The highlights, deliverables and performance of our Science Outreach initiatives

Science Outreach – objectives and deliverables

CSIRO’s science outreach programs aim to promote the importance of science and its application to students, parents, teachers and the Australian community, which helps Australia to remain innovative and competitive in science.

CSIRO is in a strong position to help create a knowledgeable society by raising scientific literacy and communicating the outcomes, impacts and benefits of scientific research so the community can engage with major issues related to science.

CSIRO engages with the community through a variety of multimedia channels. Communicating scientific research helps raise the profile of science and CSIRO within the community.

CSIRO supports undergraduates, postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers to boost the calibre of researchers working in the Australian community, which is important for Australia’s future innovation capacity.

CSIRO also operates CSIRO PUBLISHING as an independent science and technology publisher with a global reputation for quality products and services covering a wide range of scientific disciplines, including agriculture, chemistry, plant and animal sciences, and environmental management.

Science Outreach – Program performance

The performance of CSIRO’s Science Outreach Programs is assessed through six performance indicators. Table 2.8 provides a summary of progress. More detailed analysis and trend data follows the Table.

Table 2.8: Performance indicators for program 3 – science outreach
Key performance indicator Target (and performance assessment) Performance
Utilisation of science outreach programs Increasing Utilisation of our science outreach programs has been maintained with some increases and decreases. Membership and subscription to our Double Helix Science Club and Maths by Email have increased by 13 per cent. Visitor centres experienced a slight decrease due to staff shortages and higher figures the previous year due to successful open days.
Awareness of science by CSIRO stakeholders Positive perceptions and awareness Awareness of CSIRO is still high among the community, with nearly 80 per cent of surveyed community members rating CSIRO as trustworthy, including 56 per cent of the public rating it as extremely trustworthy.
Success of participants in the Science Outreach Programs Qualitative evidence of success Surveys indicate that our science outreach programs are having a positive impact on target audiences. Over 95 per cent of the 6,000 plus teachers surveyed relating to the CSIRO hands-on science programs believed the programs were likely to have a lasting impact.
International reach and impact of published journals Improving trend in impact factors (IF) Of 26 journals, four are not ranked with IFs. Twenty-two journals improved their IF on the previous year. Twelve journals achieved their best-ever IF. Average IF across all journals was 1.6, its highest-ever score.
New book titles Increase or maintain number of titles This year the publishing rate for new book titles was maintained by publishing 42 new book titles in print and digital formats.
Net Profit from CSIRO PUBLISHING $651,226 CSIRO PUBLISHING exceeded its planned profit and delivered a net profit of $770,848 (18.3 per cent more than anticipated).

Green shading: indicates positive progress for the year and the target has been achieved. Yellow shading: indicates some challenges have occurred during the year, but they were managed. Red shading: indicates challenges have affected progress and resulted in the target not being achieved. White/no colour: indicates that this is the first year results have been recorded for this indicator therefore no trend can be observed.

Utilisation of science outreach programs

Education programs

CSIRO conducts a range of science education programs for school students, their teachers and the public. These programs offer a range of science education projects designed to inform students, their families and teachers of the contribution scientific research makes to the community.

CSIRO Education continues to offer a range of valued programs to teachers and students.

The Science Education Centres hosted 363,099 students and teachers in 2012, see Table 2.9. This was a decrease of 11,698 students and was primarily attributed to a staff shortage in the Brisbane centre which has now been resolved.

A recent appointment of a new manager and a full staff complement in the Brisbane centre is expected to reverse this anomaly in the results next year.

The opening of a new CSIRO Education Centre in Hobart this year is also expected to yield positive results next year in terms of the total number of students and teachers utilising the Science Education Centres.

At the end of 2012 there were 1,537 Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools partnerships in 1,152 schools. CarbonKids continued to expand its reach with 253 schools registered by the end of 2012.

The Discovery Centre and major visitor centres

CSIRO also hosts the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra and operates major visitor centres at the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC). These centres are purpose-built to showcase CSIRO research in an entertaining way that demystifies and educates people of all ages about research and innovation.

CSIRO Discovery Centre’s education programs for schools continued to grow. The Centre focused on new education and outreach activities on weekends when more of the community could participate. Consequently, our science-themed birthday parties were booked out for many weekends and a new Easter family science weekend brought in 6,000 paying patrons. CSIRO Discovery hosted three artists in residence which resulted in the symposium SPECTRA.

