The attraction of space social events
by Alan Steinberg
|The success of such events is difficult to judge. While the number of attendees can be easily counted, the true metric of success would be to measure increases in interest and engagement.|
Space social events that provide an atmosphere combining entertainment and education may be the solution to the outreach conundrum. There are a number of such activities taking place around the year and around the globe, ranging from World Space Week to Moon Day, but Yuri’s Night in particular has been focused on the mission to engage the difficult-to-target college and young professional crowd, many of whom lack interest and/or awareness of space policy and activities.
The success of such events is difficult to judge. While the number of attendees can be easily counted, the true metric of success would be to measure increases in interest and engagement. Meanwhile, space social events may just be attracting those who are already interested in and aware of space activities. This means that such events may be providing an important means to keep interested people engaged, but may not be providing the public outreach value where it is most needed: to the semi-interested but not yet engaged.
In order to test this theory and to better understand the desires of young people in regards to space social events, 73 random undergraduate students from a large public university and 30 members of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) were surveyed about their attendance and interest in space social events between November 2013 and April 2014. (Undergraduate students were recruited out of introductory political science courses that are mandatory for all students at the university. SGAC members were recruited via e-mail through the member mailing list.) The random undergraduate students serve as a proxy for the average 18–25-year-old person who the space community wants to reach out to using social events, while the members of SGAC are in theory of similar age and education group but are already engaged by the space community and represent an international audience.
(It may be important to note that the average ages of these samples were not as close as was initially hoped, but given the large age range that space social events are attempting to cater to, it is unlikely to significantly impact the analysis. While most college undergraduates are between 18 and 25, SGAC members are ages 18 to 35. Within this sample the average age for undergraduates was 22 and the average age for SGAC members was 31.)
Both groups were asked to self-identify on a scale of 1 to 7 (from no interest to very interested) their interest in space exploration and related fields. The undergraduate students sampled have a mean interest score of 4.699, representing a moderate interest, with a standard deviation of 1.956. The members have a mean interest score of 6.567, representing a high interest, and a standard deviation of 1.306. A two-sample t-test supports the hypothesis that these groups are significantly different at the 95% confidence interval, with t-score of 4.8 and a corresponding p-value of less than .0001.
|Responses indicate that undergraduates have a range of interests from science to social with quotes including: “Things that make me feel like I’m in space” and “demonstrations of equipment and science” to “DJ and bar” and “party.”|
Of the 73 undergraduates, only 11 (15.07%) had attended a space social event, while 26 of the 30 (86.67%) SGAC members had done so. This clear difference in attendance supports the hypothesis that space social events are not likely reaching their intended audiences of young individuals unaware of but potentially interested in space. However, the lack of attendance may not be due to a lack of interest in space alone but instead due to a lack of space events being interesting enough for these students to want to attend. Undergraduate students who had not attended such an event were asked if they has any interest in possibly doing so, to which 35 of the 62 (56.45%) expressed interest in attending a space social event. So then what would it take to reach these young people?
Further follow up of the undergraduate sample using the open-ended question, “What features or attractions would make you more likely to attend such an event?” provides insight into what it may take for a space social event to appeal to young people. Responses indicate that undergraduates have a range of interests from science to social with quotes including: “Things that make me feel like I’m in space” and “demonstrations of equipment and science” to “DJ and bar” and “party.” SGAC members surveyed were asked this same open-ended question and responses were similar but more specific, such as: “high quality presentations,” “an event that combines entertainment and outreach,” and “free booze.” An interesting difference was that a number of SGAC members specifically mentioned that having astronauts present would make them more likely to want to attend, while none of the undergraduate students expressed this sentiment.
The takeaway from this study is far from clear, but what is obvious is that more research is needed in order to better understand the motivations behind the decision to attend space social events and what types of content would be most likely to attract the desired audience. The study discussed here has shown that the interests of these two groups are somewhat similar, but further research is needed to know if what event aspects that attract the space enthusiast will also attract the somewhat interested.
In the wake of this study, Yuri’s Night and World Space Week have joined up to conduct a survey targeting the more space aware and interested individuals in order to cater to the audience most likely to attend such events. The survey can be found at http://yur.is/wsw15yn and will run until the end of April. While this study will provide for a more nuanced understanding of those who attend space social events and allow organizations such as Yuri’s Night and World Space Week to cater to their easiest to attract audiences, it is not clear if such a study will provide the insights needed to attract the less engaged but still interested individuals.