STEM Outreach on a Shoestring Budget

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By Alex Chattwood, Communication, Education and Outreach Co-Editor

$16.7 million. That’s how much the annual Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC PromoScience) program has awarded Canadian science outreach non-profits, institutions and non-federal science museums since 2011. Earlier this year, 38 organizations received just under $5 million in funding for the next three years. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But, with this very modest pot of money, an incredible variety of science outreach programs has sprouted up across Canada.

Dashboard 1


This interactive graphic provides details on every award: the organization, the location, the program title, the year and funding. The bar graph at the bottom allows comparison between organizations. Annual funding stepped up from $800,000 in 2011 to a plateau of $3.4 million in 2014 and 2015. Unsurprisingly, the pot is not split evenly. Almost half the total pot stays in Ontario, presumably because this is where many national organizations are based. The Ottawa non-profit, Actua, for instance, has received nearly twice as much funding as anyone else since 2011 but uses much of it for out-of-province programs focused on northern youth. British Columbia and Quebec are the only other provinces to receive more than $1 million, with the Prairies and Maritime provinces each getting between $500–750,000 and the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon around $100,000 or less since 2011.

What the graphic cannot show are the impacts these programs have on the communities in which they are delivered. Annual reports can provide numbers. In 2015/16, for example, Science World’s “Scientists & Innovators in the Schools” program took 219 volunteer scientists to 27,400 K–12 students and 2,000 teachers across BC. And, participation in Calgary’s city-wide Beakerhead festival has almost doubled in only 3 years.From my own experiences with both of these organizations, I can see the impact, too: busy hands, expressive faces and chattering voices – excellent qualitative indicators of learning (in my opinion!)

Good numbers and good vibes are not enough for NSERC. It wants to boost engagement in science among underrepresented demographics, by calling for applications targeted at girls and Aboriginal groups. And, it wants all of this to translate into more young Canadians choosing careers in science and technology, an area where Canada is currently lagging on the global stage.

Only time will tell if NSERC’s grand vision will be successful. But, for now, one thing is clear: impactful coast-to-coast-to-coast science outreach doesn’t have to break the bank.

Do you have a story about the impact of a science outreach program shown in the graphic? Share it below. Or, ping me at @chattwoo.

If you are interested in applying for an NSERC PromoScience grant, click here. The deadline for the next round of proposals is Sept 15th, 2016.


Header image: Photo by David Carroll at the Chemical Institute of Canada / CC BY

Correction (2016/06/01): The previous version had the incorrect deadline for applying for an NSERC PromoScience grant. Sept 15, 2016 is the correct date.

Correction (2016/07/012): The previous version had the incorrect inception date for the NSERC PromoScience program. The program began in 2000, not 2011.

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