BIG – first post

Hurray! There are downsides to this year’s BIG Event being more like a conventional conference – rather more on that anon – but there is, at least, WiFi here.

Our hosts, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, have a remarkable building. I’ve described it as having been designed by an architect who’d heard about the work of Buckminster Fuller, but hadn’t actually seen any of it. It’s really rather lovely, though wandering around the exhibition space I can’t shake the feeling that I’m forever round the back of where I should be. Perhaps it’d have been better if I’d entered at the front rather than through the side door.

So far, however, we have a curious conference. It’s… well, it’s a conference. There’s always been this aspect to the BIG Event – it’s a loose affiliation of disparate specialists, hence it’s about extended networking, with sessions mostly being explorations of how each of our specialisms overlap and differ with whatever we think the group average is. A good example from this morning was Richard Ellam’s session collecting notes about setting up a small workshop. Hardly earth-shattering, but extremely useful. But this year… that’s all there is, so far. It’s more formal, less free-form, less silly. As I type, there are four parallel sessions ongoing, and there’s nobody sitting around outside talking nonsense.

The jury’s out, for the moment. It all ties in with the chair’s keynote this morning, asking what BIG is actually about. Not what it was founded for, but what it is now and what it should be in the future. Should we admit that we are, let’s face it, predominantly science communication people? Most of the attendees are relatively junior in their organisations (there’s now a separate body for the decision makers) – what are the implications of that? So… what is this organisation of something like a hundred members? What’s it for?

Right now, I’m inclined to regret the move to a more formal structure. However, if this year’s bash forces us to discuss what it is we value about BIG, then it’s been a worthwhile experiment.

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