Lasting impressions: understanding legacy

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International associations are abuzz with talk of legacy. But, as James Lancaster discovers, it means different things to different people…

When we talk about the legacy of a meeting what do we mean, exactly?

Applied to major sporting events like the Olympics, the word is often used as a bargaining chip, something to help justify the enormous public expense and disruption they involve.

Although major-event legacy programmes can be expensive to administer, their job is to ensure the destination gets something – or is seen to get something - when the show leaves town.

These programmes are often extracurricular. Lip-service might be given to sport’s capacity to ‘inspire,’ but inspiration is hard to measure. Easier to set up an adult literacy programme, or a public health initiative: something you can put in a PDF and share with your stakeholders.

Away from major sporting events – and the glare of the world’s media – legacy has become a buzz-word in the international association sector, with various different approaches emerging.

The meeting suppliers' association ICCA and destination marketing alliance BestCities run the Incredible Impacts Programme* to reward, with a $7,500 grant, associations who demonstrate the societal benefits of their meetings – through awareness-raising, outreach, or knowledge transfer etc.

Here legacy can refer to a specific programme attached to a meeting or the lasting benefits of the meeting itself. Or it might even refer to a longer campaign or initiative lasting months or even years.


Legacy does not have to be an adjunct to a meeting. In fact, it doesn’t have to be tied to a meeting at all.  Last year’s grant winners included the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis for its World Thrombosis Day - a year-long international awareness-raising project, held every year on October 13 (the birthday of Rudolf Virchow, pioneer in the pathophysiology of thrombosis).

Legacy does not have to have its own subcommittee. It might simply flow naturally from a meeting. This might not be a photogenic legacy, or something with immediate and obvious returns, but it will be there in the shape of white papers and new R&D, for example, academic or commercial collaborations, or just the chance for local institutions to raise their international profile.

It is clear that legacy will always mean different things to different people. But all of these different approaches have one thing in common: they prove to association members that their association does not exist in a bubble, that its very existence can be beneficial to society in a wider context.

Of course, those international associations advocating on behalf of cigarette manufacturers or the oil industry, for example, will probably have to work harder than others to demonstrate this.


“Congress was career and life-changing”

The World Confederation for Physical Therapy Congress, held in Cape Town, was one of three Incredible Impact grant winners - hailed for its extensive outreach work.

The congress was recognised for funding bursaries, raising money for community exercise programmes, and developing partnerships that promoted physical activity in schools.

It was also praised for its commitment to spreading knowledge.

The meeting in July 2017 – the first time the event had been held in Africa – included a fundraising drive to bring the ‘gift of Congress’ to delegates who would otherwise have been unable to attend. Sixteen physical therapists and two students attended for the entirety of the three-day event, in an experience which has subsequently been described as ‘career and life changing’.

WCPT president Emma Stokes explains: "WCPT teamed up with the South African Society of Physiotherapy (SASP) and the Western Cape on Wellness (WoW!) programme, whose activities promote physical activity and also supported the Shoe2move campaign which provides pumps and trainers for those unable to afford them.

The South African Society of Physiotherapy also supported exercise in schools by promoting the ‘Brainbreak’ competition in which pupils designed their own movement breaks to music. Winners were announced at the congress closing ceremony, with children and teachers in attendance to receive accolades and prizes including physical activity equipment."

Tracy Bury, director of professional policy at WCPT, said the destination was often key when it came to legacy.

South Africa and the rest of Africa had the opportunity to shine and showcase their research in a way that because of where it was hosted was slightly more accessible for them whereas distance may well have been a barrier in the past.”

“We encourage members to hold their own events…”

Pippa Powell, director of the European Lung Foundation, which communicates the work of the European Respiratory Society, explains why legacy is all about public health.

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Pippa Powell[/caption]

“For the ERS Congress, legacy is really about what we do outside of the conference. It goes without saying that the conference itself provides a legacy through the education of people locally and internationally to ensure that the treatment of lung disease is optimal – but we really aim to make an impact on the public, patients and policy makers.

With regards lung health, we feel that prevention is key when focusing on our messaging for these audiences. There are some global issues that have a huge impact on lung health and other non-communicable diseases, such as poor air quality, smoking and lack of physical activity. We feel that addressing these on a population and political level could have a dramatic impact on lung health in the future.

In order to address the issue of legacy as we see it, ERS worked together with its patient and public organisation – the European Lung Foundation (ELF) – to create a campaign that would speak to all stake-holders in lung health. This campaign is called Healthy Lungs for life (

The campaign is about educating people on how important lung health is, how simple it is to monitor your lung health by having a lung function test (spirometry) and how lung damage can be prevented.

Activities include free public lung function testing in the host city of the congress, as well as press and media activities and meet the expert sessions (so the public can ask questions of our experts), educational packs for our congress delegates to ensure that they are speaking about prevention to their patients, events in the European Parliament and other political settings, etc.

One of the key things we do is encourage all ERS member societies and ELF patient organisations to hold their own events in their own communities and provide a tool kit for them all to do this.”

James Lancaster
Written By
James Lancaster

AMI editor James Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk, read, listen to music, and drink beer.

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