The key idea behind Café Scientifique is to present STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) topics in an informal and relaxed environment. The event is typically held once a month, and hosted by one or more researchers that present their work in lay terms to an interested audience from varied backgrounds. Talks are followed by a moderated Q&A session and further discussion over refreshments to facilitate a deeper interaction between researcher and attendees. The refreshments can also include an interactive session with hands on activities to deepen dialogue. This could involve participation in a few simple experiments, or the ability to try out equipment used by the researcher in their work. This event description is modelled on Malta Café Scientifique.
Café Scientifique has multiple aims. Primarily, it tries to engage its target audience about the talk’s subject as a form of lifelong learning. As a secondary goal, it attempts to empower them to access scientific concepts and thinking, which may contribute to a more scientifically literate society and improve the attendees’ critical thinking for them to develop an informed opinion.
Furthermore, the researchers that host Café Scientifique will benefit from the experience by improving their communication skills and gaining insights on how different citizens perceive their research. At times, it can help analyse their research topic from a fresh perspective for new insights. Overall, a two-way process is necessary: rather than simply educating citizens, Café Scientifique attempts to open up a much needed dialogue that gives different publics an active role in science communication.
The event organiser should meet with the presenters beforehand to talk to them about the scope of the event (unless this is known to researchers) while giving tips on how to engage and communicate with the audience.
Café Scientifique events are mainly self-contained involving a talk, Q&A session and refreshments. They do not have a complex format, refer to Section 4.2 for the detailed structure of a single event.
The event will usually take a full evening (ideally no longer than 3 hours), with a presentation followed by informal conversations over refreshments. Café Scientifique should be repeated monthly for an indefinite time period to allow for exploration of scientific topics and building up larger audiences.
2.1 Staff & Volunteers
In theory a Café Scientifique can be organised by a single person, but a slightly bigger team helps sustainability especially because of the logistics and refreshments needed on the day. One or more scientists / researchers need to be found every month to deliver the talk, but there is no need for large scale volunteer recruitment.
2.2 Venue Hire
Talks are usually hosted indoors, but special outdoors events are possible. While a laboratory or other special setting is not required, scientists can be encouraged to bring props or little experiments to demonstrate their field of research. Make sure this complies with health and safety rules.
The main goal is to provide an informal setting, which could be a café, a bar, or any other available space. A projector might be needed to show presentation slides, although speakers should be encouraged not to use slides or use them for graphics only, not text. The capacity requirements can scale up once the event becomes established and more popular, but an audience size of 21–100 people is realistic.
2.3 Partner Institutions
A Café Scientifique event can be run independently; there is no real need to team up with a partner institution. However, collaborations are encouraged as they can provide expert speakers as well as opportunities for unique events to engage new audiences — NGOs, universities, science centres and cultural events are key examples.
It is also possible to team up with conferences or other academic events: hosting a Café Sci is great to shift the focus to an interactive part. Malta Café Scientifique has previously collaborated with a space science institute to gain access to a Nobel Laureate speaker, William Daniel Phillips, and this would not have been possible with a stand alone event.
This is based on an estimate of 10 events per year, roughly one Café Scientifique every month. For Malta Café Sci, we are using approximately 2000€ per year, as we get the venue for free but need to pay for marketing, refreshments, and materials for special events.
3.1 Target Audience
Café Scientifique is generally aimed at interested adults from a variety of backgrounds. Therefore, it is essential that speakers approach their talks from a layman’s perspective, making sure not to use excessive technical jargon and breaking down complex scientific concepts by using analogies as well as real-life examples.
However, the basic event description — an interactive talk followed by discussions — is general enough to be adapted for audiences of school children as well. This would potentially require a different type of informal setting, as bars are not age appropriate. Furthermore, the audience’s age will influence how concepts can be communicated and the background knowledge that can be assumed.
Marketing should be performed for every event. A good technique to attract different audiences are collaborations with partner institutions to cover a wide range of topics. Marketing can be split into an offline and an online strategy. For the former, posters are essential for brand visibility at relevant locations — this could be at the local university, the chosen venue, and other community gathering points. Once the Café Sci has been established, you can also encourage participants to spread their experience by word of mouth.
As part of your online strategy, Facebook pages and websites are critical, easy points of access. Website development might incur extra costs, and should be avoided unless funding is available. Find local partners that might be willing to advertise your event and send mail shots to their mailing lists, e.g. those of university student organisations, staff mailing lists, NGOs, government organisations, and so on. It is critical to collect emails of attendees to follow up to encourage return visitors.
