Science diplomacy through Astronomy: Celebrating our Common Humanity

A brief description on the Flagship project on Encouraging social cohesion and celebrating our common humanity through astronomy

Summary: Astronomy brings us a perspective of the beauty and scale of the universe. Most famously, Carl Sagan used this perspective to try to positively influence how people interact with their fellow human beings, and our planet, through his description of the earth as a “pale blue dot”. This project aims to take the inspiring potential of astronomy and use it to stimulate a sense of tolerance and common humanity in all parts of the world. By partnering with relevant organisations the project can develop guidelines, consolidate best practice, conduct relevant research and provide training both online and in person – and thus enhance existing efforts for social cohesion.

Due to the nature of this project, it is important to clarify the difference between outreach and development. Outreach entails providing access to astronomical information while development aims at addressing specific UN Sustainable Development Goals. While there may well be overlaps, this project falls specifically under the latter and will not seek to promote astronomy but to use aspects of astronomy to achieve development goals.

Expected Outputs:

  • Resources (open access):
    • Training materials and guidelines (incorporating best practice from existing initiatives (such as Astronomers without Borders, Columba-Hypatia: Astronomy for Peace, Universe Awareness, Global Hands on Universe, etc.) and relevant academic research) for using astronomy to stimulate a sense of tolerance and cohesion. All materials will be both accessible online and adaptable for face-to-face training workshops.
    • Guidelines for the astronomy education, outreach and research communities. These guidelines will relate specifically to interactions with vulnerable communities, and will include ethical and practical guidelines, a checklist of necessary skills (e.g. communication and counselling skills), and a list of essential references (such as the UNHCR Guidelines on the Protection and Care of Refugee Children).
    • Guidelines for needs assessments and engagements with local communities or partners (e.g. government, NGOs, other academic disciplines, etc.).
  • Other Outputs:
    • Partnerships with relevant NGOs, humanitarian organisations, artists, government and academia, among others.
    • Relevant skills development for the global astronomy education, outreach and research communities.
    • Evidence of the effectiveness of inserting astronomy-related interventions into a suite of activities for people in refugee camps or similar.

Key steps in carrying out this flagship:

There are several key steps to carrying out this flagship project on a global level. Some of these steps can be achieved in parallel:

1. Conduct literature searches: Conduct a detailed search into organisations, initiatives and studies relating to bringing people together or celebrating our common humanity. This step is important because we need to understand how best to position astronomy in an already busy space with regard to social cohesion initiatives (for example, the Peace Project, BBC Crossing Divides, Centre for Intercultural Dialogue, Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, Poverty and Inequality Initiative, etc.). Other sciences such as genetics and palaeontology can also be used to celebrate common humanity, and any similar initiatives in those fields need to be identified. There are also whole fields such as Peace Education which need to be explored.

2. Consolidate or produce evidence: The literature search would include the search for relevant studies or research concerning the potential of astronomy for social cohesion initiatives. Partnerships need to be established in order to study and produce sufficient qualitative and/or quantitative evidence to support the use of astronomy for social cohesion projects. This consolidation will include past funded OAD projects and other related initiatives.

3. Establish partnerships: Strategic partnerships need to be established with organisations to ensure that astronomy can be optimally inserted into this landscape while respecting the experience and knowledge of others in this area. These partnerships are also essential to ensure that any interventions among vulnerable groups are conducted responsibly while learning from best practices at gatherings such as the International Institute on Peace Education (IIPE2019).

4. Create a combined package of resources: Through partnerships with other organisations, identify the niche that astronomy can contribute to this global landscape and produce or adapt resources from astronomy that will contribute to the goal of social cohesion or tolerance. A key part of the package will be a freely available online course. All in all, this package should be user friendly and able to be used by people with minimal astronomy knowledge. It should also help to train/inform the existing astronomy education, outreach and research communities about important considerations when dealing with vulnerable audiences such as those in refugee camps. Through strong partnerships, some components of the package could be the subject of pre- and post-activity assessments.

5. Develop localized initiatives: The OAD has 10 regional offices around the world, based in Armenia, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand and Zambia. The offices can assist in the development of localized interventions and identify partners relevant to specific regions.