Table 2.9: Science outreach: education programs
Program 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
CSIRO Science Education Centres (visitors) 390,947 386,500 389,287 374,797 363,099
Double Helix Science Club (members) 13,851 15,821 19,656 20,253 15,958
Science by Email (subscribers) 29,560 34,933 38,156 41,204 42,422
Maths by Email* (subscribers) 9,255 14,967 17,292
Creativity in Science and Technology (CREST) (participants) 8,355 8,801 9,668 8,385 7,767
BHP Billiton Science Awards (participants) 2,568 3,114 3,658 3,770 4,065

*Launched in 2010

Table 2.10: Science outreach: visitor centres
Discovery Centre and visitor centres 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
CSIRO Discovery Centre (visitors) 80,555 94,365 100,920 108,060 113,000
Parkes radio telescope (visitors) 92,369 112,342 95,104 96,609 92,876
Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (visitors) 67,538 67,582 70,044 77,350 68,710

The symposium explored the cultural and artistic value of scientific imagery and drew speakers from Oxford University and the University of Chicago. The Centre led CSIRO’s contribution to the Centenary of Canberra celebrations by developing an iPad application exploring CSIRO’s history in the region, and our science film festival SCINEMA was included on the cultural program of Australia’s Embassies and High Commissions by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Visitor numbers to the Parkes radio telescope were 92,876 in 2012 (see Table 2.10). This decrease on the previous year was due to the Parkes Observatory celebrating its 50th year in 2011, which boosted visitor numbers.

Education and outreach programs included 25 school holiday workshops, a teacher’s astronomy weekend workshop, 12 solar telescope viewing sessions, and monthly amateur astronomy meetings.

Seven high school work experience students and a CSIRO summer vacation student were also hosted at the centre, undertaking a range of tasks, which included working on astronomy-related resources and exhibits, as well as supporting workshop activities.

The CDSCC provided education programs to 12,430 students and educators during 2012. Approximately 8,200 were students from Kindergarten to Year 6, 2,200 in years 7–12, 1,000 undertaking tertiary studies and 1,000 were educators.

School education programs cover the broad spectrum of science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, with a focus towards their uses in space exploration and astronomy. Real world examples of CSIRO’s space exploration activities demonstrate the impact of science in students’ lives. Visitor numbers were slightly lower than the previous year due to a highly successful CDSCC Open Day in 2011.

The visitor centre at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex.

Postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers

CSIRO’s postgraduate scholarship program provides opportunities in science and engineering for outstanding graduates who enrol at Australian tertiary institutions as full-time postgraduate students for research leading to the award of a PhD.

PhD students at CSIRO are co-supervised by a university, allowing students to maintain and develop their university connections while being exposed to research in a working environment, see Table 2.11.

The number of students fluctuates, with uneven intakes each year. A reduction in student numbers is often seen when a cohort moves through the program.

Some CSIRO Divisions have collaborative arrangements with universities to foster PhD studies in particular areas.

For example, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research and the University of Tasmania run a joint PhD Program, which provides opportunities for students to undertake research projects that apply mathematics and statistics to marine science problems of local, national, regional and global significance.

Table 2.11: Science outreach: CSIRO’s postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows as at 31 May 2013
  2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13
Sponsored postgraduates(a)
PhD 338 375 333 291 294
Masters 9 13 24 20 16
Honours 17 25 19 17 22
Total 364 413 376 328 332(b)
Supervised postgraduates(a)
PhD 629 733 655 639 642
Masters 56 47 59 77 68
Honours 58 60 77 64 82
Total 743 840 791 780 792
Postdoctoral Fellows 304 330 333 326 324

(a) A student may be either sponsored, supervised or both. The total number of individual students sponsored and/or supervised was 832, including more than 34 supervised in collaboration with Cooperative Research Centres and 62 through the Flagship Collaboration Fund. See glossary for definition of sponsorship and supervision.

(b) Includes 43 students fully sponsored and 289 students partially sponsored by CSIRO.

Awareness of science by CSIRO stakeholders

In 2013, CSIRO commissioned Ogilvy Illumination to conduct the third online tracking survey into community attitudes towards CSIRO.

Results confirmed that when Australians think about science and research in Australia, CSIRO is still the first organisation that comes to mind, see Figure 2.20.

However, as in 2010 and 2011, while awareness of CSIRO is still high among the community, knowledge of CSIRO’s achievements is relatively low.

The study provided greater insight into what types of people were more likely to be engaged with CSIRO and with science and technology stories, and what types of people were less interested, enabling the Organisation to better align different messages with different audiences.

Despite several negative stories about CSIRO in the media during the survey period that rated as having relatively high awareness among the general public, this did not translate into a marked increase in negative perceptions of CSIRO as a result, confirming that community trust in CSIRO is still very high, with nearly 80 per cent rating it as trustworthy and over 56 per cent of the public rating it as extremely trustworthy.

