This front-end evaluation study is part of Designing Our Tomorrow: Mobilizing the Next Generation of Engineers, a five-year project (2018–2023) led by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) with the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF, DRL-1811617) and project partners: Adelante Mujeres, the Biomimicry Institute, and the Fleet Science Center. The Designing Our Tomorrow (DOT) project seeks to promote and strengthen family engagement and engineering learning via compelling exhibit-based design challenges, presented through the lens of sustainable design exemplified by biomimicry. This front-end evaluation was conducted to inform exhibit development.
The aim of this evaluation study was to understand more deeply how girls and their families relate to and care about sustainability issues, the natural world, and how they envision a present and future where the natural world and human-made designs merge and build a reciprocal and sustainable relationship. The evaluation team conducted four focus groups with girls from Oregon and California and 67 interviews with visitor groups from OMSI and the Fleet Science Center between November 2018 and June 2019. This executive summary presents highlights from all groups.
The key findings of the evaluation study are outlined below.
Thoughts on sustainability issues
Interview respondents and focus group participants expressed familiarity and interest in sustainability issues. When talking about and ranking specific sustainability issues (drawn from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals), participants demonstrated particular interest in providing access to clean water. Additionally, participants observed that the Sustainability Goals are interdependent and that creating sustainable designs involves considering trade-offs.
Relationship to the natural world and emotions about the future of the environment
Participants’ relationships to nature varied depending on the geographical region in which they grew up. Most participants described a positive memory in nature and gave examples of activities they do regularly in nature. When interview participants were asked how they felt about the environment in the future, 58% expressed emotions coded as “concern” (such as worry or nervousness), 35% expressed emotions coded as “optimistic” (such as hopefulness and inspiration), and 7% expressed both “concern” and “optimistic” emotions.
Interview participants expressed a necessity for the exhibit to state past and present harms to the environment and provide an opportunity to imagine a positive, optimistic, and most of all, sustainable future. Although participants expressed the desire for a simulation or a realistic visual of the damage caused, they also expressed that youth and adults need representations of positive social change and opportunities to envision innovative designs for positive futures.
Designs that fit in with nature
When interview respondents were asked to imagine designs that “fit in with nature,” their ideas focused on creating systemic impact and redesigning
Focus group participants were asked to create a story in an ideal world and describe their roles in that world, the geographical areas of interest, and the sustainability issues that would be addressed in the story. Some of the girls imagined a city that merges with the natural world that is both environmentally and socially conscious. Some of the girls expressed an interest in a story that represented a realistic or fantasy relationship between a young girl (9–14) or a young adult and her elder; some were even interested in inter-species relationships.