Reaping the Full Benefit from a Participatory Event

Refreshing the design approach of an Expert Forum 

Boehringer Ingelheim's Vetmedica division initially conceived the idea for a Forum over 10 years ago. The aim is to create a meeting place to exchange perspectives and practices among some of the main players in the industry. Initially the meeting was labeled the European Forum because the main emphasis was on developments occurring in Europe. However over the years, interest was peaked all across the globe and, as a result, the number of participants coming from countries worldwide has increased every year.

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Krakow - location of the 7th Expert Forum

The original design of the Forum was structured in a traditional way with speakers, panel discussions and break out sessions. After three such Forums, two factors led Hugo Seemer from Boehringer Ingelheim's Vetmedica - the driving force behind the Forum - to think about re-designing the experience.

Why as a redesign of the Forum considered? 

  1.  Firstly, the participants' feedback indicated that they would like to have more time to interact with other participants.  
  2. Secondly, the organizer realized that actually every participant had very valuable know-how to share and could potentially take on the role of speaker. How could this worldwide know-how be made more generally available?

Participatory Meetings

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The planer of the Forum from Boehringer Ingelheim contacted Ensemble Enabler and requested us to re-design the upcoming Forum which was scheduled to take place in Amsterdam.  We were delighted to take on the challenge because creating participatory meetings and events is one of Ensemble Enabler's strong points. 

At the heart of our re-design was fostering meaningful and productive conversations among groups of four people. Research indicates that this size is optimal for promoting thoughtful exchange among participants. These conversations provide the focus for the event's main activity. Moreover, these conversations build on the know-know of select invited expert speakers around an established theme. 

Expert speakers play a key role in the Forum by providing expert input for the ensuing in-depth conversations. However, they also become participants in the discussions. After the invited experts have made their own presentations, they rejoin the conversation groups as a participant. As a result, the expert perspective is integrated into the meeting both as a speaker and participant in all discussions. Each of the tables discuss the same topic simultaneously which provides a shared understanding of the selected theme as well as fosters a sense of coherence and joint effort in the group as a whole.

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Working Towards a Joint Result

An integral part of the Forum's design is to promote the participants to work collaboratively to achieve a group result.  Numerous methods are used to document and visualize the insights and ideas on the theme which is the focus of that year's Forum.  All the participant feedback is analyzed and documented. This common objective adds a sense of purpose to all the exchanges among the participants during their discussions throughout the day.

For example, the theme for the Forum in Krakow was the emergence of global standards in the industry.  Participants discussed this issue from the perspective of three perspectives: Animal Welfare, Consumer Demand and International Trade.  All their ideas and recommendations from each thematic perspective were documented throughout the Forum. An initial overview of the results and recommendations was presented to them at a cocktail reception prior to a joint dinner.

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The New Normal can be either face-to-face OR virtual

This new design approach has been very favorably received by the participants of  Boehringer Ingelheim's Annual Forum. One participant shared with us that he "...cannot imagine going back to the more traditional meeting structure."  

The benefits for both the participants and Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica are numerous. During the course of the table discussions, participants enjoy thematically focused and high quality conversations of longer timeframes (20-30 minutes) with at least 20 different colleagues throughout the course of the day. A visualization of an initial overview of the group's reflections and ideas is presented to the participants at the end of the day. The Forum serves to foster a closer relationship with Boehringer Ingehlheim Vetmedica's customers as well as promotes a close network among the participants themselves.

Every organization can reap the full benefit from its meetings by embracing a participatory approach to the design of its meetings.

Whenever people meet, there is latent wisdom and emerging knowledge to be expressed and captured. A meeting's design offers both the flexibility and alignment with an event's requirements - either as a face-to-face such as Boehringer Ingelheim's invitation-only Forum of virtual events - whether on a small, intimate scale or large group event.

Discover the type of participatory event approach which will provide the insight and results you need for your organization

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