General Information and Advice

In addition to the information found on www.sciencecafes.org, Ben Wiehe offers the following thoughts on Science Cafés:
  • There are currently approximately 60 Science Cafés operating in the United States today.
  • There are lots of variation out there, but yours has to be done for a local audience

Core values of Science Cafés:

  1. Science Cafés are for reaching new, public audiences – not clubs for other scientists or science majors, they are open to everyone.

    You can take the meaning of "new audience" to any definition – it could be a new audience for the university or new audience for science period. But since it is about reaching out to these new audiences, you need to find them and deliver the Science Café in a format that is appropriate for them.

  2. Science Cafés are about creating a conversation – it is not a lecture, not a Q and A, and certainly not meant to be for a passive audience. The point is to get a conversation started, not to give a comprehensive overview of a topic. The idea is to get people interested in a topic, get them passionate about it, and discussing it with each other at the Café and beyond.

Your audience: Science Cafés are meant to attract audiences in 2 ways:

  • Through promotion and advertisement of the Café in advance
  • Through self-congregating populations that are already at a specific location, such as a bar. Science Cafés have been held in pubs, coffeehouses, bookstores, restaurants, art galleries, malls, and even bowling alleys. The point is to go where your audience already congregates naturally.

    Once you pick what audience you want to attract and present for (older people, younger people, etc.), everything comes from that – speaker, subject, location, etc.

    Note: Science Cafés work well with non-science enthusiasts who are younger adults 21-40,

Location and Logistical Issues

  • The choice of meeting time and venue plays a large role in determining who will feel comfortable attending a café. It also affects how attendees act when they get there.
  • Science Cafes should be held off campus, away from science-enthusiast known spots. In other words, don’t hold a Science Café in a science museum. "An unconventional venue is an important part of the atmosphere for the overall event, and will reach people that do not normally come to a museum or university."
  • Bars, restaurants, and cafes are good places to have a Science Café. Choosing a bar or restaurant is a great place for a Café because you find people self-congregating there.
  • The optimal situation with a location choice is to find a big open area where you can hold your Café in a small section. This allows people who did not come to the bar, for example, just for the Café to wander up and participate. Don’t have your Café in a back room.
  • Coffee shops, are not necessarily so good – the espresso machine makes too much noise, and it is meant to be a quiet place. Also, people come to coffee shops to get a cup of coffee and if they are participating in a Science Café they may feel "glued to their seats" and not want to get a coffee.
  • Logistical issues are important in choosing a venue. Keep in mind acoustics, line of sight, the ability to reserve a block of time, flexible seating arrangements, public accessibility, and availability of food and drink.
  • Do research about the bar in which you are interested in advance – go there at the time and day you want to hold the event to see what’s going on there – get the vibe and find one that will work. And always talk to management of the restaurant in advance – don’t just show up.
  • Negotiate with venue to provide some free munchies.
  • For a bar: Do it on a Sunday through Wednesday, not on a Friday or Saturday night – there are too many drunk people, and the attitude and energy is not conducive to the Science Café goals.
  • Many venues have in-house audio-visual equipment, making it easy to show videos, such as NOVA scienceNOW, and provide microphones if necessary.
  • Most cafés do not charge fees to use the venue. Point out to the owner that the event will introduce the venue to many new people as well as bringing in additional business.

Format

  • A moderator serves as host and emcee for the event. This person helps to stimulate the discussion, keep people on track, keep track of the time, and take notice and react to the behavior of the audience.
  • The moderator briefly introduces the scientist.
  • The scientist speaks for about 5 minutes on the topic.
  • At this point, you can show a short (3 minute) video about the topic
  • Questions now arise. Moderator says to the questioner – what do you think is the answer? What are the implications of your question? Engage the audience, by turning the questions back on the questioner to foster the conversation. The scientist should not necessarily answer immediately. After 4 or 5 people speak, the scientist can answer and contribute.

    Note: What works well is when the audience takes over and the conversation meanders. In this case, the audience is fully engaged. We are talking about what they want to talk about. Otherwise, there would be a lot of pressure on the scientist to entertain the room.

Moderator information:

  • The moderator should constantly watch the audience. If you see a corner of the room or a table of people who are losing interest, you should stop the event, so that no one feels trapped. The other people can stay and the scientist stays the full length of the official event and you can even take the scientist around from table to table (cocktail party conversations).
  • On handling nuts and drunks: the crowd is often self-regulating - sometimes the crowd will tell people to shut up when a moderator can't. But with drunks, be ready to step in – "you've shared some great points – I'd like to have other people be able to participate"
  • At some Science Cafes, Ben has had people yelling at each other over the topic of the Café. He considers this great because it shows that the people are passionate. But as moderator, if there is a debate or an argument that breaks out, you have to ensure that it remains respectful.

Promoting your Science Café

  • Although you do want to promote the Café, consider how many people you want to show up and who you want to show up. For example, Ben shares an experience he had with one Café he organized. The Café ended up being announced in the Boston Globe. He promoted it so well, that 160 people showed up to a bar with space for only 125. It was clearly beyond standing room only. He felt this was a failure – there was no conversation, no one could get to the bar and buy a drink, the waitstaff couldn’t handle it, etc.
  • His advice: a large number of people attending does not equal success. On the other hand, a small number (6) is not so great either. This is about quality of impact, not quantity.
  • Means of Promotion:
    • Start with peer networks and social networks – post it on Craigslist.com, and on meetup.com
      Send emails, but remember you want to attract new audiences to science, so sending an email to the AAPT listserv might not yield the hopeful results.
    • Although you may want to consider not working with your University PR department (to limit the number of people who attend), you can still post this on the university’s master calendar
  • At venues that are open and already have lots of people congregating, like a bar, feel free to walk around and introduce yourself to the patrons and let them know that you are going to be having this Science Café/conversation in 10 minutes (or whatever). People may wander over and join the discussion.
  • You can invite media to come to the event. But be careful about recording the event, like on radio/podcast, as this may impact the event – the scientist may feel uncomfortable and not as open to discussions that go against conventional attitudes of "professionalism"