FM15: Astronomy for Development

The global reach of the OAD. (OAD)

Examples of how OAD-funded projects have linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. (UN / OAD)

Focus Meeting 15, Astronomy for Development aims to stimulate conversation about the impact of our field on global development. It centres around the work of the IAU’s Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), which has been operational since 2011, based in Cape Town, South Africa. The OAD has since established 10 regional offices, funded 122 astronomy for development projects, and signed up hundreds of volunteers globally.

Its work has fed into the development of the new IAU Strategic Plan, which will be presented for ratification at this GA. More than a space for discussion with GA delegates, Focus Meeting 15 will be the coming together of a global astronomy for development network, built over several years. It will aim both to reconnect existing collaborators and to welcome more individuals and organisations into this growing community of passionate, dedicated and hard-working people.

The organisers of Focus Meeting 15 are pleased to have brought together a distinguished and diverse range of speakers, both from within the astronomy field and beyond. Focus Meeting 15 will reflect on how astronomy can play a stronger role in global development, as well as the importance of understanding and enhancing this role in the context of other scientific disciplines.

The first session on Tuesday, 28 August (15:30-17:00) will be a hard-hitting big picture discussion, with a welcome from the OAD’s principals, Takalani Nemaungani (South African Department of Science and Technology) and Piero Benvenuti (IAU General Secretary). This session will start with an overview by OAD staff, followed by reflections from three high profile speakers:

  • Khotso Mokhele, founding President of the South African National Research Foundation and longest standing member of the OAD Steering Committee.
  • Heide Hackmann, CEO of the newly-established International Science Council, and previously Executive Director at the International Council for Science.
  • Ewine van Dishoeck, incoming President of the IAU and recipient of the 2018 Kavli Prize.

The second session, on Wednesday, 29 August (10:30-12:00), will focus on synergies within the IAU. If you have ever wondered how the different structures within the IAU (such as the Divisions, the Office of Astronomy for Development, the Office for Astronomy Outreach and the Office for Young Astronomers) can work together, then come to the two opening panel discussions.

The third session, on Thursday, 30 August (08:30-10:00), aims to connect with the broader Astronomy Education Research (AER) community, since “Quality Education” is the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) that is most often addressed through OAD-funded projects. This session will start with an overview of the AER Landscape by Paulo Bretones, Co-Editor of the Latin American Journal of Astronomy Education (RELEA), and Vice-President of IAU Commission C1, Astronomy Education and Development. It will then be followed by seven contributed lightning talks, which will include both OAD-funded projects and other related initiatives.

The fourth session of Focus Meeting 15, on Thursday, 30 August (13:30-15:00), seven invited speakers from different science disciplines, each a leader in their respective fields, will reflect on synergies between different research communities. This is in recognition of the fact that sciences can work together in order to optimise their impact on the UN SDGs.

In this session, Geoffrey Boulton from the International Science Council’s CODATA will discuss using data for development. Daniel Shanahan from F1000 will talk about how publications and the peer-review process are evolving in the life sciences and what the implications could be for astronomy. Tawanda Chingozha from ReSEP will explain how he is applying astronomy tools in the field of development economics. Demian Arancibia from the ASTROdata Programme at the Chilean Ministry of Economy will describe an initiative using astronomy techniques to develop the economy in Chile. From the social sciences, Davide Chinigo from Cosmopolitan Karoo will describe his organisation’s work of looking at the impact of the Square Kilometre Array on communities in South Africa. Finally, Michael Gastrow from the Human Science Research Council and Wanda Diaz-Merced, who leads the OAD’s AstroSense project, will talk about access to astronomy for the visually impaired.

The last two sessions of the Focus Meeting will take place on the morning of Friday, 31 August (8:30-12:00). Both of these sessions will revolve around the OAD’s 10 regional offices and language centres, with each session comprising a panel discussion with five of these offices.

Come and join us at Focus Meeting 15, or visit the IAU booth (0-40) in the Exhibition to learn more about what the OAD has achieved and, more importantly, to see how we could potentially collaborate in order to achieve the ultimate objective of “astronomy for a better world!”.

KEVIN GOVENDER is Director of the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD). He chaired the “Developing Astronomy Globally” Cornerstone Project of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) and was involved in the development of the IAU Strategic Plan 2010-2020.