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Government Conferences Attacked: Is the Solution Virtual?

As you know, government conferences are under fire. Two officials have now resigned from the VA owing to excessive expenditures, rules are being tightened, and budgets are shrinking.
So what is the future of government conferencing? Are they still necessary for the good of government?
Yes says Theo Mayer. But in a different form. Mayer is the cofounder and CTO of Hybrid.
He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that a hybrid conference brings the best qualities of a traditional space to the online community.

“First of all if you tink of a traditional conference as being a process of getting a group of with community interests together in a room and having presentations and panel a hybrid conference isn’t far off. A hybrid conference works because the only people that get together physically are the thought leaders. They push their content out to a remote audience. An oftentimes global audience,” said Mayer.
Government Conferences Under Attack
The challenge right now for government conferences is that travel budgets have been slashed. Sequestration is looming. And a small group of people have created a stir about waste and abuse at government conferences.
The problem is simple conferencing is still essential. The process of getting thought leaders, ideas and people together to talk is the only way government can progress forward. A solution is to leverage technology to reduce cost, eliminate HR waste on travel, but still provide the interaction (chat rooms). We are doing the best we can with the resources we have.
Historical Perspective
You might not think of it, but conferencing has been around for hundreds of years. “150 years ago someone might have to take a ship together with confederates. That required a significant amount of time and money. Then the Jet-Age came around and flying to Orlando for a conference became the norm. It became an entitlement. But we are entering another age. And now we are lacking resources. So it’s time to enter the digital age.
Hybrid is co-hosting a conference on Thursday February 7th. For more information you can check it out here.
You can also register for GovLoop’s first ever virtual career fair here.

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Guy W Clinch

It is great to hear this topic being discussed. This is because it is not just the government conference participants who are under pressure to reduce costs as a result of government’s budgetary challenges. Sponsors face challenges too.

Part of my role as an advocate for government customers in my company is to justify investments made in support of government industry organizations. I understand the great value gained by participants from, as Chris says the, “collegial” benefits of getting people together. From my time serving in leadership roles on the corporate affiliate council of one government industry organization I also understand how important sponsorship fees are in sustaining the organizations.

In the corporate world there are many competing needs for sponsorship funds. Decisions about how these dollars are allocated within a company are based upon projected return on investment in business cases. It’s a constant battle to justify that investing in government conferences stands on par with the returns possible from investing those same funds in some other industry or market. This is especially true in this time of fiscal constraint when procurements are being delayed and cancelled. The farther out in time the revenue projection, the harder it becomes to be able to make a compelling business case supporting sustained investments in government conferences.

Innovating now and driving down the costs for everybody will have the additional benefit of helping to sustain the ability of companies to continue to support government conferences.

Eric Melton

If virtual, telephonic, or IT are the solutions to decrease training, travel, collaboration, and other costs… then IT needs to get funded. However, we in IT are seeing the same constraints…

Janina Rey Echols Harrison

Communication and connectivity are so important. I know our IT is strapped for funds and always direct our division chief to offer funds for a new server or wireless equipment if it helps our group. This also helps propel our group into the cutting edge of hardware and software, gives our IT an opportunity to ‘test’ the waters in new technologies where they might not get that go ahead to buy these items themselves. If we have lapse funding from a position that cannot be filled right away our best investment is in technology to enhance our data management programs.

Adam Arthur

Of course, I’m going to be the first one to tell you virtual and/or hybrid most certainly is helping, (I was one of the speaker-panelists at the event you mentioned above). The CDC has a model that we are willing to share and we want input and feedback on a new Community of Practice around government virtual spaces, (which we will be hosting here on GovLoop soon).

For the time being, we’re checking the temperature out there in other agencies. If you are interested in learning best practices, lessons learned, and other solutions for your agency, please drop me a line: [email protected]. Check out these articles as well:1) CDC Launches 2011 Virtual Conference!; 2) A Federal Case; 3) CDC Looks To Virtual Conferences Over Costlier Onsite Events; 4) BizBash.com’s Most Innovative Conferences of 2012: #9 – CDC Public Health Informatics Conference

Terrence (Terry) Hill

@Mary – Thanks for the link to the on-demand presentation. Great presentation! I think that we have transitioned slowly to virtual conferences and the recent scandals and budget cuts have finally put an end to this out-dated practice of in-person conferences. Technology can certainly bridge the gap and make virtual conferences even more interactive than the traditional conferences with thousands of attendees. Welcome to the 21st Century!

Guy W Clinch

Another point about money spent by sponsors on conferences is that most of it doesn’t go to the organization being sponsored. The majority of what it costs for a sponsor to participate, especially when a tradeshow is involved, goes for planning, execution and logistics. These costs include marketing materials, graphics, designing and building tradeshow booths, shipping costs, drayage, exorbitant costs for internet connectivity and other utilities, being held captive to the venue’s contractors, travel and lodging for staff and other costs. Typically these far exceed the costs that go to benefit the sponsored organization.