25 July 2009

Public Engagement in Space: The Power of Story

Posted by Ryan Anderson

In my post yesterday about the future of NASA, I paraphrased a philosophy for public engagement with NASA that centers around telling a story. Today I scanned in the packet of information that first introduced me to this idea. You can download it here. The packet is a report put together by Bob Rogers for a NASA group planning a Mars Sample Return mission, back in 1998. Bob Rogers is an expert at catching the public’s interest: he designs content for museums and theme parks.

When I first heard about this idea of using Story to gain public support, it was like a light bulb was switched on in my head. But over the years it faded, until earlier this week when I was thinking about the future of NASA and I dug out the old packet. After reading it, I couldn’t sleep last night because my mind was racing with the deceptively simple ideas and their possible implications for NASA.

Those of us involved in the space community often bemoan the public’s lack of interest in space exploration, and try to come up with lists of logical justifications for it. Those lists have their place, but they are not going to win us millions of supporters. Facts and logic don’t do that. For that, you need to connect on a deeper level. You need a story with heroes, challenges and goals.

Take a look at the packet, and share it with other space enthusiasts. I’ll warn you, you may not like what you read. It challenges some pretty fundamental aspects of the way NASA and technical-minded people in general think. I suspect that’s why, 11 years later, we’re seeing very little of the ideas actually implemented effectively. But I know I am going to do my best to keep Story in mind when I communicate about NASA in the future, starting right here.