POLLEN20 – calling conference moles!

Cool mole v1
Do you have what it takes?

Large multi-panel conferences are hard to keep up with. There is so much going on simultaneously that it can be disorientating, even alienating.

One of the ways of dealing with this is by setting up ‘conference moles’. Moles have the task of listening to public conversations and discussions taking place in panels, workshops and around the meeting, and reporting them back to delegates.


The term ‘mole’ is borrowed from the days of espionage, when spies would hide in organisations and report back clandestinely. But conference moles are public, recognised and acknowledged. They get to wear special badges identifying them as such.

Conference moling provides feedback to participants about the conference as a whole and a chance to sit back and reflect on the broader significance and implications of the conference. Moling is best done in small teams – that way we can be in more than one place at one time. The moles co-ordinate their session attendance to ensure that they are well distributed through the conference. Moles also spend much time discussing together, exploring how the ideas they have encountered fit into broader themes and issues. Being a mole is a privilege and a joy. It gives you a really rich understanding of the conference.

In detail moles perform three tasks.

  • First, they actively use Twitter to report on what is going on in different parts of the conference, using hashtags to promote threads and retweeting, replying and building threads and conversations. Indeed twitter feeds allow us to create two conferences. One that happens physically in the rooms, corridors, gardens, bars and restaurants, and another that happens virtually.
  • Second, they enjoy more traditional reflection every evening over food and drinks to digest all that we are learning and the themes which are emerging.
  • Finally, we report our learning back to the conference, in plenary, at the end of the final day, and invite the audience’s own thoughts.

All this makes moling hard work. There are breakfast meetings every morning and discussions every evening. It is meant to be intense – it rewards concentrated time and effort. But it also provides a really rich understanding of the conference as a whole. It’s a task particularly well-suited to PhD students and ECRs, especially because moles do not have to pay registration costs. However, the best moling teams bring together a diversity of experience, age and background.

If you are registered for the conference and interested in taking part please contact Dan Brockington (d.brockington@sheffield.ac.uk) who will be facilitating this year’s team. Please attach a short CV. Please do this by 20 April 2020. We are looking for people to take part, and also who are prepared to co-lead. And if all this talk of twitter alarms you, then please note prior experience of Twitter is not essential. It helps, but you can learn on the job.

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