ACM TIG Week: A Research Agenda for Zoos and Aquariums (and Beyond) Part 2 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).

Following up on yesterday’s post, today we will highlight two of the five research questions from the agenda and opportunities for possible collaboration.

Example: Social emotional and physical well-being

One question asks, “What is the role of zoos and aquariums in contributing to the development of a person’s intellectual, social-emotional and physical well-being?” We know that visits to arts and culture organizations can stir a variety of emotions, and in recent years, museums around the country have begun to recognize their potential role in fostering empathy

One example of a research project that helps to address this question is the Advancing Conservation through Empathy (ACE) for Wildlife Network, formed in 2019 as a collaboration between zoos and aquariums with an interest in providing experiences that foster empathy for animals and people. By linking organizations with a common interest in this societal benefit, the Network encourages a variety of learning and research collaborations. For those charged with evaluating educational programs designed to encourage empathy, ACE for Wildlife is providing common measurement tools and peers to share approaches and address challenges.

Example: Collective efforts to support conservation

Another question asks, “What is the role of zoos and aquariums in contributing to social change toward conservation?” For years, the AZA community has worked globally on conservation efforts, often focused on key species threatened with extinction, as a part of the Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) program. This program is a collective effort across zoos and aquariums designed to have the greatest impact on conservation. 

While not new to this work, the 2020 SAFE Annual Report announced the plan to focus efforts on social and environmental justice, often at the heart of the issues faced by endangered and threatened animals. The SAFE PACT: People Advancing Conservation Together effort advances conservation initiatives through the intentional incorporation of social strategies and social science research into existing conservation work. A current pilot project focuses on using audience research to develop a toolkit that can be shared across AZA institutions to encourage sustainable procurement practices.

Lessons Learned

The examples offered above and similar collaborative efforts will, we hope, be advanced through the existence of the overarching research framework. We also hope the agenda provides those who aren’t familiar with the work of today’s zoos and aquariums with insight into the field’s priorities – and opportunities for collaboration. 

Rad Resources

Along with the examples shared above, below are a couple of additional efforts that may be of interest for future collaboration:

  • Explore the Measurement of Museum Social Impact project to learn about a project intended to strengthen nationwide measurement of social impact in arts and cultural organizations. A social impact toolkit will be available in 2023, allowing museums across the U.S. to measure and report their own social impact. 
  • Check out From Caring to Action: A Unified Framework for Audience Conservation Engagement. Created by Emily Routman Associates for San Diego Zoo Global (now San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance), the framework is designed to help zoos and aquariums promote conservation attitudes and actions, leveraging principles of environmental education and social marketing to inform effective engagement strategies.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting 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 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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