Organising more than 270 Festival of Social Science events – a personal perspective

Sue Haydock is Communications Officer at ESRC, and manager of the annual ESRC Festival of Social Science. Here she gives an insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes all year round to make the Festival – this year involving more than 270 events across the UK – a success.





The ESRC’s Festival of Social Science is a week-long celebration of the social sciences, with events taking place across the UK, from Scotland to Cornwall and from Kent to Northern Ireland. It takes place each year, usually over the first full week of November.

Click on the photo to visit the interactive map. Here you’ll find what events are on in your area.

Managing the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science is an exciting and varied role. I get to know so many interesting people and find out about the research they are doing. No, it is not all fun and games; with planning for the Festival having to start in January and wind-up going on into the following year, it is an all-year round activity for me.

Planning begins

The year starts meeting with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) with whom we had a partnership agreement in the previous year. These agreements, whereby the HEI matches the funding ESRC provide them to create local festivals, are becoming very popular. Having started out with only three partners a few years ago, we now have 17. Taking on board comments from the partners, along with using statistics from the previous year, I look at possible additional partnerships and put these forward for consideration along with any requests we have received from HEIs, subject to budgets.efss_2012_logo_rgb-250px

March sees the launch of the call for applications. I get to enjoy reading all of the interesting and  varied applications, received over the next few weeks, before they go to the Festival review panel. This panel consists of volunteers from across ESRC and the other Research Councils. Each application is reviewed by two independent panel members and given a score; the scores from both reviewers are then combined to give an average. The average score provides a ranking order in which the applications are discussed by the panel members at our funding meeting.

Over the last few years this has been a very tough process, as we have had so many excellent applications. For the majority of events we have had to consider location, similarity to other events and many other factors before a decision is made as to who to we can fund out of our limited budget.

Into action

From the end of June things get even busier, with those who have been successful in gaining funding, or are running an un-funded event, submitting information to be converted into an event listing on our website, as well as providing vital information to assist the Festival team and press office in supporting event organisers.

August sees the team designing, populating and publishing the programme of events. It’s an intense time, but also enjoyable in terms of the design process and being reminded of all the events taking place across the UK.2016-programme-cover

By September work is underway to get the programmes and posters out to all of our organisers, ahead of sending the bulk of promotional items out to organisers in October.
This year we have ventured into providing an online/offline version of our evaluation forms which needed creating, testing and circulating to organisers.


Show time (and wrapping up)

November is ‘show time’ with the Festival running from 5-12 November this year.
We have more than 270 events running this year and I can’t wait to hear feedback from attendees and get along to one or two events myself. So if you are attending an event, please spare two minutes to complete an evaluation form so that we can ensure the Festival is even better next year!

childrenssciencemedia-100Once the Festival has finished, it is all about receiving items back from events and making sure those awarded funding are paid promptly. We also must evaluate the success of the Festival, measuring where improvements can be made going forward. Before I know it, it is January again and the whole process starts again.

Next year will be an exciting year for us, as it will be the 15th year of the Festival of Social Science. So if you have an idea for an event, do look out for the call opening in March, or contact to be added to our mailing list and I will let you know when the call goes live.

You can follow the Festival on Twitter using #esrcfestival or by following @esrc

A full programme of Festival events is available on the ESRC website.

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