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Pennsylvania State University - Ideas for improving GCEC Conference Interaction

Wintersemester 2009/10 

Executive Summary

Each year countless conferences are hosted all over the world. While most of them differ regarding content, participants, mode of social interaction and collaboration, all of them share the same idea: Bringing individuals or members of one or several organizations together for discussing matters of common interest.

However, there is more to it than just sending out invitations and organizing qualified speakers to deliver presentations. In order to conduct a great, memorable and effective conference, not only the content of a conference requires utmost attention, but also the organization of social interaction and the collaboration of all conference attendees.

This project was specifically designed to create innovative ideas for improving interaction, collaborative learning and networking opportunities for the GCEC Conference in fall 2010, co-hosted by Pennsylvania State University and Vienna University of Economics and Business, respectively.

Present situation

The annual GCEC (Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers) Conference is one of the biggest conferences in the field of Entrepreneurship Education worldwide. Since its very beginning in 2000, the number of GCEC members has constantly increased from around 50 Entrepreneurship Centers to no fewer than 220 in 2009. Furthermore, an increasing number of members are from outside North America. The theme of next year’s conference will be “Impact through Networks” and was proposed by project initiator Professor Anthony Warren. As a consequence of the steady increase in GCEC conference participants, new ways of how to connect this international audience more efficiently need to be developed in order to tap the huge potential for improvement by increasing interaction and networking opportunities.

Project target

The main project target is to create and improve opportunities for participant interaction at the GCEC 2010 conference. Since interaction is not limited to the conference per se, it needs to be enhanced and promoted also before and after the conference. Therefore, interaction is to be improved in each, the preconference, conference and post-conference phase.

Methodology

First, in order to pinpoint interaction-related problems in each of these phases and to be able to find the most suitable solutions, a number of GCEC conference organizers and participants were interviewed to verify interaction issues at GCEC conferences. Second, other conferences with entrepreneurial, academic or innovative backgrounds were screened for applied interactive solutions. Supplementary research results were factored in and personal experience of team members was considered. Based on the information gathered, potential solutions were matched with the problems in each of the conference phases and explained in detail before recommendations were given.

Results

The qualitative interviews with former GCEC conference organizers and participants yielded 10 GCEC-conference specific interaction problems, with workshops lacking interaction and insufficient outcome documentation being just two examples. By sourcing approaches from other conferences and factoring in additional research and personal experience, 31 different solutions for the specific problems of the three conference phases could be identified. These are explained in detail in terms of their general effects and how implementation at the GCEC 2010 conference could look like. All solutions presented have the potential to improve GCEC conference interaction, however when considering the theme “Impact through Networks” of the GCEC 2010 conference, and when taking into account that some ideas present solutions to a host of GCEC conference-specific interaction problems rather than to only sub-problems, the tools (some of which require third party input in order to develop their full impact) listed below should be regarded as must-have solutions:

- Delphi method
The Delphi method is a process aimed at ensuring that groups of individuals can collaborate and jointly tackle complex issues, a process both increasing group interaction and individual engagement.

- Large Group Interaction Methods: Open Space and World Cafe
Open Space is a minimalistic conference design, aiming at letting conference attendees take over responsibility for their ideas and interests and thus, as a result, create the conference agenda on their own. The World Café approach facilitates workshop interaction by creating a Coffee shop atmosphere to increase participant engagement.

- Dedicated social network platform
A dedicated social network platform can be seen as an auxiliary system to the GCEC conference itself. It gives a conference a more interactive experience in each of the three conference phases. A wide range of interaction-facilitating tools may be implemented on such a platform.
It was also found that participant interaction will benefit greatly from a create-awareness program, because ultimately the idea that it is each participant’s responsibility to render constructive contributions to the success of GCEC conferences needs to be well understood by every prospective conference attendee.

Cooperation Partner

  • Pennsylvania State University
    Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation
    and Entrepreneurship (FCFE)
    Smeal College of Business
    409A Business Building
    University Park PA 16802-3603

Student Team

  • Stephan Gasser
    Stephan Kardos
    Andreas Tschas
    Dorothea Werhahn