WHEN ICMSA was appointed the PCO to manage the 43rd COSPAR Scientific Assembly with an anticipated 2,000 international attendees in 2017 our team couldn’t have been happier.
The meeting, which was secured for Australia with the assistance of Business Events Sydney, was called the “Olympic Games” of the space science conference world, with attendees from all of the major space agencies including, naturally, NASA.
We at ICMSA set to work imagining the most successful meeting for COSPAR the organisation had ever held since it was founded in 1958. And Sydney and Australia would be the centrepiece of the entire event.
Hundreds of hours of meetings with the local hosts, which included the University of New South Wales, Canberra and the Australian Academy of Science covered everything a modern-day PCO is responsible for, including seeking and attaining sponsorship, flight and accommodation management, marketing and promotion, the meetings and social program, budget management and delegate boosting.
On top of this, the Australian chair of COSPAR 2021, Professor Russell Boyce, wanted to create a legacy of the Assembly by running an event open to school students, teachers, and other interested parties designed to encourage the next generation of space researchers, which led to the formation of COSPAR-K a Space STEM event.
Six months out from the event in February 2020, everything was going well. We had exceeded sponsorship targets, had attended previous meetings internationally and were confident we would reach our own ambitious target of 2,000 attendees and had accepted more than 2,000 scientific presentations.
And then Covid-19 hit
With the closure of international borders, the local organising committee decided to move the Assembly to late January 2021 and turn the Assembly into a hybrid event with a mix of live and virtual offerings.
ICMSA and the LOC sought and found Intrado, a technology partner, which had a platform able to deliver the thousands of presentations seamlessly and which also had the capacity to provide live Q&A capabilities to allow for greater engagement between presenters and delegates as well as the opportunity for major sponsors to be able to network with delegates.
The closure of Australian domestic borders in late 2020 resulted in the LOC deciding that the Assembly should be 100 per cent virtual.
Many more meetings later, COSPAR 2021 went live on January 28 for six days that were broken up into three hours in the morning for Asia Pacific delegates and three hours in the evening for Northern Hemisphere participants.
Some components, like the COSPAR 2021 Awards evening, were held just once to allow for all delegates to be witness to winners at the same time.
Anticipating early on that at least part of the Assembly would be virtual, ICMSA sent out a request to the 2,000 individuals whose presentations had been accepted to provide these in video format. All of these had to be edited to fit the time frame allocated and then added to the system that would allow delegates to ask questions of the presenters.
Another high-volume area of work involved creating the sponsorship zone that would sit within the online platform to allow exhibitors to interact with virtual attendees.
That section resulted in 1,088 interactions between sponsors and delegates.
At the Assembly’s conclusion, ICMSA recorded 5,283 downloads of presentations, 99.8 per cent online engagement and over 1,500 individual delegate interactions.
The numbers of downloads and interactions are anticipated to continue to grow during 2021 with the platform opened for the remainder of the year.
Creating a Sydney look and feel
Because Sydney was to host this event and the majority of delegates were international, the other important component of this virtual meeting – of any virtual meeting – was to make the platform look inviting, adding some recognisable images of Sydney for visual effect.
To do that, ICMSA’s in-house graphic design team recreated the International Convention Centre Sydney and even added a few extra touches – like views through the windows of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
They used vibrant blue to match the Assembly logo, which was also reflected in the app that sent messages to delegates reminding them where to be and when.
In the Assembly downtime, delegates could even watch a tourist video about Sydney to encourage them to visit.
We even pre-recorded a Welcome to Country for the Assembly Opening with the traditional owners (Indigenous Australians) welcoming delegates to Australia.
One of the most important decisions was to extend the three day Assembly to six and reduce the hours per day to three in the morning, for those in the Asia Pacific region, with a repeat of content in the evening, for those from the northern hemisphere.
It worked incredibly well, with the highest number of participants recorded on day five – 1,495 in the AM session and 1,503 in the PM session.
The only ones who were challenged with this system was the ICMSA team and the technical staff. But of course they really didn’t mind. This event was, after all, something to be extremely proud of.
Despite being held virtually, the Assembly resulted in greater connections between attendees, and sponsorship targets were reached and exceeded.
COSPAR-K has been postponed until August 2021 because of COVID-19. The good news is that it will remain in Sydney with the hope that it becomes an annual event, linked to National Science Week. This is certainly one great legacy for the host city of COSPAR 2021.
Feedback for COSPAR 2021 has been extremely positive with one comment received from the Anchor Sponsor, Lockheed Martin especially pleasing: “LM applauds you for your unwavering determination to make this Assembly a major success, against all odds. And you did it. We would like to express our great pleasure in being a part of the Assembly. Our only regret is not being able to join you in Sydney.”
The 44th COSPAR Scientific Assembly is being held in Greece in 2022, with the 45th COSPAR Scientific Assembly being hosted in South Korea in 2023.
Emma Bowyer is managing director of ICMSA and has been working in the events industry for more than 17 years