The “Future Meeting Space” innovation network was created by the German Convention Bureau (GCB) and the European Association of Event Centers (EVVC) in collaboration with Fraunhofer IAO, with the objective of safeguarding Germany’s future as a prime location for international conferences and conventions. The purpose of this initiative is to anticipate trends in the events industry, evaluate their possible impact, and recommend courses of action. In this interview, Matthias Schultze, managing director of the GCB, and Dr. Stefan Rief, head of Workspace Innovation at Fraunhofer IAO, tell us how this research is organized and what results they expect from the project.
Dr. Rief, how do you go about researching events? After all, they are far more abstract than new technologies.
Rief: In the first research phase, we took a close look at emerging trends with the potential to change the future of the events industry, focusing on five key action areas: technology, society, methodologies and learning processes, infrastructure, and mobility. In addition to the input from this extensive research and our own specialized knowledge and expertise, we also sought out the views of many different stakeholders and organized expert workshops. This led to the development and definition of six Future Meeting Scenarios based on venue-related, organizational and technological criteria. So, as you see, the result is anything but abstract!
Our current focus is on finding out more about the people who attend conferences and identifying typologies or typical profiles: not just their age and educational background but more especially their different motivations and individual traits such as an outgoing or introverted personality. By studying these typologies in connection with different event formats and elements, we aim to identify the best way of appealing to different types of conference-goer.
So, you’re dividing conference-goers into different categories. Does this mean that in the future events will be tailored to personal preferences?
Rief: In the first instance, we want to find out more about the needs of different groups and types of people. Our approach goes beyond the current practice of differentiating purely according to industrial sectors. With its focus on identifying visitor typologies and establishing what impact different technological and methodological elements have on them, and how this relates to success factors such as knowledge transfer, learning outcome and visitor experience, we are entering virgin territory, even by comparison with other international players in this branch of research.
Ten years from now, will all events be digital and virtual?
Schultze: In the first research phase, one of the scenarios we developed was “Analog Total,” based on off-the-grid meetings, because our research had revealed that physical gatherings are particularly conducive to the creation of innovations. Nonetheless, hybrid meetings, which allow both face-to-face and virtual contact between participants, will probably become the norm. And many meetings in real life will result from contacts made through virtual networks.
How receptive is the industry to new suggestions and ideas?
Schultze: In today’s era of non-stop technological change and ever-shorter innovation cycles, the events industry is keeping a keen eye on future developments. Conferences, conventions and similar events are platforms for the sharing of experience and ideas. As such, they are seedbeds for innovation, knowledge transfer and education and training. They promote international and intercultural understanding, reflect social trends, and are catalysts for processes of political, economic, scientific and social change.
What type of conference-goer are you, Dr. Rief?
Rief: We don’t yet have any definitive typologies, but our surveys include an anonymous feedback option. That allows me to compare my own motivation, approach to learning, etc. with the records we have gathered. The most I can say is that I’m the sort of person who is curious by nature and learns by doing.