Sharing expertise – briefing the speakers

An important part of any workshop which seeks to inspire emerging research leaders to do great things are the messages from more established researchers. We have invited a range of speakers to the Newton Fund workshop running in Pune, India this week  and this blogs will explain how we briefed them as well as sharing some of the insights I’ve gained from watching previous speakers at collaborative building events.

Photo by cohdra ( at MorgueFile

The first step is to make it clear that the event is not like other research conferences or meetings. The audience does not sit relatively passively through each day, engaging with the speaker through questions and breaks, but largely sitting and listening. On this programme the attendees will spend a significant proportion of their time developing links, exploring ideas and developing projects. Given that these projects will be both interdisciplinary, involve far distant collaborators and have an international development focus, and that each of these aspects presents additional challenges, one role of the invited speakers is to ensure that researchers learn as much as they can about how to manage these kinds of projects, as well as being inspired by what others have done.

We’ve therefore briefed the speakers in a different way, making it clear to them that the “how” is the focus whilst the “what” provides context, and also asking them to stay with us for an entire day and provide mentoring during the initial idea generation stage. We’ve also asked all the guest speakers to complete the same summary slides as the participants (as described in the previous post where you can download our template) and added these to the course booklet.

This is an excerpt from the email Neil sent to the guest speakers:

The aims of the workshop are to bring together a variety of physical and social scientists from India and from the UK to stimulate new ideas and to build new connections in rural energy research. The talk/discussion on the 6th is an opportunity for the participants to learn from some experts who have already worked on successful projects in rural India. So for your contribution, I would suggest the following…

(i) Basic description of a prior project or projects you have worked on

(ii) Select and highlight whatever you think is most important from the following points: insight into practical considerations, unexpected pitfalls, learning from failures, things you would like to have known before starting, what kind of people are needed in a successful team and how do you build that team, how to get funding, other important points.

(iii) Answering questions and discussion.

My suggestion would be to keep (i) and (ii) to around 20 – 30 minutes maximum so that there is plenty time for (iii). It’s difficult to know in advance exactly what the group will be most interested in, hence making sure there is plenty of time for questions and discussion. Clearly some outline of the project itself is important to set the context and give an example of what can be achieved, however the participants will be particularly looking for ideas and insight that they can use in their own project ideas. This means that generic issues that might be relevant to any project will be of particular interest.

The number of external expert speakers that day now looks to be five. As well as the presentations/discussions from the experts, we also plan to include you in some of the ongoing project idea generation so that the participants can benefit from your insights and feedback on their own ideas. We would therefore hope that could join us for the full day.

My plan is to write a post based on the advice and expertise we hear next Wednesday and I’m really looking forward to learning about international development themed research as well as gaining some insights into the research culture in India. I can’t exaggerate how influential an experienced researcher can be when they give honest and constructive advice tailored for researchers who are just starting to collaborate or lead projects.

As an example, this is a blog on confusion I wrote in my previous role about a talk from Professor Barry Smith  at Welsh Crucible, where he spoke about leadership in collaborations in his capacity as the AHRC‘s Leadership Fellow for the theme of Science and Culture. Barry’s insights have subsquently inspired me to develop a workshop on this theme which I’ve run repeatedly. Although Barry’s talk stands out for me as we are talking about collaboration, I’ve heard from many, many researchers over the years on this theme and distilled some of their wisdom elsewhere into advice on first steps in collaboration.

The next blog post will hopefully come from Pune as we get ready to start the workshop!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.