Humberside Geologist no.16
Organising and leading field trips.
The purpose of the meeting was to share good practice in running geological field excursions. Much of what we discussed would also apply to running other events, whether geological or otherwise. We looked at the event firstly from the viewpoint of someone interested in attending, then from an organisational point of view and finally discussed what might go wrong.
There are many sorts of events that could be organised and different potential audiences for each one. The prime reason for organising and leading a trip is to share our enthusiasm for geology, if the leader does not enjoy it then it is not going to be much fun for the people attending! It is for the leader to decide on the location, date and purpose of the event. The leader can put any restrictions on the event audience that are deemed necessary.
Fieldwork and events can vary from going out on the spur of the moment with some mates, to an academic conference or series of public events. The degree of planning and time involved in planning will depend on the number of people involved. Similarly safety considerations will depend on the hazards involved at the sites and the experience of those taking part.
We could almost put the events into a matrix like the one below with the experience of the audience as the X-axis (from beginners to professors) and the scientific content as the Y-axis (from introductory to research level). The amount of safety supervision required increases towards the top left of the diagram because of the experience of the audience.
Published trail guide
There should be a plan for the season's field meeting programme. Perhaps there could be a theme for the whole year. In order to make events attractive to the public consideration should be given to topical or newsworthy events happening during the year that can be reflected locally.
A Club or Society probably needs to mix the events in their programme - regular events that the members might expect (such as an annual dinner or social event), more scientific events aimed at members and events for the public.
Organisers should consider the relationship with land owners. If the event is on private property, such as a working quarry, permission for the visit must be obtained in advance and the site owner should be given a clear indication about the nature of the visit. Any restrictions on activities at the site must be followed, especially if they are for safety reasons. There is a long term relationship that has to be developed for the sake of the geological community
Whilst we debated safety issues at the workshop we felt that the matter does depend on the requirements of the groups you are organising events for and the site owners. Some groups would like leaders to complete a risk assessment, others require those attending to sign in or even give "in case of emergency" (ICE) telephone numbers to the leader. [In 2016 the Hull Geological Society published a set of Generic Risk Assessments on its website]
The issue of insurance was discussed at the workshop. Generally this was thought to be beyond the expertise of those attending and that we should not publish detailed advice.
Once again the type of publicity you decide to use depends on the audience you wish to attract to the event. If you wish to attract the public to an event you have to tell them about it. If you only want dedicated geologists then don't tell the public. Remember that you have to give your audience enough notice. The dedicated geologist may want to put events into her diary a year in advance but the public are more likely to attend something that is freshly advertised a few days before it takes place.
Organisers should be aware of the deadlines required by the media. A local daily paper would require a few day's notice of an event, a weekly newspaper about a fortnight, a monthly magazine about 2 months and a quarterly journal about 4 months. You stand a better chance of getting your press release published in a daily paper if you submit it for a "quiet day". Deadlines within the geological community vary, some clubs send monthly newsletters to members and others quarterly. The HGS sends out three postal mailings per year in September, February and April.
Libraries, Museums and Tourist Information Centres (TICs) are also often willing to display posters and leaflets. They may have their own distribution system for the city or county to pass on your material for you, if you give them sufficient time (at least six weeks before the event). You might also be able to persuade shop owners to display leaflets and posters for you - especially fossil or crystal shops.
As well as the printed media there is also local radio and television. You should bear in mind that these media might want to interview the event leader. They might also want to send a reporter to the event.
What the audience needs to know –
· If the organising body and the leaders reputable and responsible. If there is a published prospectus and schedule of meetings available.
· If the meeting is for young people has the leader been police checked.
· How are we going to travel - are we sharing lifts or using public transport. Will we travel in convoy or will maps be available for navigation. Or are attendees expected to find their own way to the event.
· Are lifts available for those without their own transport.
· Exactly where to meet, with grid reference and directions.
· Whether there is car parking there and how much it costs, so drivers can have the right coins ready.
· Whether there are toilets, and other facilities, such as a coffee shop, there.
· What to do if the weather is terrible.
· How to book, is there a fee, howt o pay and when the payment is due.
· How would prospective attendees contact the leader for further information or need to cancel; preferably the telephone and mobile 'phone numbers because e-mail is less reliable (not everyone checks their inbox regularly).
