Creating a Successful Science (& Engineering) Festival 101 (No pre-requisite classes required!)

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Tip 1: Capture the High Ground (Convene the best and brightest in the field)

As the Science Festival movement grows, I am often asked about "best practices" in setting up a local Science Festival. So I decided to write a series of short blog posts about the know-how I have accumulated. Please take all of this advice with the knowledge that I have an experience base of only one and a quarter festivals. I invite comments and additional wisdom from others. Please post your best practices here if you are a fellow festival organizer.

The typical first question I am asked is "How do we get started?" For this, I draw upon my experiences from the world of high tech and life science venture start-ups:

Pull together an Advisory Board of the key thought leaders in the field.

This is valuable for several reasons: it allows you to gain instant credibility and rise above the noise. It is a network that can open lots of doors and it forms a warm nest that others are more inclined to join. I think the Advisory Board should be a reflection of the region or vision of the Festival. I targeted the Advisory Board for the USA Science & Engineering Festival to portray high science, translational research, entrepreneurship and innovation. See our Advisory Board here.

In both the inaugural San Diego Science Festival and the USA Science & Engineering Festival, my very first step was to recruit an advisory board. Both consisted of the key science outreach stakeholders in the local community. Examples included the leading academic leaders in the field, the Deans of Sciences (and Engineering) from the local universities, the key science coordinators from the local school districts, the Chief Technology Officers of the local high technology and life science companies (both major global companies and key entrepreneurial start ups) and key government officials or science policy makers.

These are usually very busy people, so I don't bother them with a bunch of committee meetings. Rather, I consult them on a one-off basis for advice on particular issues or introductions to other key stakeholders. I try to be tightly defined in how I consult them and I like all of them to have some tangible involvement in the Festival that I can showcase. For example, when I asked Nobel laureate David Baltimore to be on my Advisory Board, he participated in one of our Lunch with a Laureate Programs, introduced us at a high level to some potential corporate exhibitors and sponsors and helped us recruit other Festival Advisors and participants. (I should emphasize that these are Advisors and not Board Members; I am not seeking information from them on governance issues or exposing them to any sort of liability.)

The key element the Advisory Board brings: it signals that the train has left the station.

In my next blog post I will discuss the important lesson I learned about why it should not be a Science Festival but a Science and Engineering Festival.

--written by Larry Bock

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Larry... That's an awfully long "tease" intro!!!

I think the hardest part is convincing first few best candidates for your show to join you. Once you have a few big names then it gets a lot easier to get more.

Totally agree, each group you have in place the easier it is to get the next group

Thank you for sharing this, Larry. Congratulations for not only having a great vision but being able to execute. I look forward to your next installment.

By Meridee Olsen (not verified) on 05 Mar 2010 #permalink