This section provides advice on best practices on general event management and organisation, including describing running different types of events and the different types of event activities. It is a subsection of Event Management, to return to the main Event Management Page click here. The contents for this section are:
- Event Dates
- Event Advertising
- Handing Event Costs & Attendance
- Event Co-Organisation
- Tips to get more members
- Event Materials
- Capturing the Event
- Submitted Presentations + Posters
- Event Feedback & Learnings
- Launch Event
- Training Sessions
- Hackathons / Datathons
- Funding Project Launches / Town Meetings
- Summer Schools
General Event Management and Organisation
Solid organisation is key for running a smooth event. Once you have decided on the event, and the rough number of people you are aiming to attend, you can start organising. A very useful guide to inclusive, accessible and sustainable events can be found here: https://www.bam.ac.uk/resource/all-welcome-guide-to-inclusive–accessible-and-sustainable-events-1st-edition-nov2021-pdf.html
Of course, events require dates! It is always a question of when to announce and start taking bookings? Do you confirm all of the booking matters before taking bookings, or do you confirm interest before finalising bookings?
Ideally you would discuss dates with your Network team, any keynote speakers you planned on having at the event, and consider university teaching timetables to try and find the optimum date for your event.
Make sure to advertise well in advance, and be aware of the dates you need to provide final numbers for food and attendance. Advertise through multiple channels and have a singular sign up point (e.g. Eventbrite). It is common practice for chargeable conferences to set early bird rates and then general rates to encourage early signups. As noted above, advertising with an image/flyer tends to provide better results! Further, provide the participants with as much information as you can as soon as you can. E.g. Speaker titles, timings, abstracts, as these all incentivise people to sign up.
Handing Event Costs & Attendance
Whether to charge for an event or not is a common question. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. All events have no shows, this is frustrating, wasteful and costly. The different Networks have tried different ways of addressing this, charging a nominal amount, repeatedly re-checking with registered attendees that they can attend, keeping costs as low as possible. Eventbrite is frequently used as a booking system and generally works well for free events. Paid for events incur a cost. The University of Southampton had/has a system for managing paid for events, but this proved to be quite tedious to register for, configure and manage.
Free events really open up the opportunity for attendance, and potentially encourage more people to sign up. Further, as these Networks are funded Networks, typically with a budget for events, arguably there is already some money set aside to hold these events. Running events is not only part of your job as a Network, but can facilitate really useful interesting discussions and help bring researchers in different cross sections of the Network together.
However, there may be situations where it is advantageous to charge for attendance. For example, when running a large costly multiday event it can be useful to charge an amount for attendees (often subsidised) to recoup some of the costs. It is important here to consider the different level of charges for industry vs academia, and SMEs.
Attendance is a tricky situation to handle, as events will always have a level of dropouts at the last minute, especially in free events where that percentage is typically around 20% for face to face and 50% for online. There are some ways to mitigate this such as sending out regular emails to encourage people to cancel if they cannot attend and instantiating a waiting list so places can be reallocated. Additionally, if you find you are getting large dropout rates, log your numbers and estimate for that % dropout rate.
When charging for events, Networks tend to make it clear that this has benefited from a subsidy, for example for the Connected Everything 2 day conference cost delegates around £75 and this included an evening dinner. Connected Everything did also have a “no-show” policy and delegates were aware of charges should they not attend.
It can be advantageous to co-organise events and funding opportunities across different Networks. In this case, make sure that each Network is involved with the decision making, but have clear jobs for the different team members so that work doesn’t get duplicated. Needless to say, make sure to advertise across all different Network channels.
Tips to get more members
A useful way of adding to your membership, is to ask every person who signs up to a Network event or initiative if you can add them to your mailing list. Typically, if they are interested in the field they will say yes! Also make sure that membership is included on your email signature as this is an easy way to pick up members. Membership of Networks does end up being shared across mailing lists and social media followers so build this into your communications as not everyone will be receiving every communication.
Creating event materials helps participants to engage further with the events. It is always useful to make agendas available so attendees know the timings for the event, and providing abstracts and bios for the speakers helps to contextualise the event and provide more information. Further, in hackathons / datathons / training sessions, providing useful reading materials or details on how to commence the challenges that have been set is very helpful.
These materials do not always need to be paper based however! It is becoming more commonplace to have “paperless” conferences. Some conferences use apps to load in all of their conference information; some of these are very snazzy but ultimately a well formatted web page with the option of downloadable content is equally suitable.
Ideally there needs to be a balance, paper-based materials can be made available to participants who request them, but having them available online saves a lot of paper! Additionally, people are more likely to keep hold of their phone than a paper agenda!
It is also useful to make the speaker presentations available on your website (if you have permission to do so).