There should also be a social media component to your online strategy. Facebook advertising can be used to great effect, as specific target populations can be reached depending on the event, matching people to their given interests. Posting an upcoming event on a page that people follow will allow for free marketing as well once your social media presence has grown sufficiently. Facebook events should be shared on relevant groups and on personal profiles non-intrusively — just ask nicely. Twitter can replace Facebook in certain countries.
Make sure all posters, banners and other graphical media are well designed and in line with the brand your audience will be attracted to.
When time permits, events should be advertised on local magazines, newsletters, TV and radio stations. Traditional media can be asked to interview key speakers. The idea is to reach different publics to encourage them to attend.
3.3 Dialogic Strategy
The most important idea behind Café Scientifique is accessibility – make sure the invited researchers are aware that their presentation should not be overly academic and give them pointers about science communication basics. If slides are going to be used, they must include images and little to no text. Informal discussion over refreshments after the talk will provide a chance for the audience to chat to the scientists without fear of asking questions in a large crowd.
Your role as the organiser will be to moderate the Q&A session afterwards and make sure that there is enough room for questions about the general understanding of the subject. Pass a joke and prepare a few questions yourself to break the ice if the audience does not feel comfortable talking with the researchers. As a moderator, it is important to set the ground rules. Ask the audience to stick to short questions and provide a space for others who haven’t spoken to voice their questions. If an audience member is talking for a long time, it might be better to politely ask the attendee to ask their question in a shorter manner as this might disrupt the dialogue. Most importantly, make sure everyone enjoys themselves.
4.1 Project Timeline
|Months in advance||
|Weeks in advance||
|On the day||
4.2 Single Event Structure
|30 – 60 mins||
|15 – 30 mins||
|60 – 90 mins||
4.3 Personnel roles
There are no particular materials required, aside from the basic facilities provided through the venue (e.g. chairs, tables). If slides are desired for a presentation, make sure a projector is available as well, but this will generally not need to be purchased.
Additional key materials for each talk should be provided by scientists themselves: they are asked to bring props or lab equipment as appropriate for the topic. Further materials may be needed for special editions of Café Scientifique: e.g. for outdoor events, additional sound equipment or microphones may be required that are not needed in a smaller indoors space..
4.5 Other Logistics
Additional needs include refreshments for the audience, if they are not available for purchase through the venue. The event should be free of charge if at all possible, but attendees may be happy to pay for the refreshments in a café / bar setting.
Café Scientifique is a long established concept and has been extensively discussed in the academic literature. A general overview by Duncan Dallas, who first organised a Café Scientifique in Leeds in 1998, points out that these events provide not only stimulation, but also an entertaining evening for attendees who in turn feel more confident to ask questions and engage with the scientist.1
A key factor of this event format is enabling a discussion that can be held on equal terms rather than the audience being lectured to. This marks a key shift from previous top-down science education efforts, and the validity of using a dialogic approach has been highlighted in the literature.2
Finally, it has been acknowledged that increased scientific literacy had not been achieved with mere science promotion schemes, as they are too narrow in their scope. True engagement goes beyond information transmission, and the role of the public in the scientific process needs to be recognised.3
- Dallas, D. Café Scientifique—Déjà Vu. Cell 126, 227–229 (2006).
- Jackson, R., Barbagallo, F. & Haste, H. Strengths of Public Dialogue on Science‐related Issues. Crit. Rev. Int. Soc. Polit. Philos. 8, 349–358 (2005).
- Miller, S. Public understanding of science at the crossroads. Public Underst. Sci. 10, 115–120 (2001).
As Café Scientifique is a predominantly informal event, feedback can initially be obtained by chatting to attendees during the conversation over refreshments. Keep track of the number of people coming, and costs incurred for each event.
If a more formal evaluation strategy is desired, several quantitative and qualitative approaches can be used. For example, focus groups and unstructured interviews can provide tools for the latter and give insights into different matters that you might not have thought of or other creative ways such as using different coloured cards to depict enjoyment.
However, the best tool to combine the two approaches would be a short questionnaire. This could capture basic information (age, occupation, gender) as well as focusing on a few key areas such as:
- Enjoyment of event and increased scientific awareness as a result
- Assessment of opportunities for dialogue and interaction
- Feedback on benefits of format as well as suggestions
To gather more information about potential changes in perception of the research being discussed or science more generally, it could also be useful to distribute questionnaires before and after the event. If there is negative feedback on any issues, steps need to be taken to improve the events. This can involve better training of speakers or additional opportunities to ask questions and interact.