The objective for this particular study was to ascertain perceptions about the Museum from the conservation/environmental experts. Specific issues the research addressed included:
The findings from this qualitative study will be analyzed together with findings from other primary and secondary research. Together, they will provide valuable input to the strategic planning process for the San Diego Natural History Museum.
Sample and Methodology
During the phone discussions, topics covered included perceptions of the current role the Museum plays in conservation and environmental education, as well as ideas about the role the Museum can and should play in these areas in the future.
A copy of the discussion guide used for this research is appended.
Interpretation of Qualitative Research
Conclusions and Implications
Through education and increased outreach, the conservationists imagine that the Museum can be an even more effective advocate in their fight to preserve open spaces, and to ensure responsible growth and land use policies. The only further step toward blatant advocacy that this group would wish for would be to have the Museum move beyond merely presenting facts to urging people to act on what they've learned, and get involved in efforts to preserve our unique habitats.
This sample was not expert in Museum exhibition development, and yet their instincts for the kinds of exhibits and programs that would be even more effective are similar to other museum-goers. They would wish for more interactivity, greater use of the outdoors, and even more outreach. While agreeing that children are important as a target for the Museum, the sample also urged that an effort be made against parents, as well as those in college and high school who could also become effective advocates for conservation.
None of the respondents believed that the pursuit of science or the maintenance of specimen collections was unnecessary. A few, in fact, argued that as more and more academic collections became "off limits", the Museum's collection became more and more important. However, overall, this sample disdained the pursuit of the more specific and perhaps arcane studies in favor of studies which provided a more global picture of the region - thereby helping to address the issues of development and land use with which most of the people were dealing.
This sample was surprisingly uncritical of the Museum's current activities and direction. The Museum and its staff have the support and admiration of at least this group of conservationists. Based on their comments, if the Museum's future direction was similar to its current direction, they would be well-pleased.
Perception of the Museum's Current Role
Part of the educational role of the Museum was thought to be delivered in the form of outreach to residents, developers and government officials who need to be educated about regional conservation and environmental issues. To this end, several noted that Dr. Hager has become the "focus of the museum", and that through his outreach he is becoming the face and the voice of the Museum.
The importance of the Museum taking on the educational role was underscored several times by respondents. They believed that the Museum was uniquely positioned to educate people, as they are clearly the "experts". Further, because they are broadly perceived to be "apolitical", the perspective offered by the Museum was felt to be more unbiased than that put forward by conservation groups or by developers.
"In the past they tried to be apolitical. They were strictly factual.... It's a thin line they walk in not offending their funding sources..."
"When people are talking about the vision or the Master Plan, it's completely different if someone from the Museum comes. They're seen as "educators" versus lobbyists..."
While remaining ostensibly neutral, though, these experts believed that the Museum in fact was an advocate for conservation and preservation, and did rally people to get more involved in issues pertaining to land use and resource conservation.
"They have become the informal leader and experts in rallying people... through hikes and weekend activities... reaching out to the environmental community..."
"The benefits are in outreach and education... to succeed beyond preaching to the converted that the preservation of wildlife is really the preservation of human life..."
The sample of this research thought it was important for the Museum to continue to be apolitical, yet to educate the community at large about the importance of conservation efforts. Most felt that at the present time the Museum did a good job of presenting the facts about our land and our resources, but could go further in this regard:
"They're telling people about the area, but are not taking the next step... telling people why we need to conserve."
"Because over time, so many academic institutions have closed or set off their collections ...it becomes harder to find ..."
Conducting science was seen as necessary in maintaining and building the Museum's credibility as an objective "expert" about our natural resources. And a couple of people pointed out that the scientific expertise of the Museum allowed it and its personnel to play a significant role in advocating conservation.
"That's the importance of the BRCC (Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias). They can bridge the gap between policy and science research.... The experts there are suited to act as translators... they can provide a forum for discussion."
Both of the current perceived roles of the Museum - education and science - were viewed by this sample of conservationists as important methods of advocacy; albeit in an "apolitical" way. The ultimate benefit they saw was that the Museum could highlight for all the importance of preserving our habitats, reminding us of the responsibility we have to our environment.
This sample was not at all critical of the efforts the Museum was making. They applauded the focus on our region; the outreach efforts; the "translator" role the Museum took on when dealing with policy-makers, developers and conservationists; the outreach and educational efforts to the people of San Diego. They only expressed the desire that the Museum continue to do more of the same.
Future of the Museum
"They need to take a leadership role... they have credibility and no vested interest... What they are doing is preparing the next generation for the future, pushing that message."
"They should engage different age groups in interactive ways. They need to show them the implications for different activities.... They should start with the children... because then they will have the memories... if you make it interactive, and they have fun... state the facts and don't get preachy..."
During the discussion, one participant noted that although the children were important, reaching the middle-aged adults who currently directed policy and who could influence the future of conservation efforts was also important.
"Children are important to start it up with. But there's a gap between the really young who go on field trips, and the really old people who attend lectures. They need to reach out to the middle: high school, college... with internships, to be a fellow, docents..."
"Baby Boomers... get them to volunteer and become active in supporting conservation efforts."
"The knee jerk reaction is children... but you don't want to be a children's museum... you're ideally suited to talk to parents about the idea of 'leaving a legacy' and planning ahead. They want to leave the world a better place for their children and grandchildren."
RESEARCH AND SCIENCE
Respondents believed that in the future it would continue to be important for the Museum to conduct research. First, research added to the credibility the Museum had among all constituencies.
Second, research, particularly "big picture" projects like the Bird Atlas, were seen as invaluable to those involved in issues pertaining to our regional habitats.
"Things that are in the Journal of Conservation Biology..."
"Things like the Bird Atlas, showing the geographical and spatial distribution of plants and animals."
Among the respondents there was some debate about the value of the Museum's becoming more of a central "clearinghouse" for scientific information. Some thought the Museum was ideally suited to be such a repository, while others believed that such an effort would be redundant, and that basic science was more necessary.
"Yes, it would be great...to have collections of maps and data... they could figure out how to work together with other agencies to coordinate their efforts."
"I cringe at the term (clearinghouse). There are already numerous agencies that compile information... we need basic research, especially on Southern California and Baja together that no one looks at today... and housing specimens."
Respondents also noted that the Museum needed to strike a balance between conducting science and doing education and outreach. As one person put it,
Clearly, the more scientifically-oriented participants in the study wished for a slightly greater emphasis on science, while those closer to the "front lines" of public debate over conservation issues preferred a stronger emphasis on education of the public. Overall, though, all agreed that both were important to the future of the Museum.
"We're ignoring it at our peril....We need to let people know that not everyone can live here."
"Use research and science to get public support for the conservation of large areas of open space. Let them know that the cost is worth it."
"Land use and growth... how we grow... that we have finite resources."
Respondents also believed it was important for the Museum to educate people generally about the importance of the region and our ability to make a difference in the future of our region.
"Show that the future is in our hands... that it's not futile... how to keep our unique environmental identity, and that we have ways to preserve what's left. Give people hope."
"Educate people as to the importance of the region so that they will vote to spend money on it."
It was clear that these respondents wanted the Museum to impress upon people the importance of conserving our land; helping them realize that we can make a difference; and imparting hope that even though much damage has been done, all is not lost.
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