Sustainable local socio-economic development through Astronomy

A brief description on the Flagship project on Sustainable socio-economic benefits for a community through the introduction of an astronomical facility

Summary: Building on the lessons, experiences and resources from several OAD projects over the years this flagship aims to use an astronomical facility, such as an observatory or planetarium, as a “hub” within a small town or village to stimulate various associated socio-economic benefits for the local community. Depending on the local landscape and an initial needs assessment, benefits could include job creation through astronomy-related tourism; community skills development; educational programmes; stimulation of local innovation; alternative activities for youth in order to keep away from negative/harmful activities; and infrastructure development. The establishment of such a facility in close collaboration with relevant government, industry, academic and development partners, including local and traditional leadership, will ensure the sustainability of the initiative. Once the model is developed, any number of implementations can be rolled out across the world, depending on availability of resources and competent project leaders or champions. This model can also serve existing large observatories as the concepts developed will certainly be relevant to them.

Expected Outputs:

  • Resources (open access):
    • Packaged model for building an astronomical facility in a rural community (including equipment options, renewable energy possibilities, site selection guidelines, etc.)
    • Guidelines for community needs assessments and community engagements.
    • Best practice guidelines for “astrotourism”
    • Training workshop material for community skills development
    • Consolidated package of educational resources (and references) aimed at using astronomy to stimulate STEM education at all levels
    • Cultural astronomy guidelines – how to research and responsibly use indigenous knowledge related to astronomy, and importantly, how to interact with local and traditional leadership to achieve this.
  • Outputs:
    • Partnerships with government, industry, nearby universities, existing large observatories and/or NGOs
    • Community skills development (tourism and technical) workshops
    • Associated education programmes (university, school and public levels)
    • Infrastructure development for community (astronomical facility and associated infrastructure such as auditorium/hall, improved access to the internet, renewable energy for facility, etc.)

Key steps in carrying out this flagship:

1. Analyse and consolidate existing experience and resources: There is a vast amount of relevant experience and resources both within the OAD community (past funded projects, partnerships, regional offices, etc) and beyond. These need to be analysed and consolidated into a usable open access package that will be made available to anyone wishing to implement the project locally. Some examples of relevant projects include

2. Determine minimum viable implementation: It will be important to determine (based on past experiences, other relevant research and through collaborations with development-related organisations) what a “minimum viable implementation” would look like. Practically this would amount to an evidence-informed checklist of requirements that would help determine whether an implementation would be both feasible and sustainable. For example, the geography of the area, such as rugged terrain, may impose constraints on movement, which may in turn reduce the target beneficiary population. Such a minimum viable implementation would thus take into account factors such as geography of the area; state of existing infrastructure (e.g. whether there is electricity, internet, etc.); literacy rates in the area; etc.

3. Develop localized proposals: The OAD has 10 regional offices around the world, based in Armenia, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand and Zambia. As a first step towards global rollout, these offices will coordinate the identification of local champions and the development of localized proposals, including budgets and Monitoring & Evaluation plans. Large observatories who have existing staff and budgets can play a part in implementing such programs. 

4. Fundraising: In order to find the funding required for this flagship there needs to be a concerted effort to identify opportunities, approach potential donors and apply for relevant grants. We believe there are many features of this flagship that would be attractive to funders, for example:

  • the model is modular so one can fund either single or multiple implementations
  • it lends itself to a tiered approach, meaning that one can fund a basic low cost package or an advanced higher cost package e.g. first a portable telescope or planetarium, followed later by permanent structures
  • model is based on a wealth of existing experience from all around the world
  • this could also stimulate other forms of “edutourism” in the regions depending on the local landscapes
  • the necessity of local involvement ensures sustainability in the form of both services and goods that are sourced locally