A first time for everything

A first time for everything  

When the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (IASP) realised they would have to take their annual conference online, it was all hands on deck to ensure the conference theme: The Human Factor remained centre stage.

A shift to virtual does not mean the connectivity and communication elements of an international event have to be compromised, as the 37th IASP World Congress proved...

IASP is a global network for science parks (STPs), innovation districts, knowledge cities and other areas of innovation (AOIs), serving an international community. Due to ongoing global restrictions on events and travel, IASP decided to move the 2020 event from Seville in Spain to a fully digital experience.

To help them do this, IASP employed the services of AIM Group International to realise the key objectives: to surprise, entertain and satisfy their global community of managers; demonstrate resilience; deliver rich and meaningful content; foster knowledge sharing; deliver ‘live’ sessions with active discussion; produce a best‐in‐class virtual conference on a robust and effective platform.

The decision to take the event online meant a slight delay from the original September date to December 2020. By this time, organisers knew the audience would be suffering virtual fatigue so the digital platform, delivery format and content was carefully considered.

Intended for a worldwide audience, the programme was scheduled for a lengthy 10 hours each day; the idea was to deliver ‘live’ sessions with active discussion to all the different regions and time zones.

Where money is concerned…

The available budget for the online event was adequate but not unlimited and IASP understood that sponsors and exhibitors were not used to the opportunities presented in the virtual environment and were suffering financially from the impact of the pandemic.

 While other innovation players had already delivered attractive virtual events, some of which were free of charge, IASP needed and intended to charge a small fee.

So was the first IASP Virtual achieved?

The PCO’s digital team put together a virtual conference format with the following features:

  • A customisable virtual platform that included a 3D virtual setting with appealing visuals for content sharing and networking.
  • Virtual networking: A tool provided by Gatherly was used to make ice‐breaker sessions more spontaneous, offering a real opportunity to meet and video chat with other delegates, with many turning on cameras and joining random smaller groups to say hi as would happen at an in‐person conference.
  • To engage the delegates, they were invited to become the storytellers: delegates were able to tell their stories during ‘quickfire’ style interviews and other engaging formats, presenting their innovative projects.
  • Sponsors on the spot. The virtual sponsorship platform provided online exposure and networking opportunities for all sponsors. An exhibition area offered the opportunity to visit and navigate the company stand, consult brochures, watch promotional videos, click on external company links and establish a direct contact with company representatives, arrange an appointment and chat.
  • Communication was key. IASP developed a compelling narrative to keep the Community involved and engaged by promoting keynote speeches and revealing new formats.
  • A Master of Ceremonies acted as an online facilitator, anchoring all the event sessions, encouraging participants to interact and network.

“These are difficult times to keep international networks running at full speed and for making new connections. Thanks to the active participation of our speakers and delegates at IASP Virtual, I think that we managed to do it. I am proud of our team and our members. They ensured the enormous success of our first-ever virtual conference bringing our global community together despite the challenges,” IASP CEO Ebba Lund said.

“We didn’t just talk about our main theme ‘The Human Factor: People, communities and their innovation ecosystems’ at IASP Virtual, we lived it in the three days that our global community spent together online. With a programme that covered a range of international time zones, IASP Virtual demonstrated how global community building is still possible without even needing to travel!” Lund added.

Don’t forget about sustainability ...

IASP remained keen to incentivise membership while being kind to the planet and offered to plant a cocoa tree in Cameroon for each registered delegate, therefore creating a real IASP Forest.

“We are really impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment demonstrated not only by the IASP’s board of directors and staff but also by the conference participants. They really appreciated the virtual format and came on board of this new experience with a great engagement, which overcame our expectations” said AIM Group International business manager congress unit, Iberia region, Monica Freire.

“We are really happy that the solutions provided by our team were able to support the association to achieving its goals and realising a memorable online event”.

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