Start a Café (Pt. 1)

Anyone can start a science café! Some café organizers are associated with universities, museums, or professional scientific societies. Others organize a café because they see a need for one in their neighborhood, or they enjoy talking about science, or because it’s a fun way to combine science and socializing.

Organizing a science café doesn't take an enormous effort or a big budget. In fact, large, complicated, or high-profile events can detract from the casual, intimate café atmosphere. While attendance at a café meeting may range from only 20 to 80 people, the experience is far more personal and often more meaningful than that of a crowded lecture hall or stuffy speaker series. Often the success of one science café leads to an ongoing series of cafés.

Start a Café

Understanding your audience will help make your café a success. In the beginning, you might want to gather a few likely attendees together to talk about what topics, scientists, venues, etc. they would find interesting. Or, if you have an ongoing series of cafés, convene an informal “focus group” now and then for feedback and fresh ideas.
But how do you find your target audience?  In targeting an audience, consider parameters such as age, ability level, location, and even other interests and hobbies.  Your target audience may be very broad and include people who are not already science enthusiasts, or you may want to reach out to a specific audience. Of course, cafés are open to all. Choosing a target audience is not about whom you will let in, it’s about whom you are trying to attract.
Certain topics may help you reach out to groups that may not be science oriented. For instance, a Science Café on fuel cells may be an opportunity to partner with a group of driving enthusiasts. A café on food security may be interesting to local gardeners, farmers, and locavores.  Be flexible and get creative. Your café will benefit both from the growth of your audience and the diversity of opinion they present.

Create a budget
Science Cafés are designed to be inexpensive to plan and run. The most common café expenses are related to promotion, such as copying flyers. Some cafés charge a fee or ask for donations to cover their costs, but most are free.
Cafés in the United States typically do not pay an honorarium or fee for speakers or for the venue. Some cafés have successfully negotiated with the venue for a revenue-sharing arrangement or in-kind donation of free appetizers for the audience. Point out to the venue owner or manager that the science café will introduce the venue to many new people as well as bring in additional revenue. 

Pick a venue that people are excited to visit and invite their friends to. Typical venues for science education events, such as science centers or lecture halls, often do not make the best meeting spots for Science Cafés. An unconventional venue is an important part of the atmosphere for the overall event and will reach new audiences.
Go where your audience already congregates naturally. Science Cafés have been held in pubs, coffeehouses, bookstores, restaurants, art galleries, malls, and even bowling alleys.

Logistical issues are important in choosing a venue. Keep in mind acoustics, background noise, line of sight, the ability to reserve a block of time, flexible seating arrangements, public accessibility, and the availability of food and drink. Many venues have in-house audiovisual equipment, making it easy to show videos, such as clips from NOVA, and to provide a microphone for the presenter and/or the audience.  Whenever possible, visit the venue prior to your Science Café event and ask for a quick tour as a final check of the facility.

The moderator plays a crucial role in getting as many people involved as possible. Café coordinators may or may not also be moderators.
A good moderator ensures that no one dominates the conversation (including the scientist!). Typically, the moderator introduces the café and the scientist, keeps track of time, and makes sure the conversation moves along.
During the discussion, the moderator often calls on audience members, asks questions of the presenters and the audience when there’s a lull, and makes sure that the conversation doesn’t become too technical or inaccessible. A moderator does not have to be an expert on the topic or know any of the answers!  As one café coordinator stated, “the moderator is freed up to focus on the group dynamics of the conversation.”

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