A Case for Innovation in Petrosains, The Discovery Centre February 28, 2022
From Communicating Science to Driving Innovation in Petrosains, The Discovery Centre My previous role in promoting STEM “We are planning to set up a new innovation department in Petrosains and we want you onboard the team. Come and join us, we are going to do fun stuff.” This was what my then director said to me, and he ended the conversation by asking me, “Are you up for this challenge?” I was a science communicator at that time and l loved my role because I got to inspire people with science knowledge. I was contemplating whether I should accept the offer or not. My name is Nensirati Supahan, and I am in the Special Projects & Innovation team in Petrosains, The Discovery Centre. Petrosains, a science discovery centre in the heart of Kuala Lumpur has pivoted from just communicating science & creating awareness to delivering impact to our stakeholders, visitors and communities by providing a rich & stimulating environment to enhance Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) learning and passion for acquiring scientific knowledge. I guess by now, you would already know that I accepted the position! Yes, I did accept the offer and it was the best decision I ever made. Being part of an innovation team helped me grow and to view things in a different way.
In my previous role as a science communicator,I had engaged with several communities to impart STEM knowledge. One memorable experience was when we reached out to the indigenous communities in the rural areas of Sarawak, in Long Teran. The journey to Long Teran took 7 hours off road from Miri, the nearest city. When we arrived, half of my luggage was drenched in water, because it was raining heavily throughout the journey. Water got into the boot of our 4WD car. All these challenges were nothing compared to the experience of engaging with the Kayan community in Long Teran. From my observation, the kids in rural areas are good at building things. In one of our activities, they built stable, tall towers. We had fun learning STEM together.
In another program, we engaged with marginal communities in Garraf, Iraq. We were approached by PETRONAS Iraq to conduct STEM awareness workshops with the teachers and students near the Garraf Base Camp, which is a4-hour drive from Baghdad. We conducted fun and engaging workshops with the students there, and we also did upskilling STEM sessions with the teachers. Garraf is located in a rural agricultural area. So, for most of the students there, we were the first outsiders they had ever met. They didn’t understand English and we didn’t know Arabic, but the students decided to talk to us in Arabic anyway. They had so many things to share with us. We just listened and nodded our heads. Sometimes, when a PETRONAS Iraq staff was around, they would translate some conversations that we had with the students so that we could understand better what the students were trying to tell us. Being in Iraq opened my eyes especially on the challenges that some marginal communities face to get basic education. One takeaway from this experience is that when corporate entities work with communities together with science centers, the social impact is greater. Collaboration is key.
My "entry" in Innovation I had to leave all of these wonderful experiences when I embarked on a new role with the Special Projects & Innovation team. Truthfully, I had mixed feelings, but one thing is for sure, I am up for the new challenge. In Special Projects & Innovation, we are challenged to look into new audiences and digital offerings. I was introduced to an innovation mindset such as ‘Fail Fast, Recover Fast’, ‘Be Open to Change’ and ‘Embrace Customer Centricity’. The change is not easy, and even uncomfortable, but if we don’t change now, we might have regrets in the future. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world like today, change is inevitable, and we might not be relevant anymore if we don’t change. This is where innovation plays a key role. In innovation, we analyse data and trends, and from there, we try to innovate our offerings so that they appeal to our customers. If the solutions that we provide our customers do not work, we pivot accordingly. This is what it meant by ‘Failing Fast and Recovering Fast’. One of the projects that I initiated is the development of the Petrosains Design Thinking Process (PDTP). Design Thinking is one of the innovative methods that we can use to come up with meaningful solutions that address the pain points of customers. PDTP was developed with Malaysian students in mind. We learnt about the behavior of students along the way and iterated the Design Thinking module that best suit the learning style of Malaysian students. We did physical Design Thinking workshops at first, but then realized that by doing physical workshops, we can only reach out to a limited number of students. We plan to democratize Design Thinking, and one of the ways of doing this is through a digital platform.
I would like to call out to all ASPAC members who are also currently working or have experience in the innovation field to share your views on innovation, and your successes and failures so that we can learn from you. For instance, during one of the sharing sessions in ASTC 2021, Jessie Strike and the team from the National History Museum of Utah shared how they had to pivot a fundraising event to be fully virtual. They put in elements of the ‘Wheel of Fortune’ in the virtual fundraising session to further engage with funders. In a separate session, Becca Hatheway from The National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, shared that facilitating live virtual programs in their 360ﹾ virtual visits did not only succeed in engaging with students who couldn’t' get to their facility due to the pandemic, but it also opened doors to people across the country and to an international audience. These are truly inspiring case studies that show that for us to stay relevant, we need to innovate.
Finally, I hope that we can make innovation a part of science centers and science museums especially when we create new offerings and programs for our customers and stakeholders. Being customer centric would make us stay relevant in STEM informal learning and we can continue to touch lives and inspire people everywhere. *** Post your events on FB: Any ASPAC member can post their events and offerings in the ASPAC FB page. That will be the best platform for all our simultaneous announcements. However, should there be an event that you need the ASPAC leadership to officially endorse and solicit participation in, please click here to email details to the current Executive Director. OH and IF YOU LOVE TO WRITE...: Whatever your role in your organization, if you love to write, please send me your article on whatever it is you think would be worthwhile to share with ASPAC. I cannot predict or limit what that will be as there are so many connections between our work and the rest of what others in the world are doing, This is especially ripe in these strangest of times. We are excited to see your insights! Please send me your piece and we will see how it fits in our ASPAC human story. We are excited to unearth the evolving pool of ASPAC writers! Thank you!