Guidelines for Big Stuff Conference Organisation
Big Stuff is a series of conferences and meetings focused on the preservation of large technology and run on a voluntary basis by interested organisations. Meetings are generally held every three years, but interested organisations are welcome to host interim meetings, for instance in conjuction with related conferences, or or to focus on capacity building in specific themes or geographical areas.
A Guiding Committee has been established to liaise with with hosting organisations to provide continuity between Big Stuff meetings, access to relevant networks for assistance and advertising, and advice on options for efficient meeting organisation and administration.
The Guidelines below outline some key issues that host organisations should address when planning a Big Stuff event.
Target Audience and Focus
Big Stuff welcomes academics, professionals, volunteers and private owners, with backgrounds in diverse fields. While core fields include materials conservation and science, engineering, mechanical trades, curatorial studies, architecture and urban planning, Big Stuff also welcomes the inclusion of people and ideas from other disciplines and communities. Big Stuff also particularly welcomes students and young people.
Big Stuff is focused on big technology, but this does not necessarily mean industrial or metal based technology. Other forms of large technology are of equal interest, such as transport (cars, boats, trains etc), computers (and other items with major plastic and electronic components), space technology etc. Presentations about smaller items are also welcome if they illuminate relevant issues, such as new approaches to operation of machinery or advances in corrosion protection.
Big Stuff meetings welcome delegates with many different languages. The host organisation must therefore decide whether to hold the conference in a common language such as English, or to have translation services. Translation services are expensive, so this decision needs to be made early in the planning process. The Committee can assist with mentoring and editing of papers for delegates who are not writing and presenting in their native language.
It is recommended that host organisations consider a variety of presentation and delegation formats, including traditional talks, plenary and concurrent sessions, posters, lightning (short) talks, tours, workshops etc. This provides flexible options to accommodate student presentations, project snapshots small projects, technical skill sharing etc. It also provides flexibility in program design, both to provide variety and to accommodate presentations from many delegates in a shorter time frame.
It is vital that adequate time is scheduled in the program for questions and for delegates to have the opportunity to make contacts and share information. This informal sharing is crucial for developing robust professional networks and has been identified by delegates as one of the key reasons for choosing to come to a Big Stuff conference.
A point of difference between Big Stuff and other conferences is a focus on skill sharing rather than just lectures, and host organisations are strongly encouraged to include some practical skill sessions or group workshops in the program. These sessions keep the meetings grounded in the real-world challenges of large technology.
The host organisation must work out costs for the meeting, including the cost of registrations and the break-even point. Big Stuff has tried to keep meetings accessible by keeping the registration cost relatively low, but the host organisation can consider a tiered registration cost, with higher prices for professionals and lower price points for students, retirees, etc.
To get good numbers of registrations it is essential for the host organisation to establish a well-designed website for the meeting, with an online registration form and automated payment system (eg Paypal or Eventbrite). The website should be visually attractive and easy to use and navigate. If the organisation does not have an existing website that they can add the Big Stuff information into there are many website design programs that provide a structured, easy-to-follow process for setting up an attractive website. Many of these have free or low cost options – recommended ones include Wix, WordPress and Squarespace. It is recommended that the organisation have at least 5 people test the website and payment system to guarantee that it is easy to use and all the required information is present.
Some participants may require a letter of invitation from the host organisation to get permission to attend the conference or to get a visa for the host country. Some participants may also need a certificate of participation to confirm that they attended the conference.
It is important for the content of the meeting to be made publicly available after the meeting so that the information can be disseminated. The default option should be to collect for each presentation at least one of the following: abstract, powerpoint, presentation notes or full manuscript, and to place the relevant documents on the Big Stuff website. However academic participants may require the possibility of peer-reviewed publication to them to get funding from their university, so the host organisation may want to offer this option as well if they have links to suitable publications.