Science café

Vetenskap & Allmänhets (VAs) årsmöte och dialogseminarium 2011ForskarFredag 2011 i Uppsala
Science Café in a café in Uppsala with Professor Helena Danielsson during Researchers’ Night 2011.

A science café in Sweden is a conversation takes place over a cup of coffee, e.g. in a café or at an evening event in a pub. This activity could also be run for children as a party with refreshments.

Science cafés are an international concept that involves one or more researchers having a discussion with participants in a cafe or in another informal setting, with the possibility of refreshments. In Sweden, the most common format is a brief introduction given by one or more researchers, followed by more lengthy discussions between all the participants, facilitated by a moderator. The aim is to create dialogue and interaction so that both researchers and participants gain new perspectives.

Organising a Science Café is not difficult. All that is needed is an interesting topic, an enthusiastic scientist, a good venue, a moderator, refreshments and marketing so that people hear about the event.

The moderator briefly introduces the topic, the participating researchers, explains the format and gives any practical information. Each researcher then gives a short introduction to the subject, if possible using concrete examples. Then the floor is open to the audience to ask questions. Someone in the audience might be primed to ask the first question to get the discussion going.

The role of the moderator is to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate, rephrase any complicated questions and to keep an eye on the time. If discussion is waning, then bring the café to a close slightly earlier rather than let the event drag on. Encourage participants to stay and continue the discussion at their tables. It is important that everyone can see and hear the researchers well. The use of a microphone is recommended, even one/several that the audience can use as well.

It is vital that both the participating researchers and the moderator understand the science café concept, particularly that it involves two-way communication between the audience and the researchers, and is not a traditional lecture or panel discussion. Helpful guidelines for researchers and moderators as well as tips for organisers can be found on the VA website.

It can be interesting to invite a panel of experts from different disciplines. The risk, however, is that the scientists talk too much to each other and that the audience become more observers than participants. Therefore, a maximum of three experts is recommended.

It is uncommon to pay a fee to the participating researchers but usually complimentary refreshments and a small gift is sufficient to thank them for their participation. Marketing is vital to the success of a science café.

Target group: Broad, flexible.

Preparations: Find a venue that has technical equipment, a moderator and scientists, prepare the discussion and market the event.

Challenges: Finding a suitable topic and scientists, marketing the event.

Benefits: A good opportunity for dialogue between scientists and visitors. Relatively easy and inexpensive to arrange. Does not require a lot of preparation time for the participating scientists.

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