· What we are likely to see and do on the event or trip - a few "bullet points" about the aims of the visit. Who is the trip aimed at and what level of experience is required. References that could be researched before and after the event.
· Things to be brought on the trip, such as food and drink. What sort of footwear, clothing, personal protective equipment and geological equipment is required.
· How accessible the event is - is the terrain rough or steep, is the walking going to be slippery or muddy, are there any steps or styles along the route, and the total walking distance.
· Are there any restrictions on activities imposed by the conservation status of the sites or the site owners - are we permitted to hammer and collect specimens. Also the etiquette for the trip - does the party have to stay together, for example.
· How long the event lasts and could I only attend part of it if I wished. Whether I can attend part of the event only. Meeting times at other sites to visited.
Preparing press releases.
A press release is very different from an academic report: the conclusion should be at the start of the press release. This is because you want to get the interest of the reader immediately and also because the space available in the publication may be limited so the end of the press release may simply be left off! If you make it easy for the press they are more likely to publish your information - so write it in a style that they will like and answer the "six Ws" (who, what, why, where, when, how). If they have to rewrite the story for you there is a chance that they will get something wrong or just not bother. Always give them some contact details in case they need more information; sometimes your press release might capture the imagination of a reporter and they could turn it into a feature article. Try to present it as a story with some human interest and ham it up! They are often more interested in the person who found the "rare fossil" than the scientific significance of the specimen, unfortunately.
Whether you produce a handout for those attending an event does depend on the type of event and the leader's aims. You can produce a handout with some basic logistical and safety information to ensure that those attending are aware of the schedule and have a reminder of the meeting places and directions to them. You can provide information for use in the field to help those attending interpret the sites; probably in the form of diagrams and logs. Or you can provide reference material that acts as a souvenir of the event and a source of further reading for those who are interested.
Be aware that people may like two copies of the information on a field trip - one to use on the day which might get wet and muddy if the weather is bad and one to keep clean for future reference!
When you prepare the handout you must bear in mind plagiarism and the copyright laws. If you are using you own original material then there is not that problem; unless of course you are using data that you wish to publish in a journal later. You might need to emphasise your copyright and tell the audience that it must not be re-distributed until it is formally published. Copyright law covers the use of material published by others. If possible seek the permission of the copyright holder before you reproduce their material. Though generally the reproduction of small sections from a book for free distribution to a small audience is unlikely to be a problem as long as you cite the source. But charging for the reprint or not acknowledging the source is far less acceptable. If you wish to use a published leaflet that is for sale you should buy a stock rather than copy it.
An abstract is often required for a lecture at a conference or field meeting at a symposium; the organiser will publish this and may set a deadline for its submission. When you are writing the handout do think about the possibilities of publishing it in a journal after the event and write accordingly.
Using a booking system.
Sometimes there are advantages to asking people to book in advance. There may be good reasons why you do not want too many people to show up to an event, such as limits imposed by a site owner, the equipment available for use at a workshop or because you want to supervise the group closely. You can limit the number of people attending the event by asking them to book and only giving the details of the exact time and meeting place to those who book.
This does create some extra work for the person taking the bookings, but the leader will know how many handouts to prepare, how to contact the interested parties if the plans need to be changed and whether to wait for someone who is a little late at the meeting place. If the event is not free you will also know whether the fees you are charging will cover the costs of the event.
If the leader is worried that too many people might turn up, particularly if the event is well publicised, having a booking system for a free event is one way to solve the problem. Though people who book for a free event are less committed to attending than those who have paid a deposit! The disadvantage of requiring booking is that people often delay booking until nearer the date of the event and then think "I am too late and it is probably fully booked" so they don't bother.
Leading on the day.
Remember to take all the materials you need, such as handouts! When you arrive at the event check that everything is ready. Check that everyone you are expecting has arrived and try to contact them if they have not. Remind the audience about the health and safety, and tell them how you expect them to behave. Go through the plan with them to ensure that they understand what is going to happen. Ask if anyone needs to leave early, or has a disability or health problem that you should be aware of.
Once you start then work at the pace of the slowest person. Be flexible. A larger group than you expected will extend the schedule and will be harder to control. A smaller group is likely to be more interactive. Be prepared to improvise - the fun of geology is the chance of finding the unexpected. Enjoy the event yourself: if you are not enjoying it, then why should the audience?