Australians strongly agree that CSIRO’s scientists are there to make a difference (63%), that CSIRO is a world-class science agency (60%), is making a positive impact on tomorrow (60%), is creating a better future for all Australians (59%) and is the trusted advisor to the Australian government and industry (55%).

CSIRO - Community Attitudes Reseach, Ogilvy Illumination, 2013

Overall impression of CSIRO ranges from very positive, positive, neutral, negative or very negative.

Percentage of Community awareness
2010 2011 2013
Very negative
1 1
Negative 1
1 3
16 17
37 38
Very positive
30 28
Can't say
15 14

Figure 2.20: Community awareness.

Q. Is your overall impression of CSIRO, very positive, positive, neutral, negative or very negative? If you are not sure whether your perception of CSIRO is positive or negative please answer ‘Can’t say’. 2013 n = 647, roughly half of the survey sample which was conducted in two phases.

For more information on community awareness see ESM4 in Enterprise strategy measures.

Evidence of success in the Science Outreach programs

Over 6,000 teachers were surveyed in relation to the CSIRO hands-on science programs. Over 95 per cent of these teachers thought that the programs were likely to have a lasting impact.

CarbonKids and BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards both began a new cycle of funding in 2012, and evidence of impact will be assessed in upcoming years. It is planned that Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools will begin to measure and evaluate the long-term effectiveness of the programs from January 2014.

Attendance from interstate schools for CSIRO Discovery Centre’s education program was around 43,000 students this year. CSIRO Discovery’s contribution to the region’s National Science Week program saw 35,000 visitors to the Centre in a single week. The Centre’s management of the government initiative ‘Inspiring Australia’ has overseen a number of high-profile events, including a Café Scientifique on ‘What is shaping the future of Australian sport?’ This year our outreach programs featured heavily in the Centenary of Canberra program and our film festival, SCINEMA, contributed a program on Australian science to the government’s OzFest cultural program in India. This promoted science careers at 120 schools and universities in the subcontinent.

Education and Outreach programs at the CDSCC attracted 12,430 school students and educators during 2012, an increase of seven per cent. Surveys performed with educators show that schools continue to be highly positive of our programs, and repeat bookings for 2014–15 continue to be strong. The Complex was heavily featured in the media for its key role in the landing of NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, with excellent national coverage received across traditional, online and social media.

The Parkes radio telescope visitors centre measures quality of visitor experience in monthly exit surveys. In 2012, 469 surveys were collected. Ninety-four per cent of visitors rated their experience at the Parkes radio telescope visitors centre as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. New resources produced for the school group visits program also drew positive comment from teachers.

A view of the Parkes Observatory Visitors Centre and surrounding grounds.  ©Parkes Shire Council and Mark James Photography


International reach and impact of published journals

CSIRO PUBLISHING operates within CSIRO on a commercial basis on behalf of authors and customers in Australia and overseas.

During 2012–13, 26 journals were published by CSIRO PUBLISHING. Fourteen were published in partnership with the Australian Academy of Science, a relationship that has been in place since 1948. Twelve journals were produced under agreements with Australian and international societies or institutions. Additionally, the special issues of journals were published in cooperation with societies in the US, Japan, Korea and New Zealand during the period.

Research institutions around the world chose to subscribe to the journals with 28 per cent from USA/Canada, 17 per cent from UK/Europe, 12 per cent from Asia, and four per cent from the rest of world. Thirty-nine per cent of subscribers are from Australia/New Zealand.

The journals are available to developing countries for free through the United Nations program Research4Life. This program fosters scientific understanding and education in developing nations.

Online use of the journals resulted in 2,641,160 articles being downloaded. This decrease from the previous year can be attributed to the end of a contract to publish a journal with CSIRO PUBLISHING.

ECOS, the online magazine about science for sustainability saw a significant increase in downloads in response to its more frequent publication (see Table 2.12).

New book titles

During the reporting year, CSIRO PUBLISHING released 42 book titles, all in print and digital formats. The digital books comprised approximately 12 per cent of sales, an increase of two per cent on the previous year.

A highlight among the titles was the work Desert Lake: art, science and stories from Paruku, which combined artistic, scientific and Indigenous views of a striking region of north-western Australia.

Net profit

A positive net profit of $770,848 was delivered for 2012–13 (18.3 per cent more than anticipated). CSIRO PUBLISHING's total revenue for the period was $9,430,328.

The market continued to see greater sales of digital products at levels that match publishing industry trends.

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
CSIRO PUBLISHING journal (downloads) 1,686,320 2,092,283 2,633,703 2,653,848 2,641,160
ECOS story (downloads) 204,225 200,740 241,525 296,448 454,385

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