Qualitative

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Interest and Engagement

Science

The word ‘science’ takes on a broad range of meanings across the population but can be quite narrowly defined by individuals. For example, one participant in the focus groups claimed initially to be completely uninterested in ‘science’ – which he saw as being represented by men in white lab coats – but it later turned out that he was greatly interested by new discoveries in astronomy, and that having had his interest piqued by a television documentary he had recently engaged with a number of blogs and websites concerning the discovery of new planets in distant solar systems. The qualitative research – in which we had no participants with post-graduate science education and only a small fraction with science related bachelor’s degrees – showed that interest in science is often very topic dependant, with most people able to name an aspect of scientific endeavour that they find interesting, when probed.

The qualitative research indicated that males often felt more comfortable contributing to the focus group discussions about science and in general had greater levels of enthusiasm for scientific topics. The focus groups of over 45s also showed greater interest in the conversation than the under 45s, and the groups with higher levels of education also tended to be more interested. It was fairly clear from the focus groups that younger females were the demographic least interested in science. The young women in Bendigo were particularly disengaged – this was a group with no post-secondary education, and most of them had memories of only being bored during science class at school.

The qualitative research encountered one group (younger, Bendigo) with a particularly low level of interest in science. This particular group had no post-secondary education; scientific topics tended to remind them of school, where they had met with uninspiring science education – a possible cause for their lack of interest. They tended to see science as boring, confusing and lacking relevance in the busy nature of their day-to-day lives. Although some could see that they largely took science for granted, accepting that it underpins most aspects of modern society, they were not at all committed to understanding it.

The focus groups showed that where these less interested people had been engaged by pieces of information related to science, it tended to relate to medical advances that are well publicised in the media, to their children’s school work or to large and significant world events such as the Japanese earthquake.

For details of the survey methodology and focus groups, please refer to Chapter 4 of the report.

Technology

Perceptions of the overriding pervasiveness of technology were dominant in the qualitative research. An integral and fundamental part of modern life, technology is seen almost as the defining feature of modernity. Although when probed, almost every conceivable tool of humankind can be seen as technology – from the humble knife and fork to the latest electronic gadget – technology is more normally associated with innovative products that are designed to make our lives easier or better.

The difference in perspective on technology between the older and younger groups was also interesting. Those in the older group have seen a continual rise of technology infiltrating every aspect of their lives, from fifty years ago when television in Australia was still broadcast in black and white to 2011 where it is now possible to be connected to the sum total of human knowledge via the Internet through a smartphone – things that were unimaginable or perhaps in the realm of science fiction even twenty years ago are now commonplace.

Older groups tended to see technology as offering a degree of luxury and convenience not possible in their youth – they also see technology as related more to companies making money and to economic progress. Associated with the perception among older Victorians of technology as a luxury was a tendency to see much of it as non-essential, while younger groups rely on computers, smartphones and the Internet to a far greater degree. In fact, other research conducted by Sweeney Research in the past year has shown that the Internet is the number one thing that 16-30 year olds feel they could not live without. *

For details of the survey methodology and focus groups, please refer to Chapter 4 of the report.

* Sweeney – Lifelounge Urban Market Research 2010