After the event there may be some things for the leader to do. You really must thank site owners for allowing you permission to visit the site and tell them if you found anything unusual. If you promised to send further requested information to people remember to do it. Also follow up leads and contacts that others have given you. The organiser should thank the leaders and contributors. The leader may have to write a report for the organiser. You might consider telling the press how well the event went. Writing these things up are better done within a few days of the event whilst they are still fresh in your mind. The handout could be turned into an article for publication.
What could go wrong?
Knowing what might go wrong can help you plan your event more effectively.
There are simple logistical problems that if you plan carefully should not go wrong. Such as simply choosing the wrong day for the event so that it clashes with some national sporting event, a local sporting event, another event at the site you are visiting or another event on the way to the site that delays your travel. When you arrive you may find that the leader has not turned up, too many participants, too few participants (this can be embarrassing and disappoint a leader who has put a lot of effort into organising the event), or that the publicity has gone wrong (wrong meeting places, date or time) so nobody is there! Then there are things that can go wrong on the day: bad weather, tide not falling fast enough because of an onshore wind, or bad traffic conditions that delay those attending. Access to the site may be unexpectedly restricted by gates or stiles being locked, or perhaps a footpath is closed because of a landslip or a bridge has collapsed. You may also encounter problems with the site: a recent landslip has obscured the feature you are interested in or the site has been vandalised, perhaps by irresponsible geologists.
The leader needs to be flexible yet firm with the audience. There may be someone there who wishes to "prove a point" and try to dominate the event and the leader has to firmly ask that person to save it until later or the rest of the audience will get bored. There may be some slow walkers and the leader may have to slow the rest of the party to their pace for the safety of all or split the party into two if there is a suitable co-leader. At high risk sites the leader needs to know if anyone has left early so that the party is not looking for someone who may have had an accident. There is always the chance that the party might find something unexpected and wish to spend more time recording it; the leader needs to consider whether this is OK or whether it will seriously affect the rest of the event, particularly if the party has to meet up with others at another site at a specified time.
Thankfully there are few emergencies that happen on field trips, but they can occur. A person attending may have an accident or be taken ill. The leader should enquire if anyone attending has any disabilities or health problems which might put them at risk during the event, and if the leader considers that the risk is too great politely ask them to leave or wait for the party to return from a more difficult part of the field meeting. Similarly anyone behaving in an irresponsible or unsafe way should be asked to leave the event rather than pose a risk to the safety of others.
Some "disaster" stories.
The Society received a telephone call from a lady who asked if her 15-year-old son could attend a field meeting. The meeting was to look at boulders on a Holderness beach so posed no great hazards. The mother said that her son was very interested in geology, wished to study "A" level geology and was well behaved. So we agreed and gave him a lift from Hull. After spending a couple of hours walking along the beach the leader decided that it was time to turn back so we could visit another site - but there was someone missing! We had lost the 15-year-old, or rather he had wandered off, and we did not know his name, address or parent's telephone number.
We organised a free public walk in a cemetery to look that the geology of the gravestones and the history of the site. We sent a press release to the local newspaper. A telephone call from an enquirer alerted the leader to the fact that the paper had published the wrong date. So we apologised to the person and gave them the correct details and asked the paper to publish a correction. The leader went to the cemetery on the incorrectly published date just in case anyone had turned up and waited thirty minutes without seeing anyone. On returning home there were several angry telephone calls from a group of people who had been waiting at a different entrance to the cemetery. As far as they were concerned it was the leader’s fault that the wrong date and meeting place had been published - what the public reads in the paper must be true!
When the cemetery walk did take place over three hundred people turned up. Some were still complaining that it was the leaders' fault the previous week not the newspaper's! Luckily there were two leaders for the event so the group of three hundred were split into two groups who followed each leader for half of the walk. Even so those at the back of each group missed out on a lot of the commentary and we trampled huge swathes of the plant life in the wildlife haven.
Another public "fossil fossick" we organised in Holderness also received good publicity. When we turned up at the site there was no parking for the leaders and about 150 people there and a local press photographer to record the event. Luckily we had enough experienced geologists there from the Society, so rather than lead a walk for 150 people, we split into groups and each geologist positioned themselves on the beach for the public to bring them their finds for identification.
