On Participant Experience: Co-Creating value at conferences

blog 23/11/2015


The Internet has fundamentally changed our ability to access knowledge, to communicate and collaborate. This causes vast consequences for conferences and similar events: The meaning of the expert (speaker) has changed as they barely hold exclusive knowledge anymore. As well the role of the participant altered with access to knowledge resources and tools to communicate and collaborate. But if you take a look into conference programs, it is very likely that you still find one keynote after another and very little other formats. It looks like, that conferences are still stuck in the „age of TV“ – when the roles of the sender and receiver were clearly defined. And although interaction and participation are essential parts of our everyday realities, many conferences still only offer a passive top-down experience. But in the 21st century – where information and knowledge are easily accessible online – we need new conference formats that are worth the travel to meet in one physical location. Formats that reflect those changes facilitate human interactions to tackle the unaltered need of participants to learn, exchange and network.

You might ask: What has this to do with Service Design? Well, Service Design or the so called „Service-Dominant (S-D) logic“ describes concepts of value-in-use and co-creation of value (instead of the idea of value-in-exchange of the Goods-Dominant logic). (Vargo & Lusch, 2014). If you transfer this to conferences or similar formats, you are not selling the content to the participants, the values lies in the possibility to learn, exchange and network with other participants (and speakers or sponsors) – and is therefore co-created.

And Service Design provides the tools to create conference experiences that facilitate human interactions, by designing user journeys across all touchpoints – no matter if they are physically tangible or digital.
This is essential since (temporary physical) conferences takes place in the context of the digital space – a space that is continuously present, not only during a conference, but as well as before and after the conference. And guess who is already there? The (potential) conference participant, already exchanging on topics relevant to the conference. Conference organizers can not ignore this, but must develop formats that include touchpoint in the digital space – not only during a conference, but long before and after a physical meeting takes place. And I am not talking about touchpoints that are about buying the ticket, but primarily those that offer participants additional ways to interact and therefore learn, network and exchange.

The same counts for the physical space that hosts the conference. It is insufficient to only provide a „neutral multi-purpose“ space (as offered by many convention centers). Instead you need to create a physical space where your participants can experience the topic(s) of the conference and that supports and enables interaction between participants, to make the journey to your conference worth the travel.

This article was my contribution to the first issue of a new service design publication – ‘The Service Gazette’, which launched at Service Experience Camp 2015