By Pokhee Saharia

Getting a bunch of strangers in a room together to discuss an event sounds awkward, right off the bat. And that’s what I thought too, until I had the opportunity to join ISF’s virtual Focus Group 2021-22. Never having to discuss science, science festivals and strategies with strangers felt so good!

If you are from the I-am-not-sure-what-a-focus-group-is team, worry not, I got you! A focus group is an organized discussion with a diverse group of individuals to understand their views and experiences of a specific project, activity or a topic; the main point being that it is held in a largely informal setting. ISF’s Focus Group consisted of people ranging from high schoolers to professional science communicators and we spent an extremely interesting and fruitful two hours discussing and providing feedback on strategies to improve the overall organization of the fest.

The first point of discussion was the then current program schedule of the ISF. A number of suggestions from the participants were fielded, including but not limited to ones concerning inclusion of a panel of high schoolers to cater to our younger demographic, a greater focus on panels and talks in regional languages, more events surrounding women in STEM, and introducing multiple events focussing on ‘pure’ science as opposed to applications of science. Apart from the actual content, the discussion also touched upon improving the structure of the program schedule, while making the website more navigation friendly. The framing of the content we put forward in the science fest played an important role, and everyone was of similar opinions concerning that.

The second point of discussion was regarding the one perennial presence in our lives – social media. The strategizing of any event in these days inevitably revolves around it’s social media presence and ISF is no exception. The one consistent point we all agreed on was that different social media platforms required different strategies for engaging the maximum audience. Suggestions were made to include more audiovisual content on our posts, engage with journalists, and capitalise on testimonials. 

Our third and last point of discussion was perhaps the hardest, yet the most intriguing of all. We had a discourse on how a science festival could contribute to the celebration and promotion of science in India, and how through that, science could be made more popular and mainstream. Some of us were of the opinion that we should focus on the problematic aspects of scientific discourse in India along with the good ones, instead of painting a rosy picture and we all agreed. Suggestions included tying science into recent events (like mathematicians in the Olympics), making topics more relatable to everyday life, focussing on the innate curiosity and fascination in scientific fundamentals that drive innovation, and so on. 

All focus group participants were all set to critically evaluate the festival events in January 2022. We concluded with a vigorous sense of purpose for the fest!