Interview with… Pedro Russo, Coordinator of the International Year of Astronomy 2009
Though I think he needs no introduction, Pedro Russo was the Global Coordinator for the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Below you can find his bio for more details on his impressive experience in outreach and science communication. I’ve met Pedro during IYA2009 initially by e-mails about the many activities that happened that year. I particularly remember the day when he published a press release I had sent him about She’s an Astronomer and 100 Hours of Astronomy in Romania. I was in Barcelona for summer holidays and went to a shagy local internet cafe to check my emails to find on the IYA2009 website a big title saying “Romania boosts IYA2009 with two high-profile events”. Exhilarating day in my own outreach life!
Personally, we’ve met during the closing of the IYA2009 in Padova, Italy when we exchanged interesting views on communication and outreach – an astronomer’s perspective vs. a PR practitioner coming from the agency front. For the past 6 months I have been working next to Pedro at ESO’s ePOD, learning from him and taking in the many resources he has to offer. I’ve been trying for as many months to crack his precious bookmarking account 😉
Taking on this opportunity I’ve decided to run a small interview with Pedro on his experience during IYA2009, focusing on astronomy communication.
If you have questions on astronomy communication you’d like to ask Pedro, leave a comment to this post! Monday, 24.01.2011, I will update the post with the interview.
Pedro Russo bio
Pedro Russo was the global coordinator for the largest network ever in Astronomy, the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009). With 148 countries involved, the IYA2009 fosters a global appreciation of the role and value of science, technology and astronomy as a unifying activity for humanity. Pedro coordinates the planning, implementation, execution and evaluation of the global IYA2009 activities, projects and events. He is also responsible for the communication between the thousands of stakeholders of the project, including projects and national chairs, astronomy community, media and society with respect to all global IYA2009 issues. Pedro obtained his University degree in applied mathematics/physics/astronomy and his Master’s Degree in geophysics from the University of Porto, Portugal. Before assuming his current position, he spent one year and half working with data from the Venus Monitoring Camera onboard ESA’s Venus Express. In the meanwhile he has been working with different international organisations, like Europlanet (European Planetology Network), International Astronomical Union Commission 55: Communicating Astronomy with the Public, European Geophysical Union – Earth and Space Science Informatics Division and International Astronautical Federation -Space and Society Committee. At the European Southern Observatory in Munich Pedro is member of the educational and public outreach department. Pedro is also the editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Communicating Astronomy with the Public Journal.
The Interview (added on Monday, 24.01.2011)
OS: We are two years after IYA2009, but the momentum it generated is still alive, which only demonstrates the deep impact this international campaign had. I know the final report was released. Can you give us a synopsis of the IYA2009 impact?
PR: I think we will be able to measure the actual impact of IYA2009 only in a couple of years. The awareness generated during 2009 is very likely to have caused changes in the knowledge, behaviour and opinions of people, but this can be seen only over the course of time – if the children of today went on to become astronomers for example.
What we can measure today is the input: the rough number of events happening around the world, the number of people who participated in the events, the traffic for astronomy projects websites, the amount of materials produced, the generated media coverage. All these inputs are indicators of the impact, but to determine the output of all the efforts we are going to need a couple of more years.
I am particularly interested to see the results of two important opinion polls: the Eurobarometer about science and society and a study by OECD on science and technology, which covers Europe and the wealthy countries.
OS: What channels of communication have you used for IYA2009?
PR: The project was initially top-down organised. The initiators and organisers of IYA2009, UNESCO and IAU, worked together to identify people in different countries to become national coordinators of local committees. These committees were then responsible to engage people locally: amateur astronomers, science centers, teachers, professional astronomers etc. We developed a series of guidelines and tools made available to these key people, who were the ones actually doing the activities. From this perspective, the IYA2009 website was the central hub for information, where people could easily find all our resources.
However, IYA2009 was not a top-down project in the end, but a grassroots project, growing bottom-up. There were many more activities coming to us from different countries and regions. These people needed to be equally recognised and we were using mainly the website to show the world their efforts. We used Google alerts to identify activities happening around the world. Whenever we found something of interest, we either contacted the organisers for more information or simply translated what we found online to write up webnews. Apart from promoting the organisers, we also wanted to share their ideas with others to inspire them to organise similar activities in their own countries.
