Network - Hosting a SPARC Meeting
Although SPARC had a budget sufficient for fully funding about 24 workshops and administrative resources to run rather more, by working with other organisations it was able to run 47 workshops in the four years it operated, and will run a 48th in 2009. In the first year there were two briefing events aimed at introducing SPARC, announcing the calls for research proposals and showcasing existing research supported through EQUAL, ERA and other schemes. Subsequent workshops focused on research within the missions of EPSRC, for example work undertaken within the EQUAL Initiative, and BBSRC, for example projects funded by the SAGE and ERA programmes, with much of the focus being on the interfaces between the two missions. However as SPARC has developed so the initial dependence on work funded through EQUAL, ERA and SAGE was replaced by work being supported by SPARC alongside that supported by these other schemes.
Styles of Workshop
For those workshops concerned with design and engineering-orientated ageing research and those at the interface between engineering and biology the approach pioneered by the EQUAL Network was preserved (that is all-comers workshops), and this has been possible for some, but not all, of the workshops with a strong biological focus. Some of the very strong basic science themes did not have a strong appeal to a broad range of intermediaries and end users. However, since one of the aims of SPARC was to build a stronger end-user appreciation of ageing-related research in biology a challenge was building the level of interest of the non-research community in this type of work. It was very successful in meeting tis challenge, such that demand for biology-related workshops was strong and, at the end of SPARC, remianbed unsatisfied.
As with the EQUAL Network universities, charities, government, professional bodies and other organisations volunteered to host workshops on themes which they were particularly keen to promote. They were encouraged by the capacity of the SPARC secretariat to handle much of the organisation of these events. Experience had shown that this arrangement works very well. Apart from offering a venue, agreeing a programme, organising catering and some other domestic issues, the host was relieved of much of the time consuming and, at times, somewhat tedious tasks which are part and parcel of organising workshops.
There have been useful benefits for hosts. Previous workshops had attracted a good deal of publicity within and outside the host organisation, more widely in the research community and at times in local, regional and national newspapers, radio and television. Moreover the success of the workshops and goodwill generated by them had helped to establish the position of hosts as important actors in promoting ageing research and meeting the needs of older people.
Possible themes for workshops
Many themes for workshops were pursued, see the workshop pages, and others suggested, including:
With a strong design&engineering - biology orientation:
- Ergonomics/skeleto-muscular systems/biomechanics
- Bio-materials/bio compatible implants
- Neurobiology/dementia stimulation/stroke recovery
- Healthy eating - kitchen and gadget design, food packaging, diet
- The old immune system and the clinic - vision, the biology&mechanics of falls
- The business case for ageing research
With a strong biology orientation:
- Do senescent cells matter?
- Chemistry of Ageing
- Prospects for immune improvement in older people
With a strong design&engineering orientation:
- Ergonomics of consumer product design
- The workplace
- Care home design and management
- Smart technologies
- Transport and urban design
Even though SPARC has concluded, its workshops activities are being taken forward by KT-EQUAL. Potential hosts and collaborators are invited to contact the secretariat to discuss the possibility of hosting a workshop. Hosting events can be very rewarding with many beneficial spin-offs. Because much of the work is carried out by the secretariat hosting an event is not an onerous proposition!
We are particularly keen to organise events which will showcase recently completed SPARC projects and contemporary themes of concvren to older people and those who work with them..