Capturing the Event
It is a strange practice that many conferences (or at least the ones that invite paper submissions) will upload the proceedings beforehand, but often don’t publish any further material to reflect on the conference. This means that any discussion points or new ideas generated at the conference are then lost.
It is wise to have multiple channels for capturing the creative outputs of the event. Any slide decks presented should be kept if at all possible and converted to PDF’s for distribution. A designated note taker is useful for the whole event, as well as any breakout sessions. A graphic facilitator is also useful to capture the dynamics of the discussions and can also help in summing up at the end and also at the midpoint of the event.
Having a dedicated report writer for your events means that you can ensure that discussion points, themes, questions etc are all captured and can be put together in a report to detail the event. This also means that anyone who could not attend your event can still get an idea of what happened, and may be further encouraged to attend future events. More information on how to structure these event reports can be found in on our Network Dissemination Page.
Subject to the written agreement of all participants it is useful to take a few photographs to keep a record of the event. These may also be useful in future dissemination material.
Sponsors / Exhibitors can be a great addition to a meeting, particularly a large multi-day conference. Short workshops are potentially too focused to include exhibitors, as they are usually tighter on time and have a specific goal. For a conference stretching over several days it can add an extra dimension to have an exhibitor area for attendees to Network in. This is also a good way of encouraging more industry attendance at a conference, and opens up cross academic/industrial networking which can be very useful! Further, asking exhibitors to sponsor a meeting provides more options as it adds to the overall budget for the event. Your Network will have a certain allocated budget for events, but adding sponsors could mean that you are able to run more events as it will help with some of the costs and enable the running of more free events.
Submitted Presentations + Posters
Giving attendees the option to submit talks and posters opens up an event. Often people might feel like they need to be sure they are going to get something out of an event if they attend, and being able to present your work is a great opportunity. It provides your Network members with the opportunity to disseminate their work, and you can see what different kinds of research your Network members are undertaking.
It is important to give suitable time for a poster session, to ensure that an interested party has enough time to view all of the posters, and potentially discuss them with the poster presenters. NB: For face to face poster presentations, make sure you ask all of your poster presenters to create posters of the same size for your poster boards! For virtual poster presentations it is useful to provide a template in a format that will be easily viewable via a screenshare e.g. a powerpoint slide size rather than an A1 or A0 document. AI3SD have created poster templates and guidelines for producing posters, and guidelines for producing online poster videos.
Connected Everything did their online conference via gather.town which included a poster presentation hall. This created a useful dimension to the conference where people could “bump into each other” online. Connected Everything celebrates the posters with a first and second prize at the end of conference. For conferences with people from a range of institutions Connected Everything used Figshare for Poster Presentations, which has a good interface. You can set up a conference specific account, or a “collection” for the conference within someone’s existing account (or create a new one). This would allow you to deposit each poster separately with a DOI, but also point to the whole collection. Any poster presenters who had their own Figshare accounts could be added as an author.
Event Feedback & Learnings
It can be useful to put together feedback surveys for your events to learn what worked well and what didn’t for future events. A specific example of this is an ECR Survey from Connected Everything that could be useful to other event managers in the future. The results from this survey can be found here.
The ITaaU Network also noted some key lessons from running their events and taking feedback:
Interplay between events and calls for proposals – One key lesson that the ITaaU Network found was that the first call for proposal received quite a few off-beam bids clearly based on academic’s pet topics that were not really aligned to what the Network was seeking to investigate. The ITaaU Network subsequently found that once people had attended a few events they were much better attuned to what the Network was looking for.
Interdisciplinarity – The ITaaU Network focused workshops on different challenge areas all of which could be aided and supported by the application of IT solutions delivered as utilities. They had originally anticipated different audiences at different events. However, once people had attended one event and recognised the methodology, they often returned for other topics.
Types of Events
There are a number of different types of events:
- Launch Events
- Training Sessions
- Hackathons / Datathons
- Funding Project Launches / Town Meetings
- Summer Schools
- Post event networking
These events can be run virtually, face to face or hybrid depending on the circumstances and preferences. This section provides a wealth of advice on different aspects of event management for a wide range of Network Events.
These are to launch your Network and introduce it to the community.
Connected Everything use a launch event which included the first call for feasibility studies, which helped ensure an audience. The PI was present and gave an overview of the Network then 2 former feasibility study grant-holders helped to launch the new call. This created for a lively and interactive Q&A session too as people felt they got good access. They also asked people for their opinions and gathered these via Slido, which again gave people an opportunity to participate. The event was morning only with tea /coffee. This made for cheaper travel as it was held in London.
AI3SD launched in 2018 with an in-person event in London at the Society for Chemical Industry. The PI and Network Manager presented to introduce the Network, and as many of the Advisory Board as was able attended to help launch the Network. A number of presentations were given about the different key themes of the Network and there were opportunities for discussions and Networking with lunch and a drinks reception.
