Partnering for success

Collaboration; how one festival skyrocketed to success in its first year. More than 350 collaborators, hundreds of volunteers and countless science, technology, engineering and math professionals came together to produce over 200 events for 220,000 plus attendees.

Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer proclaimed February 2012 “Arizona Science and Technology Month” and kicked off a 6-week long celebration of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM or STEAM when you include the art community). Spearheaded by the Arizona Science Center, the Arizona Technology Council Foundation and Arizona State University, the Arizona SciTech Festival was a grass-roots collaboration of industry, academia, arts, civic, community and K-12. Planning is now underway on the 2013 Festival.

WHAT IS A SCIENCE FESTIVAL?

Science festivals are public celebrations that offer a wide range of science, technology, engineering and math-related activities: creative exhibitions, demonstrations, performances, tours, debates, workshops and concerts, over a period of several days or weeks, in a variety of locations. Science Festivals do for science what film festivals do for films. They offer activities and events that engage, inspire and spark imagination across entire communities.

THE GOAL

Most events and festivals set one goal. They focus on raising a certain amount of money, building name recognition for an organization or brand, or educating an audience about a cause; the Arizona SciTech Festival however set four ambitious goals.

1)      Inspire a future Arizona STEM workforce;

2)      Reach a broad audience;

3)      Showcase student excellence in STEM;

4)      Leverage and re-align existing assets for STEM;

Each goal included a list of measurable success factors. As a planner, I wish all events would have clearly defined goals and success factors; they help guide event leadership, collaborators, staff and volunteers to success. To learn more about the festival’s goals, review their Community Report here

THE PROCESS

Right from the start, the Festival’s Director Jeremy Babendure Ph.D. , worked on building strategic partnerships throughout the state. This type of project can’t succeed without partnerships. Partnerships are needed to spread the message to stakeholders, partners to host events or others willing to sponsor the festival.

According to Babendure, “’We have had tremendous success building alliances and partnerships from day one with this Festival.  The Festival initiative is one that is a passionate one for all ages,” he shares. “Because STEM or STEAM impacts everyone, from our youngest to our most mature, the desire to embrace it and promote it is an easy decision for most all we approach with the concept. Science touches everyone and everything and the Festival activities offer something that includes fun or special interests t from ages three to 103,” Babendure adds. “The process of growing partnerships, because of how popular the Festival’s work in growing science and technology is, tends to be somewhat self-perpetuating,” he concludes.

Reviewing the festival’s processes, we discovered a handful of practices that can help anyone -with a few tweaks- in the planning of a festival or event.

1)      Set up a mechanism and invite strategic partners to spread the word about your project.
The festival gathered the support of countless organizations. Collaborative Partners spread the word to family, friends, colleagues and institutional contacts as well as hosted, organized or coordinated one or more festival events. Friends of the Festival helped spread the word about the festival to employees, audiences and other potential collaborators and participants through institutional networks.  The Collaborative Partners and Friends of the Festival were recognized on the festival’s website and in materials.

A collaboration that won an Arizona Talent in Event Award this summer was the Arizona SciTech COX Youth Reporters, a program that engaged Arizona high school students to help capture some of the Festival’s most memorable moments, and was launched for the Festival. Six students in schools around the state collaborated with the Cox Creative Services team to cover 15 Festival events. This newly formed Festival segment was part of a 24-episode television series called “The STEM Journals”.

2)      Build a strong sponsorship program.
The festival build a robust sponsorship portfolio offering sponsors unparalleled exposure. Sponsorship packages ranged from $2,500 to $100,000 US. All packages included logo or name inclusion on festival website, in printed materials, newsletters and inclusion in all print ads. Networking opportunities and event exposure was offered also. With more than 240Million + audited media impressions, the value of a sponsorship far outweighed the cost. In itself, the sponsorship package wasn’t groundbreaking in benefits offered. It was the overall exposure generated by the Collaborate Partners, Friends of the Festival and media sponsors that resulted in the success of the package offered.

Night of the Open Door at Arizona State University

3)      Mentor
In preparation of the 2013 Festival, mentors are available to guide new collaborators through the process of hosting festival events. A handful of networking opportunities bring together experienced and new supporters. The events create an unofficial support group for festival collaborators. A kick off conference bringing interested 2013 collaborators to the table earlier this fall was sold out.

4)      Communicate
The festival’s team has understood the value of communication well. From engaging collaborators and media, to producing its own pieces, the festival has done a masterful job in promoting its events, partnerships, successes and findings. There is the festival’s website, social media engagement, blog, and press kits. The festival provides resources to educators and collaborators to insure success of the partnership. Collaborators are encouraged to add the “Proud Arizona SciTech Festival Collaborator” to their materials, signature and website, as well as encouraged to re-blog and re-post festival related materials. All collaborators can log in anytime to the festival’s website and list their public events.

Festival of Creativity

5)      Have thirsty stakeholders
Leaders in Arizona are trying to discover how science, technology, engineering and math will drive the state for the next 100 years. Perhaps the festival was a lucky beneficiary of being at the right place at the right time. Arizona’s search helped drum up support from political and industry leaders taking part in that discussion. The festival engaged the many stakeholders on a wide variety of levels, from educating the general populous on the importance of STEM education initiatives, to companies sharing the opportunities available in their world. The lesson learned here is to find a project or mission that your audience is thirsty for.

MEASURED SUCESSES

A study conducted and released as the Community Report revealed that the festival met the ambitious goals set forward from the start.

The festival was attended by 220,000 attendees of whom 98% indicated they would recommend the event attended to a friend or colleague. 96% of the attendees indicated the Festival was successful at promoting science and technology-related learning and that these opportunities to learn outside the classroom are important.

More numbers:

• 95% indicated the Festival event attended met their expectation

• 94% indicated learning as a family is important behavioral impacts

• 73% had already communicated their Festival experience to others

• 46% looked something up on the internet based on their experience

• 32% used the information they learned in work, studies or personal life

• 14% followed up with organizations they learned about at the Festival

Collaborators too reported above average satisfaction with their participation.

40% of collaborators had follow-up phone calls or emails from festival attendees. 65% felt participating in the Festival increased their confidence to interact with the public, and 85% indicated their organizational objectives were met.

More numbers:

• 65% found opportunities for new partnerships

• 18% received visits or new enrollments from festival attendees

Casa Grande Union High School

THE FUTURE

The Arizona SciTech Festival has again set aggressive goals to meet for the 2013 Festival. The team hopes to double participation. Based on the best practices and developed partnerships we think this is an attainable goal. This year the planners are engaging more technology in the management of projects and collaborations. We’re thrilled at EventInterface.com to be part of that process and look forward to a successful collaboration.

HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED?

Want to collaborate? Sponsor? Volunteer? Visit the festival’s website here. The 2013 Arizona SciTech Festival happens February 9 – March 17, 2013.

- Al Wynant

Photographs and article background provided by the Arizona SciTech Festival