Effective immediately, all education and public outreach activities should be suspended, pending further review. In terms of scope, this includes all public engagement and outreach events, programs, activities, and products developed and implemented by Headquarters, Mission Directorates, and Centers across the Agency, including all education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects.
The scope comprises activities intended to communicate, connect with, and engage a wide and diverse set of audiences to raise awareness and involvement in NASA, its goals, missions and programs, and to develop an appreciation for, exposure to, and involvement in STEM. Audiences include employees, partners, educators, students, and members of the general public. The scope encompasses, but is not limited to:
- Programs, events, and workshops.
- Permanent and traveling exhibits, signage, and other materials.
- Speeches, presentations, and appearances, with the exception of technical presentations by researchers at scientific and technical symposia.
- Video and multimedia products in development (and renewal of existing products).
- Web and social media sites in development (excludes operational sites).
- External and internal publications, with the exception of Scientific and Technical Information as defined by NPD 2200.1B.
- Any other activity whose goal is to reach out to external and internal stakeholders and the public concerning NASA, its programs, and activities.
Aside from the obvious interest of this suspension to all the folks immediately affected by this NASA reaction to sequestration, I think this should be of interest to anyone engaged in broader impacts activities and evaluation.
It forces us to broaden our own thinking about the issue of broader impacts. NSF’s new requirements include the idea of evaluation of broader impacts activities, using especially well-established means of evaluation. Most of those well-established means of evaluation focus on education and public outreach (EPO) activities. But this suspension raises the question of whether such disciplinary approaches to evaluation will be sufficient to justify EPO projects.
Consider the following scenario. NASA has (totally made up number that wildly underestimates the actual number) 10 EPO projects and must cut 3 to stay within their new budget constraints. The matter is simpler if there are 3 that clearly are underperforming according to the evaluations. But how would we decide between various EPO projects that all receive excellent evaluations? And are there not some areas of EPO that are more valuable than others, regardless of the ‘internal’ evaluations? For instance, maybe it is strategically more important to educate folks about sending astronauts to Mars than to educate them about the history of the space race.
If there are areas of strategic importance, we’ll need another means of evaluating them — one that is not covered by well-established EPO evaluation practices.
UPDATE: I found what I take to be the complete text of the memo here. Of note is the fact that NASA does intend to make decisions about which EPO projects should be funded on the basis of whether they are, in fact, “mission critical” –
For future activities, the Offices of Communications and Education have established a process to assess and determine, in light of the current budget situation, what education and public outreach activities should be determined Agency mission critical and thereby be continued or implemented.
Now the question for NASA EPO folks seems to become: what is that process? But that’s thinking only tactically. Thinking strategically, the question is: how do we evaluate EPO activities using more than the well-established means of evaluating EPO activities? In other words, the task is to include an account of the mission-criticality of EPO activities within the evaluation of those activities.