Science Stories at All Stars UX

Improvscience led the first Science Stories workshop in October, as part of the All Stars Project in New York. The goal was simple enough: get scientists and people from poor communities talking together, learning from each other, and just generally, having positive interactions together!

This goal, however simple it may seem at first glance, is actually quite difficult.

The same qualities that make scientists good scientists (precision in their wording, a devotion to accuracy, and the uncertainty that comes with it) can also make scientists difficult to talk to, for “the average person,” let alone a person who has systematically been disadvantaged by the power structures of our social systems. People may feel out of place, and afraid to speak their mind for fear of being corrected.

Why does it matter if scientists ever interact with other people? Non-scientists' views of science will determine how they feel about and interact with scientific findings and scientists, and how they see themselves in relation to science.  In other words, if a person has never met a scientist and has never had a positive interaction with one, they will likely not feel welcome to join the “club” of science, and science will lose the potential to incorporate their perspective. 

The more diverse the perspectives being factored into science, the more rich the outcomes. Excluding entire groups of people is the extreme case, and can lead to devastating practices, conclusions and policies.

So what does all of this have to do with our class?
Many programs tell their participants: “This is a safe space.” “There is no such thing as a dumb question.” 

But telling is not the same as doing. 

After a short panel-style introduction of the scientists, we broke up into groups to discuss the work of the scientists. But first, everyone had to get onto the same page. 

In the exercise we did, one person would start a question, such as 

“What did you…”

and the next person in the circle would finish it:

“have for breakfast?”

This pattern would continue around the circle.

This established 3 things: 

1) We are playing with questions. All questions are fair game and we should be saying lots and lots of questions without questioning ourselves and our instincts.

2) We can’t control the conversation. Sometimes the discussion doesn’t go where we planned. We may begin the question with one idea, and see it finished by another person in a completely different way. 

3) The questions are everyone’s (and no one’s). There is no risk of asking a stupid question and getting judged for it. 

The improv exercise allowed participants to fully embody the ethos of a shared, open, conversation. Everyone who participated co-created the shared space and had positive, organic interactions with people they may never have met otherwise.

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