Editor's Blog

23/05/2018
Unpacking legacy

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

Applied to major sporting events like the Olympics, the word has become 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 circus leaves town.

In the main they are extracurricular. Lip-service might be given to sport’s capacity to inspire etc., but inspiration is notoriously difficult 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 - there is an emerging trend among international associations to attach a legacy ‘programme’ to their meetings, too.

The meeting suppliers' association ICCA and destination marketing alliance BestCities run the Incredible Impacts Programme to reward associations who demonstrate the societal benefits of their meetings – through awareness-raising, outreach, or knowledge transfer for example.

It’s a highly laudable initiative, but I have one caveat. At IMEX Association Day last week, association executives were heard fretting over how they could leave a legacy - or what kind of legacy programme would be appropriate for their specific area of interest. The thinking here seemed to be that legacy was somehow an adjunct to meetings rather than an intrinsic part of meetings. This is not the intention of the Incredible Impacts Programme, which is primarily designed to encourage associations to communicate the legacy of their meetings, not necessarily think of legacy as an 'added extra'.

The distinction might seem too subtle to care about, but there is a danger we do a disservice to meetings themselves, if we suggest that legacy needs its own sub-committee. It’s wonderful if associations go out of their way to leave a positive impression on the cities hosting them – especially if that means getting out of the conference centre and into classrooms and communities.

But well-run meetings - especially of a scientific or professional nature (trade associations lobbying for tobacco manufactures or petroleum companies are a different matter) – should automatically leave a legacy. 

It 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. 

So, all power to those associations 'going the extra mile' to engage with their host destinations, but let's not get sucked into thinking legacy is something you have to 'do'. And let's not forget to shout about the real legacy of meetings.



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