We also used a weekly email newsletter, Twitter and other social media channels and even physical distribution of materials. Some of the channels are still being used. For example, in a couple of weeks time a documentary about the GalileoMobile project is going to be available on YouTube and Vimeo. It will be in Spanish but it will have subtitles in different channels.
In terms of mass media, I think all of the big national newspapers and main TV stations had something about IYA2009. Being an international campaign it was indeed easier to get coverage. We also had interesting stories in niche media outlets like an article about the IYA2009 in the Financial Times.
OS: Given the experience of the cornerstone projects and the many other events that you have coordinated, could you give us some tips for organising an outreach event?
PR: Each cornerstone project was born out of the need to accomplish one of the main objectives of IYA2009. Therefore I believe that the most important step to start with in organising an outreach event is defining the desired outcomes. The objectives will then determine the resources that you need: the people, the funds, the tools.
Another observation I made is that the most successful projects usually had a task group that worked together to define and plan the project well in advance. They also had a good leader to push the projects through all the difficulties. And then they had the right people to implement the project. I therefore think it is important to have a balanced task group: people with ideas, but also people who can implement ideas.
OS: This reminds me of the dynamics of a working group and the roles that each team member can play.
PR: Finally, I think that ready-to-implement projects have also high probabilities of success. Take From Earth To the Universe. The task group basically prepared everything: images in different sizes, captions in several languages, so that people could just go online and chose the right materials, print them and exhibit them in a venue that they had identified.
OS: Will the IYA2009 network and website continue to act as a source of information in astronomy outreach?
PR: The national coordinators network will be kept updated on the IYA2009 website and I think most of the people there would be open to help in other global or local outreach events as well or they would at least indicate the relevant people to go to. We would also like to keep the email newsletter alive, probably on a monthly basis, with the top 10 stories in astronomy communication.
In order to do so, we are currently considering opening a position at the IAU of Public Outreach Coordinator. We will need to find the necessary funds and a home for this position, but if we manage this will be announce within months.
OS: If this position is advertised, who could apply for this position? Only IAU members?
PR: In my opinion the applicants will not have to be IAU members, they do not necessarily have to be professional astronomers, but they have to have an in-depth knowledge of the astronomy community and of course have experience in outreach.
OS: You are also working on an IYA2009 book to be released soon. What will it contain and how can people access it?
PR: If the IYA2009 report shows all the details of the project, the IYA2009 coffee table book will resemble a photo album with associated text, which people can flip and see in a glimpse what IYA2009 was all about. It will be available online as a free pdf, and in hard copy most probably at a minimum price.
OS: How about your next project, UNAWE?
PR: My next “job” for Universe Awareness. I’ve started working as International Project Manager a few weeks ago and today is actually my first day in the office.
The main achievements that UNAWE has accomplished until now are a huge network of educators specialised in activities for children between 4 and 10 years old and a vast resource list available online. It will be my role to keep this network alive and feed it with ideas and materials and also to keep improving the available resources.
OS: What are the upcoming plans for UNAWE?
PR: During 2009 UNAWE and several partners in Spain, Germany, Italy, UK, The Netherlands and South Africa applied for EU grants for developing educational material and resources within astronomy and space sciences. We are now finalising the negotiations with the European Commission to have our grant approved.
The funded project has three main priorities:
- organise teacher training sessions in these five countries
- produce educational material for the community
- disseminate materials and share knowledge within the entire UNAWE network
OS: Will UNAWE hire a team to support you?
PR: We are going to have a team, which will have experts in astronomy education, in teacher trainings sessions, production of educational materials, as well as science writers, graphic designers and web developers. Some of the roles will be covered within UNAWE and the Leiden University, which is leading this project, but for others we will have job openings advertised on the UNAWE website.
OS: One last question: what’s your personal vision in regards to UNAWE?
PR: My personal overall vision in regards to my work is to share the beauty of the universe with the maximum people possible. In this specific case, I will be able to do that by training teachers to further promote astronomy to children all around the globe.
Thank you Pedro!