Ideas Roadshow was founded by Howard and Irena Burton in 2012 with the objective of harnessing the benefits of modern technology to explore ideas in uniquely engaging and entertaining ways by highlighting a variety of expert perspectives through documentary films, videos, books, and podcasts.
Howard is the author of five books plus the editor of the Ideas Roadshow Conversations series (100 books) and the Ideas Roadshow Collections series (20 books). He holds a PhD in theoretical physics and an MA in philosophy and was the founding director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Visit Howard’s personal website for more details about his books.
Irena has a background in law and teaching and is extensively involved in the development of Ideas Roadshow’s award-winning databases, books and films.
The Ideas Roadshow Story
My first-hand experience as the director of a research institute convinced me that the standard stereotype of academics as wilfully isolated scholars unable and unwilling to effectively communicate with the broader public is simply untrue.
The problem, I was convinced, was simply a lack of opportunity: other than the occasional media request to distill their life’s work into a 15-second sound bite, most had little to no occasion to genuinely communicate their ideas at all, and certainly not in an engaging and genuinely accessible way. Moreover, much of this space was filled with “professional communicators”, so that the lion’s share of those who were primarily focused on actually doing research were not, by and large, the ones that the public had the chance to encounter.
But it occurred to me that the rapid advances of digital media, enabling a wealth of high-quality audio, video and print products to be created at relatively low cost, was a potential game changer. Armed with a few HD cameras, lav mics and professional editing software, I could spend a few hours with leading scholars and capture their uniquely personal perspectives in a way that simply hadn’t been done before.
So that’s what I did. After a short time, my initial intuition was amply verified, as I had the good fortune to participate in a wide array of highly illuminating conversations that combined captivating research insights with uniquely revealing aspects of research culture.
Video platforms, awards & in-flight enlightenment
The next step was to find a way to package the content appropriately. We began to create videos of varying lengths and styles: short clips highlighting key research insights; medium-length, documentary-style compilations featuring different expert perspectives on a particular theme and one-hour videos of the conversation (the actual conversations usually lasted between 2 and 3 hours).
We curated all video resources in three different video platforms for academic, public library and high school audiences, an accomplishment for which we won the International Excellence Award at the 2018 London Book Fair. That same year we developed a fourth platform specifically oriented to the International Baccalaureate’s Diploma Programme – Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal – that received the 2021 BETT Highly Commended International Digital Educational Resource Award.
Meanwhile, sparked by a strong review in The Economist’s business travel blog, Ideas Roadshow has long been established as a major force of “edutainment” in the world of in-flight entertainment (IFE), with our programs featured on British Airways, Emirates, Virgin Australia, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Garuda Indonesia, Cathay Pacific and many more.
“Often academics, they seem to enjoy the talks as much as Mr Burton: indeed both sides evince an enthusiasm for the subject under discussion that the watcher can’t help but warm to.“
Books, podcasts and films
Following numerous requests to also offer our core conversational content in book format, we elected to create the Ideas Roadshow Conversations series and the Ideas Roadshow Collections series. Each book contains an introduction to set up the main issues under discussion and is broken into chapters, with questions for discussion at the end of each chapter.
Ideas Roadshow continues to evolve: in the summer of 2021, in the midst of the seemingly never-ending pandemic, we decided that all conversations would henceforth move to a podcast format in collaboration with the New Books Network. All previous discussions have been reformatted as freely available podcasts, while a new remotely-recorded discussion is released every Wednesday on the Ideas Roadshow Podcast.
Nowadays, though, most of our efforts are directed towards producing feature-length, ideas-driven films that we call “explorations”, building on the experience gained from producing over 1,000 Ideas Roadshow videos. But whatever the size or shape of the final product and whatever the media—video, book, podcast or film—the basic premise of Ideas Roadshow remains the same: harness the benefits of modern technology to present a wide variety of expert perspectives in uniquely engaging and entertaining ways.