ACM TIG Week: A Research Agenda for Zoos and Aquariums (and Beyond) Part 1 by Emily Kalnicky & Kathryn Owen

Greetings! We are Emily Kalnicky & Kathryn Owen, members of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) Social Science Research and Evaluation Scientific Advisory Group (SSRE SAG). Kathryn founded the audience research department at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, and currently consults with nonprofits in the museum and wildlife conservation sectors. Emily is the Director of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning at the Partnership for Public Service, along with being an independent consultant.

Today we will highlight the development and implementation of a social science research agenda for zoos and aquariums. Tomorrow we will highlight a couple of specific research questions and opportunities for possible collaboration.

The research agenda

In 2020, the AZA adopted the Social Science Research Agenda to guide future work. The agenda was developed by a cross-section of individuals both within the AZA and among peer organizations. The agenda includes priorities and emerging issues that social scientists and practitioners in the AZA community have identified as the most relevant to advancing the conservation goal of humans and wildlife thriving together.

The SSRE SAG includes internal evaluators and researchers from nearly a dozen zoos, aquariums and museums as well as students, academics and consultants working in the field. The SAG purpose is to promote the agenda among research and evaluation staff at AZA institutions and beyond, and to develop a system for tracking progress.

The agenda includes five overarching questions:

  • How can zoos and aquariums help build a more equitable society through critical reflection on their internal operations, culture, and communications? How can zoo and aquarium diversity, equity, access and inclusion (DEAI) efforts support this? 
  • What is the role of zoos and aquariums in communities, including in the context of striving for environmental and social justice? 
  • What is the role of zoos and aquariums in contributing to social change toward conservation? 
  • What is the role of zoos and aquariums in contributing to the development of a person’s intellectual, social-emotional and physical well-being?
  • How can zoos/aquariums maximize their systemic impact on conservation?

Lessons Learned

AZA undertook an earlier effort to establish a research agenda in 2010. At the time, zoos and aquariums were not engaged in evaluation or social science research to nearly the extent they are today; among those who were, there was little awareness of the research agenda. This time around, evaluation and research efforts have grown substantially, and with a dedicated effort to publicize, advance, and track progress towards the research agenda, we have a much better chance of understanding and tracking our progress.

Rad Resources

Along with the research agenda, below are a couple resources for AEA members interested in learning more and potentially collaborating with AZA institutions, other evaluators, social science researchers, students, and/or consultants:


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Arts, Culture, and Museums (ACM) TIG Week. The contributions all week come from ACM members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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