feasibility studies for the creation of new science centre

The aim of this article is to provide some basic guidelines for those considering the establishment of a new science centre, to review the feasibility of their projects and to highlight priority areas of concern. These guidelines may also be useful for those undertaking a significant review of the functions, programmes and future of an existing science centre too.


Although the value of most science centres cannot be disputed, before a new one is established it is generally important to conduct a feasibility study to explore all aspects of a proposed project, including its purpose, structure and future funding requirements. The decision on whether or how to proceed with the establishment of such a science centre should generally be made based on the results and recommendations of a feasibility study. Such a feasibility study can also help to reassure government and other donors that a new project is worthwhile and likely to be successful by involving and incorporating the views and assessments of a range of experts.

IMAGE: This diagram is created by White Oak Associates for TELUS World of Science-Calgary is the end product of years of planning and thoughtful discussion at the management level. It did not involve an architectural firm, but rather has given them a major head-start.


Initial Considerations

In undertaking a new science centre feasibility study the following questions may be considered (which can act as the terms of reference for the feasibility study itself):

• Where should it be located?
• What will be its objectives and roles?
• What contribution can it make to scientific and cultural life?
• What economic and other benefits might there be?
• What facilities will it require?
• What could be an appropriate legal and administrative structure for the Science Centre?
• What would be an appropriate design for the Science Centre?
• How will it be managed?
• How could it be funded?
• How much will it cost?
• Once established, how will it be maintained and funded?
• Who and how many people will visit it?
• When and how could it happen?


The existing roles of Science centres outlined in the International Agenda may provide a useful list of potential areas for the new science centre which could be assessed through a feasibility study.

• library services and information centre;
• informal education programmes for children and adults;
• teacher training;
• tourism and ecotourism;
• public recreation;
• new crop genetic resource introduction and assessment;
• cultivar conservation and maintenance;
• field genebanks;
• laboratory research;
• ethnobiological research;
• city and town planning, resource allocation and land use.

A series of critical success factors could be identified, for example:

• the need for a clear vision and series of objectives for the science centre;
• a commitment to quality;
• availability of the most suitable site;
• an appropriate organizational structure;
• an effective information management system;
• highly and appropriately qualified and motivated staff;
• guaranteed capital funding;
• effective marketing;
• good access for visitors and appropriate visitor attractions;
• good support for the project from relevant stakeholders (e.g. governmental, municipal or other official and local authorities or perhaps from private sources).


The potential infrastructure and organization of the science centre would be considered including themes (such as collections policies):

• for the collections;
• scientific facilities (e.g. workshop, herbarium, library, seed bank, laboratories);
• administration buildings (e.g. offices, classrooms, lecture rooms).

A review of required buildings would address the need for the construction of the facilities, such as the following:

• entrance, car parking, reception facility;
• infrastructure of roads and paths within the science centre;
• approaches to the science centre (e.g. are existing roads adequate for the number of visitors expected to come to the science centres? How can the site be serviced by adequate public transport?);
• administrative offices, staff areas and scientific facilities;
• commercial outlets including a shop;
• exhibition and museum areas;
• education area including classrooms and lecture theatre;
• hospitality areas – restaurant/cafe/refreshment stands, toilets, picnic area;
• other buildings and facilities.

A review of potential sites

Potential sites could be visited and assessed. Criteria for the assessment and ultimately the choice or rejection of particular sites could be agreed, including such factors as:

• present ownership and availability;
• existing infrastructures;
• variety of environmental conditions and natural habitats already existing in a site
• access and suitability of location for potential visitors;
• special or distinctive attributes of a particular zone;
• size (and potential room for expansion in the future).

A summary case for and against each possible site could be made. The site which has the highest rating from this evaluation could be considered in greater detail so that a preliminary Master Plan for the development of the Science centre on that site can be created (see below).


Preliminary Master Plan

Ideas for the creation of a unique and appropriate landscape design for the Science centre could be outlined, including the preparation of a preliminary Master Site Plan for the layout of the science centre.

