Research

How We’ll Meet

The German Convention Bureau’s Future Meeting Space is set to explore the human side of meetings.

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There’s a blizzard of white papers and trend reports that seek to help meeting professionals understand what to expect in the future — including research conducted by the German Convention Bureau (GCB) as part of its Future Meeting Space initiative. But the GCB’s approach may provide some extra help in navigating the storm by providing new frameworks for applying the research.

Phase 1 of the project, released in 2016, was a collaboration between the GCB, the European Association of Event Centres, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering, and looked into potential effects of social and technological trends on meetings. One result was a research organization, researched the innovations and vetted them with focus groups. Fraunhofer also identified six meeting scenarios, developed by projecting how social and business trends will affect meeting design.

This month, the initiative is embarking on its second phase, “which will be even more important,” according to Matthias Schultze, the GCB’s managing director. The second phase of the research project will be funded by the PCMA Education Foundation.

Whereas the first phase focused on meeting environments and meeting design, this research “will look at human behavior at meetings,” Schultze said. “For example, what makes a person a ‘networking’ or ‘knowledge-sharing’ person? We also will be looking at how technology affects knowledge transfer and how it can help people to get the most out of meetings.”

The initiative will link research from interdisciplinary approaches — including psychology, architecture, scriptwriting, and storytelling — to explore how participants experience meeting formats, and how that fits with their needs. “And we will be asking these questions,” Schultze said, “in a very structured way.”

Meeting in the Future The first phase of Future Meeting Space research yielded a portfolio of six meeting formats that take the projected needs of tomorrow’s attendees into account on a variety of measures.
Meeting in the Future The first phase of Future Meeting Space research yielded a portfolio of six meeting formats that take the projected needs of tomorrow’s attendees into account on a variety of measures.

The second phase will begin by surveying participants at various congresses and meetings in Germany about their needs and interests in areas such as networking and knowledge sharing. It “is being undertaken from the perspective of meeting-goers more directly,” Schultze said, “versus via the lens of the planner.”

While building on the results gained from Phase 1, “Phase 2 also will ask: What are the different types of participants?” Schultze said. “How are they impacted by the use of different elements of meeting methodology and technology? And how do these elements affect success factors such as user acceptance, knowledge sharing, learning progress, and experience value for different types of participants?”

As in Phase 1, the end goal is to develop guidelines and recommendations for meeting planners and the meetings industry in general. The first phase yielded a variety of ideas, including a “co-working” conference, in which participants needing to keep up with regular work would be accommodated.

“People step away or cram in work during break times at meetings and conferences today informally,” Schultze said. “Some events and meetings already provide more formal spaces where people can check in, chill out, network, etc. during meeting hours, but this scenario goes a step further.”

“It puts forth the idea that meetings could be made longer in terms of number of days — up to seven — spreading out the learning modules with more time formally built in for participants to attend to items back at the office and to provide more dedicated work space in the main meeting venue,” Schultze said. “During this ‘working time,’ it’s expected people will be plugged into their offices more deeply. Here attendees are more autonomous in an unconference-like format, yet still focused on meeting goals. Extended stays also mean more opportunity to network with, get to know, and share knowledge informally with fellow meeting-goers.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the funding of the second phase of the research project by the PCMA Education Foundation. In an Aug. 11 press release from the German Convention Bureau, Schultze said: “The Future Meeting Space project is critical to helping organizations better engage their event participants and PCMA — and their shared dedication to helping the business events industry move forward — is a perfect addition to our innovation alliance team.” 

Meredith Rollins, executive director of the PCMA Education Foundation, added: “We’re glad to be partnering with the German Convention Bureau’s innovation alliance to define how participants will engage with future meeting design. Education is key to success for our industry and this research projects tackles an issue that will shape our industry today and for the future.”

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.