IAU General Assembly Focus Meeting 15: Astronomy for Development

Welcome to the webpage for the IAU General Assembly (GA) Focus Meeting 15: Astronomy for Development (FM15). We will keep this page updated with the latest information regarding this Focus Meeting. For more information on the IAU GA itself (20-31 August 2018 in Vienna), including details for registration, abstract submission and grant applications, please visit http://astronomy2018.univie.ac.at

The time allocated for FM15 includes 6 sessions of 90 minutes each, from Tuesday 28th August to Friday 31st August 2018. Below is a tentative programme, which is obviously still subject to change as more abstracts are received and the details are refined. We also envisage side events such as meetings, discussions, workshops and unconference sessions, which are linked to the topics of this Focus Meeting. 

For the detailed programme, visit the conference website



The IAU General Assembly in 2009 ratified a visionary strategic plan which aimed to realise the impact of astronomy on global development. To implement these developmental objectives, the IAU partnered with South Africa’s National Research Foundation in 2010 to establish the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), hosted within the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town. Over the years since the OAD has been in place there have been many lessons learned and resources developed to try to optimize the impact of astronomy on development. As of 2017 the OAD had administered over 100 projects that reached over 85 countries across the world; and negotiated the establishment of nine regional offices (based in Armenia, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand and Zambia) – with two of these offices serving as a joint language centre (Chinese and Arabic), and one serving as a dedicated language centre (Portuguese). In parallel over 600 volunteers registered with the OAD and nine organisations sharing this vision formed partnerships with the OAD. The OAD has thus positioned itself as a space for both the astronomy and development communities to explore and implement ways in which this science can positively influence the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This meeting will focus on what development (and thus astronomy-for-development) actually means in a global context, highlighting what has been learned so far. It will reach out for input from and discussion with the IAU community.

The key topics listed above were chosen with this spirit in mind and are described in a bit more detail below:

  1. The new IAU Strategic Plan: discussions under this topic will reflect on the new plan presented to the GA and look at the roadmap for its implementation.
  2. Synergies between IAU structures (Office of Astronomy for Development, Office for Astronomy Outreach, Office for Young Astronomers, IAU Divisions, etc): given the many activities within the IAU there is a need for synergies. This FM is the ideal place to discuss through panels and contributed talks how those synergies should develop.
  3. Global structure in astronomy-for-development – OAD’s Regional Offices, a resource for IAU members: this topic will revolve around the activities of the many regional offices that have been established and reflect on what has been achieved as well as challenges and opportunities. These offices can serve the IAU community in important ways such as communicating to underdeveloped regions, hosting meetings in different parts of the world, identifying and connecting collaborators from their regions, etc.
  4. IAU Funded Annual Call for proposals – history of funded activities and future directions: this has been a key part of the OAD’s portfolio and is where a significant amount of IAU funding is spent. Discussions here will reflect on what has been funded thus far and importantly how the process should evolve into the future.
  5. Volunteers and volunteer opportunities for IAU members: Discussions will revolve around experiences by volunteers and challenges in managing the many volunteers registered with the OAD. Platforms for the future will be discussed and tested against opinions and needs of IAU members.
  6. Astronomy Education Research: education was one of the cornerstones of the original Strategic plan and many IAU members have been involved in this field. Through stimulating education around the world, the premise is that we may influence global development positively. Astronomy is often referred to as a “gateway” science which attracts people into the sciences. This topic explores the research that continues to be done both within and outside of the IAU, in optimizing the effectiveness and benefits of astronomy education.
  7. Evidence-informed project design – how to optimize your ideas and projects: it has been important within the OAD activities to emphasize the need to prevent reinvention and the importance to build on what has already been done. This topic looks at mechanisms to ensure that there is a constant positive movement in terms of activities, and where possible, ensuring that evidence and research in respective areas are maximally utilized. This topic will be of great interest to any astronomer or educator who has ever engaged in public outreach, education or capacity development initiatives.
  8. Evaluating impact of projects – how to assess whether a project achieves the impact desired: this topic will cover the complex field of measuring whether astronomy-for-development activities have had a positive impact. The science of evaluation can be intimidating to many passionate “ambassadors” of astronomy, and the OAD has sought to simplify the implementation of key principles without compromising on quality. Again, this will be of great interest to any astronomer or educator who has ever engaged in public outreach, education or capacity development initiatives.
  9. Interdisciplinary imperatives in astronomy-for-development: synergies between natural and social sciences: it has always been clear that in order for the IAU to realise developmental ambitions through astronomy, there is an important need to engage with development and social science fields. This topic will explore those needs and how we should move into the future to ensure maximum societal benefit from astronomy. It includes issues of accessibility, inclusion, language and cross-cultural diversity given the wide variety of target audiences.

Encouraging support letters and endorsements for this FM have been received from both within the IAU and beyond. A Focus Meeting at the General Assembly is the most appropriate platform for these discussions as it is of broad interest to the general astronomy community, not to mention particular relevance in 2018 when the new strategic plan will be presented to the GA for ratification. It therefore also has the potential of attracting more participants to the GA, from both within and outside of the IAU, which could serve the IAU well by attracting a more diverse future membership from both individuals and countries. For information, details of a previous similar meeting can be found here.

Scientific Organising Committee:

Kevin Govender, OAD, South Africa (Chair)
Ajit Kembhavi – IUCAA, India
Renee Kraan-Korteweg – University of Cape Town, South Africa
Katrien Kolenberg – KU Leuven & University of Antwerp, Belgium
Thijs Kouwenhoven – Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU), China Nanjing
Paulo Bretones – Universidade Federal de São Carlos, Brazil
Areg Mickaelian – Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory, Armenia
Boonrucksar Soonthornthum – National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, Thailand
Edward Guinan – Villanova University, United States
Edward Gomez – Las Cumbres Observatory, United Kingdom
Carolina Odman – SKA, South Africa
Sze-Leung Cheung – IAU Office for Astronomy Outreach, Japan
Beatriz Garcia – IAU Commission C1, Argentina
Pedro Russo – IAU Commission C2, Netherlands
Elizabeth Grant – OAD/Centre for Evidence Based Intervention/Nuffield, South Africa
Vanessa McBride – OAD/University of Cape Town, South Africa



For any queries, comments or suggestions, please contact Kevin Govender (kg@astro4dev.org).