The architectural design of major buildings is generally beyond the scope of a feasibility study although a feasibility study might suggest architectural styles and themes for buildings).

Consideration might be given to the most appropriate and effective management and organizational structure of the Science centre, whether it might best be established as, for example:

• a government department (under local, regional or national control);
• a commercial company;
• an institution linked or incorporated into an existing body;
• an executive agency;
• an independent research institute;
• a not-for-profit foundation.

In reality many science centres are established to include elements of several of the structures above. The choice of which structure to adopt will generally be dictated by complex and inter-related political and pragmatic realities, as well as giving consideration to potential sources of funding and stakeholder support and involvement in the Science centre.

Organization and staff structures could be considered and suggested, including departments, major staff positions required and overall governance of the science centre.

For example, a departmental structure might include:

• Visitor Services and Education Department;
• Science centre;
• Conservation;
• Administration and Corporate Services Department.

D A financial projection for the establishment and on-going maintenance of the Science centre should be included as part of a feasibility study.

This could include projections for:

• likely income from all external sources;
• self-generated income;
• admission fees (if any);
• sponsorships;
• endowments;
• research fees;
• commercial activities (retail outlets, lettings, special events, sales, etc).

Financial projections should generally be broken down to identify 1) funding needed and available to support the establishment of the science centre and 2) for its on-going maintenance. Efforts should be made to identify likely grant requirements and possibility from a variety of sources, such as from governmental, municipal and other sources.

E Expenditure

Major items of expenditure will include the capital costs of establishing the Science centre and ongoing costs, such as those below:

•wages and salaries

• other running costs
• services
• depreciation
• other

An annual cash flow projection could be attempted for the preferred site selected as part of the feasibility study for the establishment of the science centre.

H An estimate of the phased construction costs of the Science centre could be made.

I Additional benefits nationally and locally

A feasibility study should also seek to address what additional benefits may arise from the establishment of a botanic science centre. While these are often direct benefits they can be difficult to measure accurately but will be valuable to support a case for the establishment of a new botanic science centre. The potential economic benefits (external economies) should therefore be listed and reviewed. Such benefits might include:
• improvement of the area surrounding the science centre for other inward investment and other aspects of local/regional regeneration;
• new employment opportunities;
• increased tourism revenues;
• assistance to national authorities in meeting international obligations (Conventions etc);
• possible development of plant genetic resources for national and local use.

The socio-political benefits should also be listed and reviewed. Such benefits might include:
• the amenity and recreational value for residents of the regions in which the science centres are situated, as well as for other nationals and non-nationals;
• the results of scientific research and conservation activities on native plants and habitats;
• the science centre as a source of national and local pride;
• cultural enhancements.

J Identifying the risks and maximising the benefits

The feasibility study could identify what assumptions had been made in reaching the conclusions of the study and any of its recommendations. Potential risks would be identified, relating to costs, potential visitor numbers, marketing of the science centre, the site of the Science centre itself, the concept of the Science centre and its implementation. At the same time, ways of maximising local and national benefits of the Science centre would be highlighted.

K Conclusions and next steps

The study could conclude with a case either for or against the botanic science centre and/or the choice of possible locations for its establishment. If its establishment proves feasible, an outline/summary of its facilities, location, organization, role and design could be presented, drawing together the major conclusions of the study.

A series of next steps and preliminary timetable for the establishment of an individual science centre could be presented, for example including:
• the approval of an overall concept for the science centre;
• approval of the likely level of capital expenditure required for the project and identification of financial sources;
• agreement of the location and confirmation of its availability;
• agreement on the organisational structure chosen;
• drafting of a full project proposal and remit;
• appointment of project direction and staff;
• implementation.




IMAGE: This diagram is created by White Oak Associates for TELUS World of Science-Calgary is the end product of years of planning and thoughtful discussion at the management level. It did not involve an architectural firm, but rather has given them a major head-start.

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