Siding Spring Observatory is of world importance scientifically, and regional importance economically. In 2016, there was a review of the Orana Regional Environmental Plan in response to continued growth and new development in the region of the observatory, such as mines and other extractive industries, transport terminals and 24-hour operations that have potential to impact on the dark sky through light pollution.
The Orana Regional Environmental Plan No 1 – Siding Spring sought to preserve optimal astrological observing conditions for the operation of the Observatory at Siding Spring by managing light pollution associated with development within the regional local government areas of Warrumbungle, Coonamble and Gilgandra and Dubbo and development of regional and state significance in the Dark Sky Region, which includes land within 200km of the Observatory.
One of the key objectives of the review was to develop clear policy that was both easy to understand for the community and planning industry and was well integrated with the existing development assessment practices of Councils. We understood that for the updated policy to be effectively implemented at the local level, the community needed to be educated on the impacts of light pollution and the associated benefits of good lighting.
The Dark Sky Planning Guideline was developed in collaboration with the Australian Astronomical society to provide information around the management of light pollution in the Orana region. Development of the Guideline brought an additional opportunity for the Department to actively promote and increase awareness of the impacts of light pollution throughout communities across the State, utilising social media, videos, including the Dark Sky Video Series and other digital platforms. One of the key community engagement initiatives established and currently being implemented is an education package for NSW schools, prepared in collaboration with Dubbo School of Distance Education (NSW Department of Education).
The delivery method chosen for the education package is project-based learning (PBL), with an associated competition to incentivise schools to engage in the program. The package consists of teaching materials, an animated video, an online interactive quiz and other ancillary communications. Industry mentors are engaged in the project as volunteers, assigned to each school. The mentors participate in two sessions with the students, providing valuable interaction to support PBL.
Social media statistics:
- The Department reached more than 34,000 people with a social media campaign that ran for 2 weeks. Primary school teachers were targeted, as well as those interested in astronomy.
- The campaign objective was not only met but exceeded – there was a significant increase in web traffic to the page and overly positive engagement on the ads.
- This was the most positively received social campaign in recent memory for the Department, as well as one of the most highly engaged in all of 2018.
Organic tweet statistics:
- Impressions: 7,701 (Dec avg. = 2.4k)
- Video views: 1,528
- Total engagements: 199
- Retweets: 26
- Likes: 42
- Engagement rate: 2.6% (Dec avg. = 0.7%)
- Top organic tweet of December
- 50 schools around NSW have signed up to be part of the unit, involving approximately 4,500 individual students. This does not include any school within NSW or Australia that has downloaded the program to teach. Following some withdrawals 37 schools will participate equalling 100 stage 3 classes.
- 39 Expert Mentors have committed to being involved. The greatest interest to become a mentor was in response to a LinkedIn request from one of the organising teachers.
- The Head of the International Dark-Sky Association in Ireland inquired about the unit and arrangements have been made for the association to reproduce Dark Sky Education material.
Expert Mentors back grounds:
- Universities: University of Technology Sydney, University of Sydney, The Australia National University Canberra, Macquarie University, Swinburne University of Technology, Pune University (India)
- Government Departments: NSW Department of Planning and the Environment, CSIRO
- Industry Professionals: Engineers, Group Manager Regional and Executive at Spinifex Recruiting, Head of International Programs BOP IndustriesWestern Australian Local and State Government looking at implementing the guidelines
Other Government Agencies and Organisations utilising the Dark Sky Guidelines:
- Mid-Murray Landcare South Australia
- Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy, integrated with policy development for threatened and migratory marine species and potentially will inform development of Light Pollution Guidelines for Marine Turtles, Seabirds and Migratory Shorebirds.
- Western Australian Local and State Government looking at implementing the guidelines
The Dark Sky education package is currently being delivered in NSW and we are looking forward to exploring.
- The benefits of an interagency approach to engaging with our communities.
- The importance of using real life issues to connect students with authentic learning experiences, giving them the mindset and skills to make a difference.
- The efficient use of social media.
- The use of a variety of technology platforms to facilitate engagement.
- The significance of problem solving and developing a growth mindset amongst those involved.
This is a fantastic example of how industry partnership can positively benefit both the organisation involved and students. Watch this space for updates on the project….