and
C. determine if we need to develop new metrics to suit OAD goals or simply use existing ones.
D. OAD should develop a team of people that can then go to astronomy facilities and assess the economic impact of each. Why would such a team be important? As with all forms of evaluation and assessment associated with projects, the funders want to know where their money went and that positive things have come out of their investment. I would like to know who benefits from astronomy dollars and how this breaks down demographically by gender and ethnicity. To do this OAD will have to partner with more than just astronomers.

My thoughts about the workshop are positive. It brought together stakeholders who were primarily interested in
1. Educating the public about astronomy,
2. Attracting young people to become astronomers, and
3. Increasing the number of university level astronomy classes and programs worldwide.

As a result, most of the attendees were astronomers. For the next workshop, I would like to see stakeholders from the towns nearest observatories, from government offices responsible for development, from the United Nations Development Program, and perhaps indigenous rights groups. The point of the workshop was to help shape the breadth and scope of the new Office of Astronomy for Development, it would be interesting to get input from these development stakeholders.

IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholder’s Workshop – Day 2 December 14, 2011

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
Tuesday December 14, 2011

The IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) has three established task forces. Tuesday December 13th, the workshop participants were assigned to task forces and met for the morning session. The goal was to brainstorm new ideas at the intersection of astronomy and development, but also to consider how to implement the published OAD Strategic Plan.

In the afternoon we had breakout sessions by regions. The divisions were Africa and the Middle East, Latin America, Asia Pacific, North America, and Europe. In these breakout sessions we were to examine our regional strengths and regional needs. North America consisted of representatives from the United States and Canada. Mexico joined the Latin America group.

As with other places worldwide North America has underserved populations that we would like to help such as First Nations/Native Americans, underrepresented groups, inner city underclass, etc. There were two tiers of needs, the first was to do things that astronomers normally do but reach these underserved communities. That is astronomy education and astronomy outreach, there are already many programs and networks to do these but these need to be extended to these communities. The second need was to consider social justice, cultural awareness, and egalitarian science in the context of astronomy for development.

This area was a fairly new way of thinking for astronomers and specific strategies, methods, actions and activities are left for the future. Unlike other parts of the world, North America is rich in resources including in plain old cash!

There are over 300 volunteers registered through the OAD website, few of these are from North America. Thus, there is a need to recruit volunteers. The North American group did not discuss WHERE an OAD node office should be located instead we focused on the issues discussed above.

OAD Workshop Participants Silvia Torres-Peimbert (Mexico), Postdoc Linda Strubbe (USA), and Graduate Student and NSBP Member Deatrick Foster (USA)

IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholders’ Workshop – Day 1 December 13, 2011

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
Tuesday December 13, 2011

The first day was an opportunity for stakeholders to provide quick descriptions of their activities and how they wish to contribute to OAD or make use of OAD. Each person was to have five minutes and two slides. All of the presentations were interesting. What I found informative was the reports from the various divisions within the International Astronomical Union: IAU Commission 46: Education and Building Capacity and IAU Commission 55: Communicating Astronomy with the Public. Both of these have several working groups doing work relevant to OAD. Where the American Astronomical Society is very active regarding the direct needs of research astronomers, these two IAU commissions have been far more active socially beyond the needs of astronomers.

There were several groups focused specifically in Africa: AIMS-Next Einstein, the African Astronomical Society, South African Astronomical Observatory, and there was an artist group doing work in the town closest to the Observatory in Sutherland, South Africa.

I was given two minutes to represent the National Society of Black Physicists. I shared the following:

  • 1. The National Society of Black Physicists is a global professional society based in the United States.

    2. We are active participants in the African Astronomical Society.

    3. We are interested in international scientific collaborations.

    4. We are interested in international exchanges.

    5. We are exploring forming a regional node in the United States. We aren’t the only ones there is also Steward Observatory and the Vatican Observatory.

    6. We have a long-term investment in the development of astronomy in Africa.

    7. We offer our services to help OAD anyway we can.

  • There are three established task forces:

    1. Astronomy for Universities and Research

    2. Astronomy for Children and Schools

    3. Astronomy for the Public

    Today we will be meeting within these task force to brainstorm, keeping in mind the OAD mission: To help further the use of astronomy as a tool for development by mobilizing the human and financial resources necessary in order to realize its scientific, technological and cultural benefits to society. OAD Director Kevin Govender reminds us that astronomy is not the silver bullet to solve all the problems fo the world. We are also to consider the economic impact of our activities.

    The Global Office of Astronomy for Development December 10, 2011

    Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

    by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
    Friday December 9, 2011

    The International Astronomical Union has opened the Global Office of Astronomy for Development in Cape Town, South Africa. The OAD was officially inaugurated in April 2011. The new office is housed in a refurbished building on the grounds of the South African Astronomical Observatory headquarters. It is part of the thriving astronomy community in South Africa.

    SAAO grounds

    My trip to South Africa has three purposes:

    1) To represent the National Society of Black Physicists at the first OAD stakeholders workshop, December 11 – 14, 2011. See http://www.astronomyfordevelopment.org/index.php/oadevents/oadworkshop.

    2) To plan the next African Cultural Astronomy conference for 2014 in Cape Town.

    3) To discuss the findings of my research on the South African National Astrophysics and Space Sciences Programme (NASSP) with NASSP instructors and administrators.

    Today, my focus is on the workshop. What is exciting is that the workshop is structured in an unique way that includes participant input as to what talks they want to hear on the last day! People have submitted possible talks for consideration. Given my absorption with finishing my book on NASSP, I did not submit a potential talk topic.

    My role in the OAD workshop is multifold: Working with Astronomy without Borders, Steward Observatory, and the National Society of Black Physicists, we first considered hosting the OAD in the United States, but ultimately chose to support the South Africa bid, which they won. However, there is the possibility of a USA OAD node, i.e. there is a chance of an OAD satellite office in the United States. Though I haven’t been part of any formal discussions this last year, I know that there is still some interest from US astronomers to have a local office. I think an office in the USA would give greater access to USA based funding organizations that might be interested in financially supporting OAD projects.

    More about OAD: Though based in South Africa, it is a global effort.

    GOAD Office Plaque

    OAD came out of one of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) projects. There are many IYA2009 people involved in OAD and they will be attending the workshop. Through my IYA2009 involvement I know many of them.

    From the OAD website:

    “The mission of the OAD is to help further the use of astronomy as a tool for development by mobilizing the human and financial resources necessary in order to realize the field’s scientific, technological and cultural benefits to society.”

    OAD specifically addresses for the first time how astronomy positively impacts society economically as well as intellectually. Astronomers often think about and foster connections to K12 education and the public, but rarely think about how astronomy can stimulate local economies. OAD seeks to foster projects that encourage local economies and, more broadly, stimulate development. Though there is a historic connection between astronomy and economic development, it has not been the goal of or of great interest to astronomers. Thus, OAD marks a major change in the way astronomers think about themselves, what they do, and their impact on society.

    I’m looking forward to this workshop!

    OAD office space