The Anthronaut Experience is a volunteer-organized, not-for-profit, free event that is created by and for a community that is passionate about scientific storytelling and journalism in virtual reality.
Decide on an organizing team
It’s good to have a core team comprising individuals who have worked together on projects in the past. The higher the trust amongst the team, the easier it will be for you to make fast and efficient decisions. 2-4 people is a good number, probably not more, and they can represent different communities such as technology, creatives and scientists. You may not naturally have networks in all the fields, but having strong connections in at least one or two areas will give you a good starting point.
Set a date and find a venue
Ideally, you should give yourself 2-3 months to organize a good event. Set a date and announce it to the world online, for example via a Facebook event page. This provides an end point to focus on, and helps to galvanize planning and mobilization efforts. Once you have a date, you can focus on finding a venue. A good place to start is among your co-organizers. Do any of them have access to free office space, or can they reach out to organizations that would be willing to donate a venue for free, in exchange for co-branding? Hackathons often take place over the weekend, when office workers are not around. The host organization is acting as an enabler of a creative event that drives collaboration among different groups of people.
The first goal of sponsorship should be the makers of virtual reality devices – this is a simple request to ask them to either lend or donate gear for your event. The type of gear you secure for your event will have an impact on the type of event you have. For example, using Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear is a lower-tech, but more portable experience because you simply insert your smartphone into the device. Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are more demanding types of equipment, which require much higher computer processing power. For our Paris event, we found out that our office computers were not powerful enough to run the Oculus DK2. Fortunately, we were able to secure support from Nvidia, which loaned us a set of powerful computers for the event. It is worth trying to secure the hardware to power these high-tech VR experiences, because they provide a much bigger “wow” effect, especially for first time users. This effect is a big part of the fun and energy generated by these events, and is a powerful driver of great teamwork and creativity.
The second goal of sponsorship is to secure some support for basic costs such as coffee, food and drink. Spend some time spreading the word about the event and asking for tips on which companies, non-profits and start-ups might be interested in helping support your event.
Organize your budget and logistics
The model we’ve used in Stockholm and Paris has been a short hackathon model: a kick-off event on the evening before for networking, issue briefs and team formation, followed by an all-day hack the next day. This means you will need to provide one light dinner and drinks, one breakfast and one lunch free of charge, plus drinks and snacks to round out the day. You may need some extra money for things like stickers, post-its and any other office supplies. Decide with your co-organizers who you’d like to invite to give short expert talks to give participants an overview of the issues they are going to be working on – typically one or two science briefs and an engaging virtual reality presentation. We did not have judges and prizes for our events, but that’s up to you. We had feedback from some participants that seed funding for continuing the work on a project developed at the hackathon would have been great. If you can find a sponsor for a prize, that will increase motivation (but also competitiveness) at your event.
Create a place to register
For the Paris event, we used Confetti Events which was free and easy to use. Another option is Eventbrite. You’ll have to decide whether you want to use an open, free for all registration model, or an invite-only model. Because we had limited resources and space available, we chose the invite-only model. Either way, you’ll need to ask your attendees to identify who they are – scientists, virtual reality experts, designers, journalists, filmmakers. This will help you to keep track of the discipline balance as you go along, and allow you to see where you need to do more outreach. Also, remember that a drop-out rate is something you should build in – some people who register the event will inevitably not be able to make it, for a variety of reasons. We had a 20% drop-out rate, which means you should plan to over-book by roughly that much. We recommend that you email attendees at least twice before the event giving them all the details they need to know, and make sure they are able to attend.
Plan team formation and team building
There are several models for team formation, decide on one and stick to it. At the Stockholm event, organizers composed the teams based on discipline balance and participants were happy with this. At the Paris event organizers asked participants to take part in a collective brainstorm to surface a first set of ideas, then encouraged people to form teams around the ideas they liked best. We did not prescribe any outcome pathways, but allowed people to prototype or not depending on the technical expertise in their team.
Communicate before, during and after the event
It’s great to share the energy and enthusiasm of these events more widely, so make sure you agree a common hashtag for Twitter and share that with participants. We created a closed Facebook group for sharing photos, videos and links after the events. It’s also useful to have documentation from your event to show to your sponsors or any potential funders for follow-up activities. Follow-up surveys are great too, we created one on typeform.com. Try to get your survey out to participants soon after the event, say within one week.
Help us update this how-to guide with the lessons you learned!
The more people share their experiences here, the easier it will be for future organizers to run a successful event. Let us know what worked well, what challenges you encountered. What do you think other organizers need to know? How did you follow up on your event? For any other questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Register your event
Complete the form below to register your event with the Future Earth Media Lab.