The New (sort of) Science Events Summit

Ben Wiehe - Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

 

Seven years ago many of us were working hard on something that we weren’t sure was going to work.

There was a deliverable written into a NSF grant for a meeting of science festival organizers, but there were only a handful of festivals up and running in the US. At the same time, another project had a deliverable written into a NSF grant for a meeting of science cafe organizers, but most of the cafe organizers in the US didn’t have a budget for professional travel. How were either of these meetings going to draw a critical mass of attendees?

Maybe if we joined forces we could create something greater than the sum of its parts?

Plans were laid for the International Public Science Events Conference (or ISPEC), which would meet as a two-day pre-conference of the AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC in February of 2011. We drew on the networks of other national organizations to promote the meeting, but had no way of knowing what the response would be. What was a “public science event” anyway? We left off with definitions: at the time it was hard enough to get professionals to understand what a science café or a science festival was.*

We thought that 80 attendees would mean success. 150 showed up. Remarkably, attendees were split in their primary interests: about a third for cafes, about a third for festivals, and about a third for other event formats. So it seems that this “greater than the sum of its parts” thing turns out to be more than just a slogan.

Which brings us to the Science Events Summit.

In some ways, this is just an easier-to-say name for the International Public Science Events Conference. But the change is also meant to be an inflection point as the public science events sector matures a bit.

Yes: live, in-person science events now constitute a professional sector in their own right. The rise of science festivals over the past decade has helped to establish this sector, and the Summit is still organized—and paid for—by the Science Festival Alliance. But the sector now extends well beyond festivals, and we hope that the “new” Summit is an even more comfortable home for all public science events.

 

* A hallmark of public science events? The social experience is at least as important as delivery of content. A defining component of a science cafe? Group discussion in a culturally meaningful venue. A distinguishing mark of a science festival? Collaboration by many stakeholders.