Our guide to creating impactful, inclusive and sustainable events.
Over the last six years, CREDS have held a large number of academic events as part of our knowledge exchange and impact programme.
CREDS operated throughout the challenging Covid-19 lockdown period, navigating new ways of working and moving from traditional in-person events to fully online meetings and then to hybrid events.
We learned many lessons along the way and have produced the following guidance to assist event organisers to maximise impact while also ensuring events are as inclusive and sustainable as possible.
Attention to detail
Well-executed and impactful events require attention to detail in the planning stages. This includes refining and tailoring the material to be presented, identifying the audience, and designing the format. We encouraged our researchers to use the following checklist when planning an event:
Event planning checklist
- Is the work ready to promote? What are the main messages? Is there relevant material to direct the audience to (such as a blog, briefing or paper) for more information?
- When do you plan to host the event? Choose a provisional week early on, then select two or three days within that week as potential options.
- Who are the speakers (sharing the messages) and hosts (running the event, sending out invites etc)?
- Who is the event aimed at? Make a list of stakeholders to invite and consider how you will reach them.
- What’s the purpose of the event? What action do you want people to take as a result of attending? How will the target audience benefit from attending?
- What will be the format of the event? Using your previous answer as a starting point, decide whether the event should be online, in-person or hybrid. It can be a workshop, webinar, lecture or an interactive session with breakout groups. It can be open-to-all or invitation only.
- An open-to-all webinar could attract a broad audience with a wide pool of stakeholders to potentially interact with. This type of event can be promoted through LinkedIn, Twitter and internal or external newsletters.
- For more direct engagement, an in-person workshop with a small, invited audience (no more than 30) would be most effective. This type of event is best promoted via direct and personalised contact with the invitees.
- After checking availability with your speakers (and checking for clashes with other events), agree on a definite date and create a plan to promote your event.
- Compile an agenda and decide who will chair the event.
- Start to promote the event from approximately nine weeks before the date of the event.
- Send out invitations and set up an online booking system (if required) approximately seven to eight weeks before the date of the event. Include the agenda and a clear statement about why people should attend and how they will benefit from doing so.
- Finalise details such as whether or not you will include a Q&A section (and, if so, how you will facilitate this), who will take notes to write a blog about the event afterwards and any technical support you will need.
Make it sustainable
Considering the sustainability and energy demand footprint of the event involves many aspects, from the practices of the venue itself to the location and the way participants will be travelling to the venue, right through to the catering. For example, CREDS provided vegetarian food only to reduce the carbon footprint of its in-person events.
Sustainable catering options
- Select relatively unprocessed menu options with a diversity of vegetables, fruits, pulses and nuts
- Check the Good Fish GuideOpens in a new tab for sustainable seafood suggestions
- Opt for local and seasonal produce that has travelled fewer food miles
- Aim for at least a 50% vegetarian menu, with vegan options too
- Washable crockery, glasses and cutlery are the best choice from an environmental perspective
- Confirm how many participants have agreed to attend and let your caterer know, to help keep food waste to a minimum. Only order food for 80% of the confirmed numbers to account for the usual drop-out rate. Check that any left-over food will be redistributed or provide take-away (sustainable) containers
- Go organic, if possible
- Ask the caterer to check their suppliers are paying their employees a living wage, or request food that is fairly and ethically sourced.
Consider diversity and inclusivity
Holding well-run academic events can be an important aspect of furthering and widening participation in research and academic life. Ensure not only that the audience can access and fully participate in the event, but also whether the speakers and participants are drawn from a wide and diverse pool of qualified persons.
Organisers and attendees of events are increasingly objecting to all-male speaker line ups and panels (a ‘manal’). Whilst in some fields it may occasionally be unavoidable, anyone organising events should consider inviting speakers who are less commonly platformed and try to achieve more diversity in panels.
Organisers should give specific thought to making the venue, materials and activities accessible to all participants. This will mean building steps into your planning process which specifically address accessibility.
If you are holding a physical event, consider access routes to the building and the toilet and dining facilities. Is there a hearing loop for people who use hearing assist devices and are chairs available in networking spaces for people who need to rest?
Make sure any materials you present are accessible. For example, people with a visual impairment might appreciate receiving slides in advance. Activities which require physical interactions such as standing up or shouting out may require small adjustments to allow everyone to take part in some way.
During your booking process, ask attendees to give details about their accessibility requirements in advance and seek to respond to those requests as best you can. This approach will help to avoid ‘performative’ EDI. This refers to actions which are carried out to signal virtuous values rather than meaningful inclusion. For example, this would include meetings at which people give verbal descriptions of their appearance, despite there being no visually impaired people in attendance.