These are generally focused on a specific topic. These can be structured differently depending on the desired outcome. For workshops that are looking to generally explore a specific topic, keynotes followed by discussions that emerge from the content of the presentations can be a useful way of running these. For workshops looking to explore a particular question or set of themes, these can be predetermined before the event and more formal working group discussions can be set up as part of the workshop.
Over the course of the ITaaU Network, the Network team developed a portfolio of workshop formats and one overriding method for successful facilitation. For very small events that contained fewer than ten attendees, a scoping workshop was run. Large workshops effectively become a conference, and the rest, 10 – 30 people are a workshop. The scoping format was also applied to the advisory group events.
Connected Everything has used workshops as part of a conference to help engage participants in subjects and get their views to help influence the direction of the Network. This was found to be particularly useful during our online conference which could have ended up as a lot of listening. The workshops had 10 – 20 people in them where they were able to breakout into smaller groups to talk, create and engage. Then each group was invited to feedback. All groups were given pre-defined questions so the outputs could be more easily analysed to support future work.
For some workshops, particularly when you are beginning an initiative in a new area of interest, it can be beneficial to undertake small-scale but focused preparatory work, which can sometimes be refered to as ‘priming’.
The usual starting point for a new area will be a preliminary literature survey, aiming to identify the principal aspects of the topic and the elements that are attracting research interest. This overview can then form the basis of a small set of questions for the proposed workshop to address, either in break-out groups or in a plenary session, depending on the number of attendees. To support these discussions, it is helpful to conduct a further, more focused literature survey to identify a compact set of papers that attendees can review prior to the event and – optionally – use to select breakout groups. These references would comprise the bibliography for a very short briefing paper that outlines the area of interest and introduces the questions that will be addressed during the workshop.
We have found it advantageous to employ an independent information specialist to carry out these literature surveys and to perform a preliminary classification of the main topics. This approach avoids introducing any unconscious bias in the selection of questions.
Structuring a Workshop
Over the course of over 30 workshops the ITaaU Network developed quite a productive and repeatable method. Steve Brewer (the ITaaU Network Manager) attended a 2-day training course in Brighton run by a company called Brighton Silicon Beach. A number of people on the course were there to learn more about the kind of facilitation that is used to resolve differences of opinion in a workplace environment for example. This was quite useful but essentially confirmed that our method was sound.
Essentially facilitation is a form of project management and leadership. The skills and methods used to deliver a successful project are very similar to what is needed for a facilitated workshop, whether it is half a day, 1-day, or two-days.
Essentially there are four stages for the facilitation event (NB: Costs for Professional Facilitation can be included in your bids).
- Firstly, identifying and agreeing that there is a problem that needs to be addressed and acknowledging that the people in the room are the people needed to address this problem.
- Secondly, identifying and agreeing what the most pressing facets of this inevitably complex problem are.
- Thirdly, speculating and exploring what possible actions are possible to address this problem.
- Finally, what plan can be recommended to tackle this challenge and what role might the participants play in executing such a plan. This includes identifying what role the Network might play in supporting the participants (and others) in tackling the challenge.
- Options for the Network might be to run a hackathon, put out another call, fund further work.
These can be very similar to workshops but are invite only. Connected Everything used roundtable sessions to gather the opinions of a specific audience in developing an area of research. It was found that the maximum attendees should be around 15 and have at least 2 people note taking. It was decided not to record the roundtable and apply Chatham house rules to support as open conversation as possible.
These are typically single or multi day meetings that look to being together all members of the Network to learn about and discuss a range of relevant themes. These will have presentations on a wider range of topics than the workshops.
Make sure that there is an academic chair for the conference. Depending on the conference size you may also wish to have a poster presentation chair too. Trying to deliver the conference without clear academic input and involvement is really hard, so avoid this.
These are sessions dedicated to upskill Network members in a particular area. This can be through delivering educational seminars or through the use of more interactive activities and exercises for members to learn from.
Hackathons / Datathons
These allow Network members to encourage creativity and provide time to try new methods in a supportive environment with experts on hand to help.
Funding Project Launches / Town Meetings
These are very useful meetings to explain the process of funding calls, provide prospective candidates with enough information about how to apply for these calls, and they can also serve as a place for Network members to network and potentially find new collaborators.
Several Networks have summer schools as a key events. These are for those who are in the early years of their research career, typically PhD candidates or recently graduated. This is a great way for people to make connections and explore areas of research that they wouldn’t normally investigate. Connected Everything has organised summers schools itself and also held an open call for other institutions to host the summer school. AI3SD also organised a virtual summer school that comprised 8 half day sessions across 8 weeks involving training and group project work, as well as an opportunity for the participants to hear about many different research projects related to the Network themes.
