You hear it all the time. Innovations in science and technology are making the world a smaller place and making it easier for all of us to learn and communicate with each other across great distances. Recently however, six representatives from South African museums and science centers traveled to Miami to learn more about engaging audiences in science. In this case, there was no substitute for being face to face to share ideas. This visit, hosted by the Miami Science Museum and the University of Miami, was arranged by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) and funded by the South African Department of Science and Technology. The purpose was to provide a series of work learning experiences to help inform programming and development at the South African institutions. Making this long journey from South Africa to Miami were representatives from the Old Mutual-MTN ScienCentre (Durban), Nelson Mandela Bay Science Centre (Port Elizabeth), National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (Pretoria), SCI-ENZA Science Centre (Pretoria), the Giyani Science Centre (Limpopo), and SAASTA.
While at the Miami Science Museum, the group observed educational programs in action, attended special events, and met with key staff to learn about aspects of programming that were relevant to them and their audiences in South Africa. SAASTA visitors also spent time at the University of Miami to discuss the academic basis for science communication, and the importance of informal science education. And what trip to Miami would be complete without trips to other informal education institutions, like Biscayne Nature Center, Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Zoo Miami, Everglades National Park, and the Miami Children’s Museum. It’s difficult to sum up such an experience, as the visitor or the host, but as Candice Potgieter, General Manager of the KwaZulu Natal ScienCentre, said: “The most important lesson learned was the engagement around all partners involved.” So what’s next? SAASTA is currently considering the possibility of a second, longer trip with additional visitors. Because there is nothing like learning from each other face to face.