How would you describe your 2019 Festival of Social Science event?
Internet on Tap was a series of lively pub quiz nights followed by informal panel discussions with a range of researchers from the OII, with the aim of bringing the social science of the internet to the public.
How did you come up with your event idea?
I’d always admired Pint of Science events, but felt they neglected the social sciences and that there was a real public appetite for this. So we themed each night according current research topics that were familiar to people’s everyday lives – such as how the web has changed the way we live, work, and find love, and the dangers of bias in the algorithms behind our daily activities.
What went well? What did you enjoy about the event?
I pretty much enjoyed all of it! The pub quiz was a great way to get people thinking and chatting about the topic in a fun and relaxed way. The OII’s events team kindly contributed some prizes too, which went down really well.
The answers from the pub quiz gave us a springboard for the panel conversation with the researchers.
We’d invited a mix of senior and junior researchers who knew each other’s work but who hadn’t collaborated before, and I told them not to prepare anything because I wanted them to engage in truly authentic conversation. We purposely didn’t put them on a stage either, because we wanted the audience to be a part of that conversation too – we didn’t want it to feel like a lecture.
It definitely worked! There was fervent discussion between the researchers and the audience, and several people stayed (pints in hand) for extended conversations with the researchers after the official end time. We definitely achieved the informal ‘feel’ and engaged discussion we were hoping for.
It felt like a really valuable event, not least because it was also a first experience in public engagement for some of our researchers. Our Head of Admin and Events came too, so it was great to have their support as well.
Were there specific challenges?
It was a challenge at times to keep some panel members from getting too technical in their discussion, and I might try and brief them to avoid this if we ran it again.
I think I would also start the marketing earlier next time, and more actively reach out to non-university audiences. We found that sign-ups really increased once we go the right buzzwords in the event advert to appeal to a non-academic audience.
What advice would you give to other researchers considering hosting an event?
Definitely go for it! If you have a rough idea for an event, talk it through with the Festival co-ordinator and your department. Once you have the budget lined up, the whole process seems to go quite smoothly. And at the end, you have a tried-and-tested model for an event that you know for certain you can run again.
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