Gomm Valley Community Engagement Event

Project Details

Human + Nature is a developer building a new sustainable settlement in the Gomm Valley, Buckinghamshire. We were given 8 weeks to organise a three day community engagement and design event in June 2018, for up to 300 people to attend.

The primary aim of the event was to raise awareness about proposed development plans for the area and provide stakeholders with an opportunity to raise concerns and feed into the design proposals at a very early stage.

Unlike typical stakeholder engagement consultations, the proposed development plans and drawings were exhibited on the actual site, in an open field. This created an informal atmosphere whereby locals could have frank and honest discussions with a team of multidisciplinary specialists about the proposed plans for the area.

Process

Design and run an event with minimal carbon footprint and environmental impact by using curated suppliers sourced through our own network and through market research. This was combined with in-house technical calculations to continually assess impact.

Thinking differently

My favorite events are full experiences from start to end and beyond. As I pack my suitcase (which I detest and always do at the last minute), I begin to think about the different aspects of the event—what do I need to bring to make it through the days and the unique experiences they bring. It continues to travel day—usually waking up far too early, arriving at the airport and being in a zombie-like state for most of the day. But it gives me time to get into the right mindset. I’m going somewhere—what is it, what do I expect, what I want to achieve, who am I going to see? I need to find my way to the venue, which quite often is an experience itself. Am I at the right entrance, where do I get my badge and are all these people here for the same thing?

I have no idea who I’m going to bump into on the elevator to breakfast, who will turn to chat with me in the queue for coffee or who will comment on the speaker’s message. Spontaneous encounters lead to friendships and business relationships.

Commitment to minimal waste

Water was supplied in cardboard cartons, with a 1,000 litre cardboard water store on site to sustain guests through the heatwave. All knives and forks were made from biodegradable, sustainably sourced wood. No plastic was used on site.

Inside the exhibition tents
SELCE Solar Roller

Powered by renewable energy

The event was powered with the Solar Roller, a mobile, solar powered generator producing sufficient clean, green, silent energy to power all the equipment including electricty, including lights, fans and sound.

Pilau Pot

Questions to think about

Think about what the conference day will look and feel like. What types of sessions will there be?  Will there be interactive sessions? How will you recruit speakers? How will attendees take breaks?

Sessions 

 

  1. How long will your conference be? Some of this will depend on the following questions, but consider if it needs to be synchronous or if it could be asynchronous. 

 

  1. Will there be a Keynote speaker? If so, who are some people who would make good keynote speakers?

 

  1. How long will the keynote be?

 

  1. What kind of talks will there be? (e.g. lightning talks, full talks)? How long will the talks be?

 

  1. Will there be time during the talks for questions? If not, will there be time at the end of the session for questions?

 

  1. Will there be interactive/breakout sessions? If so, how will these work in an online environment? Does the platform you are using support breakout sessions? 

 

  1. Will there be panel sessions?

 

  1. Will there be any other type of sessions?

 

Breaks

Keep in mind your virtual conference has very non-virtual attendees! In our experience people appreciate regular short breaks and for anything longer than a half day appreciated a longer break in the middle. 

 

  1. When will there be breaks and how long will they be?

 

  1. Will there be longer breaks so people can get food?

Let your event be free

Conference rooms are a terrible choice to illustrate what your event experience is about

The reason why conferences look the way they quite often look is that we as meeting planners face design constraints imposed by the architecture of conference centers. While purpose-built conference centers follow a pretty good logic (with lobbies at the entrance, main theatres right behind it and meeting rooms left and right or up and down) they are the result of a compromise made between architects, private businesses, governments and about anyone else involved in building conference centers. They may be purpose-built, but only within a given framework. Even then, conference centers are bland and all look very similar (sure, the CCH in Hamburg has an iconic roof-top garden, the old Fira in Barcelona is a design marvel and that long walk in the San Diego conference center is quite something). And that is a good thing. The blander they are, the easier it becomes for us, meeting planners and meeting designers, to project our visions and fill the space with life. Maybe Berlin’s CityCube even perfected this idea with their brutalism-like concrete walls everywhere. It is a fabulous venue after all.

Taking a real-life conference center, then projecting our meeting vision into it, and then taking this entire analog concept and digitizing it is, for the lack of a better word, absolutely absurd. It is the meetings industry counterpart of taking a smartphone video of a video you see on TV. There is no value to this kind of behaviour.

You are crippling the experience you could provide online

Instead, we should focus on how we can build something amazing online. Howard Roark, the fictional architect in Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel The Fountainhead faced backlash in design school because he refused to build Roman-style columns out of concrete. And while Ayn Rand is probably the worst inspiration I could pick for a modern society, her character Howard had a point: the reason why Roman columns looked the way they looked was not purely esthetic, but had much to do with how to work the materials such as marble. Instead, according to Roark, concrete, glass, and steel should find their own design language and speak to their natural material strengths.

The same is true online. This crisis is messy and annoying, I get it. But we also have the fabulous opportunity of building something new and exciting, something that changes the way we meet, collaborate, enjoy, and network. Putting meetings online provides us with new tools, interactive games, mass participation from around the world, internationalisation aspects, the application of advanced technologies such as AI and modern design tools. And yet, here we are, rebuilding conference centers in 3D. Have we lost our collective minds?

Regarding trade shows in virtual spaces I personally believe they have no space as such. I am not saying they need to die, but they need to change. Online booths may not be the right answer. Tradeshows have a super power. They know their trades and industries. They know the key people. And they got trust. So building on that, I could imagine two parts a) curated product presentations, driven by the show, not the exhibitors and b) intensive online networking. I think this caters more to the strengths than a gimmicky online booth.

Sustainable virtual event design

You are wasting resources

Finally, building these environments costs time and money. And, especially if we are talking 3D environments, they also cost other resources, such as computing power. Why nobody should spend time wasting time and money should be pretty clear to most of us. And naturally, we tend to ask ourselves: why are we doing this? So think about it: why are you even considering using Skeuomorphisms? Do they actually serve a purpose, or are you mostly lost in terms of how to build an online conference? If the latter is the case: this is fine. Again: we all are, you are not alone.

Wasting computing power is something nobody talks about much in our industry. Computing power, memory, and other IT resources are cheap and abundant. However, 99.5% of all data created never gets used. Meanwhile, the power consumption of the internet skyrockets. And yes, digitization has been a greater force for good so far, but just because something is cheap it doesn’t mean we should be wasteful. Once we are done reducing our travel, shipping, food, and transport footprints, we need to start considering our IT footprint. May as well do it now.

Cycle racks

Sustainable event management

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