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Nostalgic drag: why we’re thinking too conservatively about meetings

The deprivations of Covid‐19 have generated a cloud of collective nostalgia, writes Martin Sirk, despite our awareness that the world has been changed utterly by the pandemic and its consequences.

Martin Sirk

We  still dream of displaying our lanyard-swinging identities to the world once again, of waiting for the star speaker in hushed auditoria, of having civilised debates over not‐particularly‐great coffee and decidedly inferior muffins, of forging new connections that might last a couple of days or a lifetime.

We know the future is hybrid, that online will act as both enhancer and insurance policy for future face‐to‐face events, but there is scant evidence that there has been much outside-the‐box thinking about time frames, for events or for sessions, about the full range of purposes to which meetings can be put, about who should or could attend and why, and what our events could look  and feel like if we ditched our preconceptions.

Nostalgia is inhibiting our imagination.

The future of association meetings will not be a return to an online‐enhanced past reality, embellished with Covid‐19‐driven logistical hassles. It will be a radical reinvention driven by the most pressing scientific, societal and business challenges, and the most successful solution‐methodologies. Some of these solutions may be found in longstanding traditional approaches, of course (their efficacy has determined their longevity), but many will be unlocked by new innovations deployed by imaginative association leaders, invented by the best meeting designers, and facilitated by smart destination and technology partners.

Here are just a few potential concepts for future meetings in which associations could play leading roles. Not predictions, simply possibilities! How things work out depends entirely on the event experiments that are run, and which ones deliver the most valuable outcomes for delegates, organisers, business partners and other stakeholders, and society at large.

*MSS ‐ Month‐long (or longer) Staycation Symposium

Combine ‘away‐from‐home‐working’ with conference sessions and vacation time in another city/country. As boundaries become more blurred between office and home, why should large meetings retain their two or four-day schedules?

*CHC ‐ City‐centric Hackathon Challenge

Bring together local intellectual institutions and experts focused on solving an issue of concern to that city or local group, but engage with worldwide expert communities.

*OYM ‐ One‐hour‐per‐week, Year‐long Marathon

Short, intensive sharing and idea accelerators every week (both local F2F and online), interspaced with small group project work/research over an extended period, in order to generate concrete outcomes and conclusions.

*SSN ‐ Symbiotic Serendipitous Network

F2F and online events designed to colonise the unexplored spaces between academic or business specialisations, those not “owned” by any specific association.

*RUU ‐ Roving Universal University

Events designed to make up for failures (and anticipated future failures) in tertiary education systems around the world. Aimed at both students (young and old) and teachers, using the most effective learning techniques from the top institutions.

*PCA ‐ Political Class Action

Events where delegates are all politicians and civil servants from around the world, nominated by their citizens, designed to expose them to the best available scientific thinking on a wide range of societally important issues, myth‐busting facts, potential best‐in‐class solutions from around the world (OK, I know….I can still dream!).

*ITH ‐ Intellectual Trail Hiking

Small groups tackle long‐distance walks whilst discussing topics of mutual interest, walking in pairs and sharing the resulting ideas around the evening campfire. Scale up as desired!