The Committee of the Society asked the Secretary to organise a trip to a particular area. The Secretary asked a guest leader to arrange this and to liase with a local organiser in Hull who would take the bookings. The guest leader asked for a fee because he was having to work on a Saturday, so we agreed to pay this in advance and decided to pass on the cost to those attending by charging on the day. Twenty people booked and agreed to pay the charge, mostly non-members and not the Committee members who requested the trip. But on the day our local members travelling from Hull were delayed and got to the rendezvous ten minutes late. The leader had decided to change the schedule for the day and had already set off without leaving any details for late arrivals. The late arrivals spent several hours searching for the party. Nobody collected the attendance fees so the Society was out of pocket on the event which only one Society member attended.
On another field trip the members of the Society arrived at the meeting place in good time but the leader was nowhere to be seen. Luckily some of the party knew the area and improvised a field trip. A week later the Secretary received a 'phone call from the leader who said "I'm here but no one else has shown up"
It is possible to produce a timeline to help plan any event. The time needed will vary according to the type of event, intended audience and publicity you would like. Here are some examples -
· Visit to temporary exposure (“rescue geology”) - a few days
· Organising a field trip or roadshow - 1 to 3 months
· Organising a programme of events - 3 to 6 months
· Organising a conference - 6 months to 3 years
· Co-ordinating events organised by different organisations (e.g. Yorkshire Geology Month) - 2 years
· Organising a course of classes - 6 to 18 months
If you have organised the event before then you can use the experience to improve the event, reuse some of the previously prepared material and perhaps not have to take so much time to do the organising.
The timeline for an event should include the following planning -
· Initial planning including aims and target audience.
· Contact other organisers if more than one leader involved
· Obtain permission for site access; do risk assessments; tell wider geological community if appropriate.
· Design and print posters and leaflets; write abstracts; inform members.
· Write handouts; publicity to magazines and periodicals.
· Have a practice run of the event (if you have not done it before); distribute posters and leaflets; write press releases.
· Send press releases to papers
· Send press releases to local radio and television
Hull Geological Society Procedures and Deadlines.
The Society has had a published Safety Policy since 1999 and asks that field trip leaders bring it to the attention of those attending meetings. Details of meetings are sent by post three times a year - usually in late September for the Winter Programme, early March for the Annual General Meeting and April for the Summer Programme. Reminders of forthcoming meetings are announced at meetings and by given in an e-mail newsletter. The leaders of events are asked to provide details to the Secretary as early as possible and these are added to the web-pages immediately. We also welcome non-members to our meetings and these are publicised through the mailings of other Societies to who we are affiliated, the free magazine Down To Earth, local media and locally displayed posters. To provide the Secretary with the necessary information leaders are asked to complete a standard form, developed from that used for Yorkshire Geology Month 2005 (Horne 2006) and a Risk Assessment which was first introduced in 2000.
Never cancel an event!
On a few rare occasions events have been cancelled or postponed by the HGS. One field trip leader decided to cancel the trip the night before due to a bad weather forecast and despite agreeing to travel to the rendez vous to apologise for the cancellation failed to do so; years later members were still complaining. A roadshow was postponed because it clashed with two national events; members of the public who attended were disappointed. People remember when you let them down and will tell their friends about it.
People lead and attend field meetings for several different reasons, but mostly because it is an enjoyable activity. Producing a programme of events enables Societies to further their aims and meet their charitable obligations. This does rely on the altruism of the members who volunteer to lead events and act as officers. Co-ordination and co-operation are the keys to the success of the events and a certain amount of standardisation of procedures can help this.
Things rarely go badly wrong with events and accidents are extremely rare, but consideration of possible setbacks does help organisers to plan more carefully.
Workshop participants -
Harry Tabiner, Jeremy Freeman (of the Midweek Geology Group), Mike Horne, Rod Towse, Stephen Lee and Stuart Jones.
Acknowledgements – I thank Anne Horne, Rodger Connell and Stuart Jones for their help in editing this paper.
References and further reading–
Horne M 2006. Yorkshire Geology Month 2005 - a personal report. Humberside Geologist 14, 61-64.
Horne M 2006. Yorkshire Geology Month 2006 Event Form. Hull Geological Society website (published 2020, as a pdf file)
Hull Geological Society 2004. Event and Risk Assessment Form Hull Geological Society website (re-published 2020, as a pdf file)
Speed A, C Leach, M Horne, P Vixseboxse & R Connell 2019 – Three fieldwork scenarios. Humberside Geologist Online, volume 16
copyright Hull Geological Society 2020