The story of cafe scientifique at TedX UoN

Ann Grand

I’ve been involved with Cafe Scientifique for over ten years now and supported volunteer organisers to set up cafes all over the world. Closer to home, we’ve used the cafe scientifique model to develop a series of research cafes in schools in Milton Keynes as part of our Engaging Research project.

Over those years, I’ve written and talked about cafe sci at home and abroad but even so, when I was asked to take part in a TEDx* event at the University of Nottingham earlier this year, my first reaction was ‘me?’ But it sounded like a challenge I should take up.

There are some quite strict rules to TEDx events; it felt distinctly odd to be using a very formal, top-down, speaker-led, absolutely-no-audience-questions, talking-to-not-with, miked-up and videoed model to tell people about cafe scientifique, which is the antithesis of all that. Cafes are audience-led, intimate, informal, casual; they’re held in pubs, cafes, bars; they’re conversations, not lectures; and they eschew presentation software and microphones. Ah, the irony!

But the TEDx audience’s reaction was warm, although all I can really remember is the panic in the middle when every carefully-practised word simultaneously left my brain!

*TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is the organisation behind the enormously popular TED talks. TED conferences are huge, global and very shiny; TEDx events are independent, smaller and locally-organised.