Research Output
Four shades of science festival: a qualitative study exploring the business and management dimensions of science festivals in the United Kingdom
  Science festivals are a global cultural phenomenon with at least 60 such festivals taking place across the UK every year. Science festivals fulfil a unique function within civil society: providing a platform for science communication, education, and public involvement. They are a focal point of investment from the science industries, as tools for engaging with a range of audiences and meeting a wide range of objectives: from encouraging more people to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), to demonstrating socially responsible values. Since the term ‘science festival’ was coined over thirty years ago, there has been a rise in not only the number of science festivals, but a proliferation and diversification of different formats and audiences. Despite their 30 year history, modern-day science festivals are still largely under-researched, with scholars focusing mostly on audience experiences, advancing inclusivity and diversity, and on the science festival’s function as a vehicle for promoting science literacy. This thesis builds on such research by examining science festivals from the perspective of critical event studies. In so doing, data evidences the business and management dimensions of science festivals via 27 in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with science festival figureheads across the UK. These figureheads represented science festivals of all shapes, sizes and formats: from small science festivals run by volunteers, to universities producing their own science festivals, and to large charitable organisations that produce science festivals. Data generated from the semi-structured interviews establishes a theoretical framework that explains the diversity of science festivals and how these are shaped by their business models, strategic leadership, operational management, values and approaches to curating content. The theoretical framework distinguishes four broad realms of science festival. This theoretical model provides a valuable tool for science festival practitioners and researchers by articulating the sector’s diversity, while also establishing how festivals operate across different realms. These findings reveal why there cannot be a singular approach to programming, producing and leading a science festival. The study concludes by assembling a number of recommendations for science festival practitioners, including using the theoretical framework as a means to enhance collaboration and reduce competition. In sum, this thesis identifies a gap in the skill set of some science festival figureheads, and proposes a sector-wide training programme on festival management for those who lead science festivals to more effectively deliver on public policy expectations of their social function.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    20 December 2020

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Historic Funder (pre-Worktribe)


Kerr, G. Four shades of science festival: a qualitative study exploring the business and management dimensions of science festivals in the United Kingdom. (Thesis). University of Salford. Retrieved from



science festival; science communication; critical events; event studies; public engagement; business; management

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