On Sunday, I hosted the Science and Belonging panel at Brisbane Writers Festival.
Scientists Tamara Davis and Maggie Hardy joined writers Ellen van Neerven and Maree Kimberley for a conversation about their work and the crossovers between art, science, storytelling, and identity.
We wanted the people attending our event to be participants, not just an audience – so I helped the library devise an “anti-panel” session inspired by our Broadband and Heritage workshops earlier this year.
In the “anti-panel”, the audience split up into four groups. Each group got to spend ten minutes in conversation with each of our four guests. At the end of that forty-minute session, we held a plenary panel where our guests reflected on the discussions they’d had, and more questions could be fielded from the floor.
The aim was to change audiences’ experience at a festival panel from “sitting watching VIPs have a conversation, with maybe a few questions at the end” to full interaction and engagement.
Our tools weren’t digital devices or social media apps, but wheelie chairs and a stopwatch.
And we learned as we went – adapting, for example, to the acoustics of the space during group discussion.
The experiment in event design was part of a broader conversation I’ve been having with David Robertson around audience participation and public engagement. You can read more of his work at the Beyond Panels website, a great one-stop shop for alternative event formats.
2: We Need To Talk About Kelvin
The 2016 Brisbane Writers Festival will be notorious for Lionel Shriver’s controversial keynote, which challenged notions of cultural appropriation, and the powerful response to it from Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
Festival organisers quickly organised a right-to-reply for Yassmin and other writers, which you can watch on Yassmin’s Facebook page. (The live stream was filmed by Yen-Rong Wong, whose account of the dispute is also worth reading).
Our Science and Belonging event, presented by the State Library of Queensland for the Festival, was part of the library’s year-long theme of Belonging – an exploration of many different Queensland identities and experiences.
During the event, we were asked if we had deliberately chosen an all-women panel of experts. We hadn’t – we simply wanted outstanding practitioners of science and science-fiction – but we also acknowledged the importance of bringing together women, migrants, and Indigenous people as experts on a panel which was not “the token diversity panel”.
I’m proud that the Library and the Festival were able to deliver this special celebration of science and speculative fiction with a distinctive Queensland flavour. See more from Brisbane Writers Festival via the #bwf16 hashtag on Twitter.