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Empathy Café

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Empathy Café

To continue to build our community around empathy, the Seattle Aquarium launched Empathy Café, a monthly web chat series that discusses topics of interest related to fostering empathy for conservation of wildlife.

Empathy Café sessions last one hour and include time to connect and hear updates from one another, engage with a presentation or facilitated discussion, and share opportunities for collaboration or workshop problems of practice. Empathy Café sessions are free for all participants and open to anyone interested in fostering empathy for wildlife. Feel free to attend regularly or when your schedule allows!

Coming up

Past Empathy Cafés

April 2023: Guest speakers Milan Büscher and María-Elena Cazar discussed their recent investigation into how various factors influence children’s willingness to protect endangered native animal species in Ecuador. View the open-source research article.

June 2023: Speaking with Micah Parzen, chief executive officer of the Museum of Us (formerly the San Diego Museum of Man), participants heard the story of the transformation of an old-school anthropology museum with a legacy of colonial/racist harm into a human-centered museum that builds empathy and healing. View more information about their journey.

October 2023: Much of the research on fostering empathy in zoo environments has focused on interactions with living animals. We speak with Jennifer Wilson and Nichole Nageotte, co-authors of the 2022 Zoo Biology journal article “Evoking empathy—An overlooked role of animal statues in zoos” about how animal statues impact the visitor experience and statues’ potential as conduits for building empathy.

December 2023: Joined by Dan Keeffe, Director of Learning and Engagement at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, we discuss a case study on how empathy can become a central pillar of organizational planning and how defining shared outcomes helped departments from across the zoo find common purpose.

January 2022: Our efforts to foster empathy and inspire conservation action make a greater impact when we work together, grounded in a commitment to equity, justice and anti-racism. Marjorie Bequette and David Valentine of Science Museum of Minnesota and Anna Rebecca (AR) Lopez and Andrew Asaki of Woodland Park Zoo discussed two initiatives that focus on equity-related organizational change and co-creation with community.

February 2022: Recent data suggests empathic connections formed with individuals within a species can be a powerful mechanism for growing grassroots support. Hear Jeffrey Skibins, Ph.D., talk about his work studying people’s perceptions of brown bears in Katmai National Park and how learnings from that project can help zoos and aquariums construct more effective interpretive messaging around individuals, species and ecosystems.

Download presentation slides from the February 2022 Empathy Café

March 2022: Craig Standridge, education curator at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, shares about a collaborative project with the Cherokee nation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to produce a documentary about red wolf recovery, coexistence and empathy.

April 2022: Joined by co-author Cameron Thomas Whitley, participants discussed the 2020 paper “Using Animal Portraiture to Activate Emotional Affect” that described a study of the differences in affective outcomes between traditional wildlife photography and animal portraiture.

May 2022: Bricken Sparacino, director of learning at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, and Seattle Aquarium puppeteers Sam Shafer and Parlin Shields explore how storytelling and imagination can come together as “conservation theater” to educate, inspire and move audiences to action.

June 2022: Featured guests from ZooMontana and Roosevelt Park Zoo shared stories of fostering empathy for animals through innovative graphics and signage. Download files from this date:

July 2022: Seattle Aquarium Empathy Fellows Gabi Esparza and Suzannah Yu share out about their 2022 Empathy Community Action Projects (ECAPs) and their experience in the second cohort of Seattle Aquarium’s Empathy Fellowship program.

August 2022: Joined by co-author Jeffrey Skibins, participants discussed key findings from the 2021 article, “The Impact of Interpretive Messaging and Animal Handling on Visitors’ Perceptions of Animal Welfare and Empathic Reactions” (Minarchek, Skibins and Luebke) about a study exploring how approaches to animal handling, interpretive messaging, and language around choice and control influence perceptions of animal welfare and empathy toward ambassador animals. 

September 2022: Featured guest Christine Froschl, volunteer training specialist at the Seattle Aquarium, shared reflections from her journey to the Western Ghats region of India with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly and her learnings from the Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF) around ecological restoration of sacred groves by local communities for spiritual, social and biological benefits.

October 2022: Speaking with a variety of practitioners and evaluators, we took a look back at why zoos and aquariums initially became interested in empathy as a conservation strategy and discussed emerging questions and opportunities we might engage with next.

December 2022: Joined by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the evaluation group Audience Focus, participants heard about designing for and measuring empathy outcomes in digital programs.

March 2021: We kicked off the series with a recap and reflection on the 2020 Developing Empathy for Conservation Outcomes (DECO) conference.

April 2021: The Café featured Craig Standridge from Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, who shared insights about empathy engagement with public schools.

May 2021: Kathryn Owen, former director of audience research at Woodland Park Zoo, discussed a partnership between Woodland Park Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Seattle Aquarium that produced evaluation tools to assess the impact of program experiences on empathy toward animals. 

June 2021: Jules Rader (Empathy Fellow) and Will Kittel-Muhammed (Program Coordinator) discuss the inaugural year of the Seattle Aquarium’s Empathy Fellowship program and the 2021 empathy community action projects with LGBTQ+ youth and Latinx youth.

July 2021: Jennifer Gauble, Ph.D., Conservation Audience Research and Evaluation associate at the Saint Louis Zoo, shared data collection methods and findings from a study evaluating changes in empathy among 4- and 5-year-olds in the zoo's on-grounds nature preschool.

August 2021: Participants discussed Jerry Luebke’s 2018 paper, “Zoo Exhibit Experiences and Visitors’ Affective Reactions.” (Paper available for download).

September 2021: Emily Routman, principal of Emily Routman Associates and author of the CARE Framework and Roadmap, and Kathayoon Khalil, researcher, conservation psychologist and director of engagement with Zoo Advisors, gave a guided tour of the CARE framework and explored how we can help move our audiences from caring to action. (Download PDFs of the Framework and Roadmap.)

October 2021: Empathy through an equity lens. The work of fostering empathy and inspiring conservation action must be built on a foundation of equity, justice and anti-racism. Our guest facilitators Hannah Tilden of Woodland Park Zoo and Robin Chiles of the Seattle YMA led a reflective conversation about the state of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and anti-racism in zoos, aquariums and museums.

November 2021: Canvas for Conservation: Hear the story of Lincoln Park Zoo’s empathy-themed Canvas for Conservation program from Teen Programs Coordinator Andy Weber and Evaluation and Learning Research Coordinator Erin Shoffstall.

December 2021: Stephen Vrla, curator of humane education for the Detroit Zoological Society, discussed a community science project that studies how remote cameras on wildlife trails impact participants’ empathy for wildlife.


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