These are a great way to develop new research areas. SPRITE+ Network has developed detailed guidance on organising sandpits which can be applied to online and face to face events (this can be downloaded from here). Sandpits are highly interactive workshops involving 20-30 participants: the director, a team of expert mentors, and a number of independent stakeholders. Sandpits have a highly multidisciplinary mix of participants, some active researchers and others potential users of research outcomes, to drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to address research challenges. The director defines the topic and facilitates discussions at the event.
Different kinds of events have different objectives but also potentially differing needs. It is important to understand what the particular objectives are for the event so that the appropriate activities can be planned, resources and venues acquired, and the appropriate audience recruited. Every audience is different, and so the success of a workshop can never be guaranteed and is likely to vary based on many factors including the environment of the workshop, the time of day, and the size and composition of the participant cohort. An important aspect to consider is the desired outcome of the workshop and the relevance to the audience. Although different activities from different workshops can potentially be reused, it is important to frame them within the correct context for the workshop being used.
Before looking at specific kinds of events it is worth considering different individual elements that can be used to make up a larger event. Typically, a workshop will be composed of more than one kind of activity, for example, often events contain some kind of presentations to provide context for the event, but there may then be opportunities for discussion or practical activities to gain insight or accomplish a particular objective. It is helpful to consider the order of activities and how they will influence the context and flow of the event itself. Many of these sessions work in both a face to face event and an online event, although some may be harder to manage in remote events as any required physical materials need to be accessible to the participants. Input from Network PI (Principal Investigator) is essential prior to organising events, for approval and ease of planning purposes. They will already have contacts and prior experience, especially for specialist audiences.
It is usually necessary to provide an appropriate introduction at the beginning of an event to set the expectations of the audience and to introduce at the least the facilitators of the event, and potentially others including the presenters and participants depending on numbers. An introductory session provides the opportunity to provide context for the event and also to elucidate any proposed objectives for the event.
These are an effective way to ‘warm up’ participants early in the event. The idea is to do an interactive activity to relax participants, introduce them to the key topics of the event, and to encourage them to work together. Although the session may just be a fun task, it can often be used to help the participants and facilitators to learn about the viewpoints and backgrounds of the other participants. It is also an opportunity to produce discussion points for later in the event.
Presentations are primarily an education session where participants largely listen to the information provided by the presenter. These may be the standard power point presentation, but they could also be in the form of a film or technology demonstration. Participants should have the opportunity to ask questions, but facilitators should help ensure that the presenter is not overwhelmed by questions or is able to defer questions until the end in order to let the presenter get their message across. Presentations can be used to provide context for the event, to seed discussion sessions, or to bring together principals explored earlier in the event.
There are two main ways that discussion sessions can work. When there is a relatively small number of participants in an event it is practical to hold a discussion where the facilitator initiates the discussion and the participants can contribute as they choose. This is especially effective where participants are able to sit in a circle or around a table so that everyone can follow the conversation and contribute. A facilitator is responsible for ‘chairing’ the discussion so that the discussion is not dominated by one or two participants and enabling others who may be quieter to provide their input if desired. A second way to facilitate discussion is the use of break out discussion sessions where participants divide into groups to hold discussions on a smaller scale. These discussions could be the same topic for each group, or the groups could be self-selecting based on the topic of conversation. A key part of a breakout discussion is having some mechanism of reporting back, so that all the participants can hear the main conclusions of each group. It is also useful to have a member of the Network team in each breakout group in a steering capacity, even if they only dip in and out.
There are a wide array of practical activities that can be run as part of workshops or other events. These may take many forms, but can include fun games with an educational or experiential aim, hackathon or maker sessions where participants are tasked with producing a prototype object or system to solve a particular problem, experimental activities to gather information or develop processes, or provide an opportunity to try out or observe a new technology.
These are a staple of conferences to promote specific research, tools, or ideas. These are an ideal as an activity available during breaktimes to give participants a chance to view the posters on display and talk to the submitters about their idea.
At the end of an event it is important to provide a conclusion to the event that brings the different sessions or activities of the event together. Often such a conclusion may be in the form of a presentation that is relevant to the themes of the event. It is particularly useful if it is adapted to cover some of the conclusions or key points identified during the event. The final activity could be a discussion, but it may be difficult to choose the right moment to end. It is better to end with a reminder of what has been covered in the event and next steps if appropriate than just to end part way through a discussion due to the encroachment of the end time.
Post Event networking
While this has been harder to achieve online, it is an important part of a Network especially for face to face events. Please do carefully consider how networking can be inclusive. For example consider the timing of networking and build time for it into the programme not when people may be needing to leave an event. Don’t allow networking to only happen at the bar as this will exclude people from it. For those in their early career they may need support with networking so perhaps think about topics for people to discuss to help conversations start.