4.2 Key questions for event planning

It is always useful to consider the following key questions when planning your event:

An aerial view of a table with people around it. On the table are several cakes representing body parts of a 'Frankenstein's monster' character - a scarred torso, head two green hands and green limbs. There are also several pieces of paper on the table - the headers on these reads 'Living Frankenstein' but the rest of the text on them is not visible in the image.Where do my target audience usually spend their time?

Researchers often assume that university campuses are the best place to host public events – these are, after all, locations with which academics are very familiar, and it is sometimes possible to use venues there at no cost. However, whilst it may sometimes be possible to run a successful event on campus, it’s worth bearing in mind that your target audience may not feel as comfortable as you do in that space; this may mean that before you even get started some members of the public could feel excluded. It’s often much more effective to head off campus to a location in the heart of a community. This could be a social space like a café, a pub, or a park; it might be a venue with a link to the theme of your research (for example, a museum or a theatre); or it might be a place already used by your community partner to host events specifically for your target audience. If you’re organising an activity which takes place online, you should also think about where your audience spend time in the virtual world: for example, do they use a particular social media platform, or are there some types of technology with which they are likely to be more familiar than others?


What times of day/days of the week are best for my target audience?

Thinking about your audience’s habits and preferences is also important when choosing a time for events. For example, if you are planning to engage with families, a daytime event at the weekend (or one which falls on a weekday in school holiday time) would probably be most likely to attract an audience. By contrast, if you want to talk to pub-goers, a weekday evening might be a better bet. It’s always worth asking community partners and host venues for their input on timing too; they may have insights as to what works for your target audience, as well as being able to advise on avoiding potential clashes with other events.


How much time do I have to spend on an event or project?

It can be easy to underestimate the amount of time it can take to run a successful project. You will need to factor in not just the time spent on the day of any events, but also the planning period – which will involve time spent on things like sourcing or producing resources, engaging with community partners, connecting with potential audiences, and producing promotional materials – as well as time afterwards to reflect on and evaluate your event, prepare reports for any funders and so on. Usually it is a good idea to ‘start small’ to test out your event format; if your first foray into public engagement is a success you can use what you have learned to expand on this in future.


In the foreground is a human skull on a display stand. This is on a table, on which there are several other objects which are indistinguishable in the image. In the background are several people, two of whom are having a conversation.
What is my budget?

You may find that what you can deliver (and how many people you can engage with) is largely determined by the funds you have available. It is possible to do excellent public engagement on very small budgets (or even in some cases at no financial cost), but even with a much larger budget you still need to prioritise carefully. You will probably need to take into consideration the following, and possibly other costs depending on your chosen format:

  • payment for the time and expenses of people involved in the project (this could include community partners like creative practitioners, or others whose professional expertise you will need to draw on to make the event a success; volunteer helpers should also be paid for their travel and refreshments)
  • venue hire
  • hiring or buying any equipment you need
  • consumables (things like materials for craft activities, refreshments, or anything which you’d like to provide for attendees to take away with them)
  • printing posters/flyers or other advertising material

What format do I feel comfortable with?

While devising a format which is appropriate for your target audience is key, it’s also important to find ways of engaging with which you personally are comfortable. A communal music-making event online might not be for you if you can’t bear the thought of singing in public, for example! Public engagement activities can, however, be a way of bringing your own creative interests and hobbies into your research. Take a look, for example, at this post by Dr. Patty Baker, whose interest in floristry has enabled her to devise events relating to her research on ancient Rome, or Zofia Guertin’s account which shows how her passion for illustrating has been key to her public archaeology work.


What else do I need in order to make the project happen?
You may find that there are some resources or skills which are crucial to a project’s success, but which you or your community partner don’t have already. Consider at the outset how you will fill these gaps. Do you need to undertake some additional training, for example? Are there ways of borrowing or hiring equipment you need, or will you need to buy this, and if so what impact will this have on your budget? Might you be able to recruit a colleague or a friend to help out? If you work in a university, could student volunteers be involved in the project? In this latter case it’s also worth checking whether your institution has a scheme which enables students to gain credits for volunteer work.