Be aware, however, that you can only do what is practical and reasonable. For example, you may not be able to provide a networking space which is both brightly lit enough to assist people with visual impairment while at the same time subdued enough to suit people with neurodivergent conditions. You may not be able to offer a gender-neutral bathroom, without adversely affecting those who require single sex bathrooms. You may not be able to provide a prayer room at specific times of day.
Taking the needs which are known to you or those which are reasonably forseeable into account as much as is possible will lead to an enjoyable, inclusive and impactful event.
The School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford University have produced a more in-depth guide for inclusive conferences, pdf which you may also find helpful.
Criteria for selecting indoor venues
Our guidance on selecting venues highlights the importance of taking sustainability criteria into account as well as location, cost and service:
- Define your budget.
- Does your institution require you to obtain multiple quotes?
- Does the venue hire include wi-fi?
- What else is included: catering, parking, etc.?
Consider the venue location in relation to:
- Likely participants: are they predominantly based in a particular area, or spread across the country (or globe)?
- Transport: is the venue close to public transport? Does the venue have parking and how much does it cost?
- Places to stay: including B&Bs, hostels and campsites, as well as hotels.
- Places to eat: including cafes, supermarkets and other outlets, as well as restaurants.
- Local attractions: including relevant or inspiring projects, entertainment and cultural heritage etc.
- Available space: size of main room, break-out rooms, quiet spaces, exhibition space, lobby, storage, food set-up, loading and unloading areas for advance deliveries etc.
- Availability on the chosen date: it’s worth being flexible with dates to secure the most appropriate venue.
- Availability of equipment: lecterns, tables, lighting, amenities, AV and AV support, hybrid meeting facilities, electrical sockets etc.
- What is physical access like, for example, are all rooms easy-to-access, with ramps or elevators if there are raised areas and platforms?
- Does the venue offer remote access options for those who want to reduce energy demand by not travelling or who prefer to attend via video call?
- Does the venue have disabled toilets, hearing loops and visual aid equipment?
- Does the venue allow guide dogs or other support animals?
- What does it say about us to have an event here? Can we enhance our own reputation by promoting our use of this building, for example on social media?
- Does the venue have a vision or value statement? Does it align with ours in any way?
- Who else uses this venue or might be using it at the same time? Consider potential noise, space and reputation impacts.
- What sort of art do the rooms contain? Who does it represent? If the buildings or rooms have names, who do they represent?
- Does the venue work with their community? Is it a community asset?
- Will the venue inspire us to do our best work: creative, engaged, interdisciplinary, focused?
- What kind of building is it: an eco-building, smart building, heritage building or a regeneration project, for example?
- How is the building managed? Is the management of the building moving towards a more sustainable way of working?
- Is there a sustainability strategy that covers energy, water, waste, food, resource use and travel?
- What is the building management’s policy on plastic?
- Does the building have an EPC? Is it on display?
- Is the building management working towards any of the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
- Would it be of interest to the participants to take a tour of the building, or invite the building manager to talk to the group?
- How is the building run? Is it a community enterprise, charity, community or church hall or not-for-profit?
- Will the venue organise catering or are you allowed to choose your own caterer?
- Does the caterer offer vegan and vegetarian food?
- Is the food organic, seasonal and locally sourced?
- Does the caterer accommodate all dietary requirements?
- Does the menu look appealing? Is it varied, if the meeting is more than one day?
- What is customer service like, both in terms of responsiveness prior to the event and support offered on the day?
- Is there adequate information about the building to help participants, such as a website with contact details and directions, adequate signage and literature inside the building?
- What is the reputation of the venue? Was it recommended to you? Is there any customer feedback?
Security, health and safety, and insurance
- Is the building in a safe area? Is it safe for all members of your group?
- If required, does the building have security personnel, security doors and venue access which is securely limited to guests or attendees?
- Do you need a risk assessment?
- Does the building have all the relevant Health & Safety protocols in place?
- If manual handling is necessary, do staff have training?
- What happens in the event of an accident?
- Does the building have adequate insurance?
- Is there an existing relationship we should consider?
- Is there an opportunity to build a beneficial relationship?
- How can we showcase the good work they’re doing, for example, by inviting the building manager to do the safety briefing and introduce the building, or by mentioning their work in our reporting?
Plan for success, impact, inclusivity and sustainability
While there’s a lot to consider, thinking through all these details in advance will reduce the likelihood of unexpected problems further down the line, while also increasing your chances of running a successful and impactful event which is as inclusive and sustainable as possible.
Banner photo credit: Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash