Science culture panel and Denise Amyot at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

The 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) starts tomorrow, Nov. 16, 2011 and runs until Nov. 18, 2011. Denise Amyot, speaker on the 2011 CSPC Science Culture, Organized and Prioritized: Three National and International Initiatives panel and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, has very kindly given me an interview.

Here’s a little bit about Denise Amyot first (from the bio on the 2011 CSPC conference website),

Denise Amyot is currently, President and CEO of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation whose mandate is to foster scientific and technological literacy throughout the country. The Corporation and its three museums – the Canada Agriculture Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum – tell the stories of Canadian ingenuity and achievement in science and technology.

She has worked both in National Headquarters and in regions in several federal departments including central agencies, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, National Defense, Natural Resources Canada, and Canadian Heritage. In her former three roles as Assistant Deputy Minister, she was respectively responsible for leading and managing leadership development programs and developing policies for employees and executives throughout the public Service of Canada, the corporate management services, as well as public affairs and ministerial services. She has worked extensively in policy and line operations in the context of programs and service delivery, in social, economic, and cultural areas. She also worked for few years with the Government of the Northwest Territories.

Ms Amyot is the former President of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, Vice-President of the Head of Federal Agencies Steering Committee, and member of the Board of Governors at the Ottawa University and at the Algonquin College. She is the former President of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada and former President of the Communications Community Office.

Ms Amyot has obtained a Master’s degree in Education and three Bachelor degrees in Biology, in Arts and in Education.

Now, here are the questions and answers:

The panel (Science Culture, Organized and Prioritized: Three National and International Initiatives) features you from the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC); Lesley Lewis, CEO of the Ontario Science Centre; Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia and is being moderated by Tracey Ross, ED for the Canadian Association of Science Centres. Could you describe the difference between a museum of science and technology and a science centre?

Science museums are distinctive from science centres as they are the steward of a collection that provides an historical perspective on a specific cross-section of society. Science museums use artifacts from their collection to interpret science and technology within society and help visitor acquire a deeper understanding on its developmental and evolutionary nature. Like science centres, science museums also engage visitors on various aspect of current science and offer experiential, hands on activities.

Could you give a little history of the CSTMC and explain why there are three museums?

The CSTMC was created 21 years ago to govern the Canada Science and Technology Museum and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The Canada Agriculture Museum joined the corporation in 1997. Previous to 1990 all national museums were managed through a single corporation which posed challenges considering the diversity of audience, needs and mandates of these institutions.

The three museums share a common vision of engaging all Canadians in appreciating their scientific and technological heritage, and awaken them to our country’s potential of creativity and innovation to solve today’s challenges and propel us in the 21st century.

How do you view science culture in Canada and how would you describe it in relation to the international scene?

There has never been a time in history when science and technology have had greater impact on the lives of our citizens or have been more important to our economic competitiveness, prosperity and societal well being. I understand science culture as the degree in which Canadians understand the basic of science, are able to make daily decisions informed by a basic understanding of science and use of scientific method (inquiry). Science culture is an important vector of economic prosperity. Science culture also informs the degree in which science is considered as a desirable field of study for youth (STEM) leading to fulfilling careers.

Sustaining a strong and vibrant science culture is essential to Canada’s long term economic, environmental and social success in a global world. The world is looking at Canada to develop an economic and societal model that will smartly develop new and innovative ways of sustaining the exploitation of its natural resources while creating an inclusive society that will harness the talent, creativity and potential of every citizen. In the last ten years, jobs in science and technology have seen the largest growth.

Last year an initiative from the CSTMC for an online science network/hub was announced. Can you talk a little about the initiative and what happened to it?

For financial reasons, we have taken a step back in this project and have decided to postpone activities for the time being. Inspiring Australia has put a similar idea forward earlier this year and with significantly more resources than those we had put forward. We are watching this closely, to see how they will go about this and what sort of engagement they will garner.

I see the need for a more active national dialogue on science beyond sharing information about research, or explaining how it will benefit us. We need an open and respectful two-way dialogue between the experts and the citizens, the converted and the agnostics, a dialogue that spans the nation and involves universities, schools, science centres and museums, governments, businesses, community groups, and individuals. To change our collective thinking about science, more efforts will need to be directed to this dialogue. But most importantly, it will require stronger collaborations and coordination between institutions nation-wide. Using emerging digital technologies and social media applications seem to be the way of the future and we remain committed to playing a role in this area.

I assume you’ll be talking about the initiative to benchmark science culture in order to measure future progress. Could you share a little bit about your talk (how do you go about benchmarking science culture; has anyone done it before; how long will it take; does it require government funding; and, if so, how much?) that could serve both as a preview and as some information for those of us who won’t be able to attend?

There is strong agreement that having a strong and vibrant science culture is fundamental to the future of our country. For years we have been in discussion, inconclusively, on how best to go about this. We have seen numerous initiatives. Many pilot projects. I believe that best policies are evidence-based and informed by compelling performance indicators. There is still a bit of work needed in the science community to identify broadly supported indicators that could best reflect the vitality of our science culture in Canada.

Canada’s science culture is shaped by the interplay of various public, private and non-profit players delivering a range of activities and tools designed to enhance understanding and interest, among Canadians of all ages, in science. There are hundreds of different formal and informal science education and awareness and awareness building programs in this country and we hardly can map out their contribution to the vitality of science culture in our country. We need to collect output and outcome indicators to start benchmarking our progress and devise an effective national strategy. For example we need to measure beyond literacy levels or number of graduates in STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] to include such things as science coverage and audience in the media, public opinion on science and scientists and many other indicators used in other countries.

I’ve noticed that most of the discussion about innovation is centered on the notion of business; do you think that culture has a place at that table?

YES! Actually the concept of science culture reflects the fact that part of our general culture there has to be a strong dose of science. And creativity, innovation, risk taking, entrepreneurship. The business sector fully understands the crucial nature of a strong science culture as a driver to our country’s competitiveness.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

As members of the science community, it is our responsibility to ensure that Canadians recognize not only the great achievements of our scientists, but that they see how science-based evidence inform our everyday lives.

I believe that the same curiosity and joy of discovery experienced by young Canadians visiting our science museums and science centres can be shared by all Canadians. I believe that this can then be turned into an active commitment to make Canada a country where scientific discovery and innovation shape our identity as Canadians, and contribute to the health of our economy and to the vibrancy of our nation. Creative thinking and a spirit of entrepreneurship are at the heart of innovation. Creative thinking does not require a lot of raw material but is underpinned by a strong science culture. We need to foster and support that value.

Thank you Mme. Amyot for sharing your insights and enthusiasm about science culture and offering this preview of the 2011 CSPC ‘Science Culture’ panel in the midst of your busy schedule.

I am very grateful to you and Mike Harcourt, Tim Meyer, and David Kent for taking the time to answer my questions about your work and about your talks for the 2011 CSPC panels where you will be appearing over the next few days.

1 thought on “Science culture panel and Denise Amyot at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

  1. Pingback: Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, speaks at 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference « FrogHeart

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