Leading the conference legacy debate

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Staff and students from the University led a thought-provoking session on conference legacy at this year’s International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) UK & Ireland Conference.

The annual ICCA event, held this year at SEC, Glasgow, brings together venues, destinations and conference organisers to share best practice and discuss key issues facing the sector including the intrinsic value of conferences, sustainability and diversity.

The idea of legacy concerns the positive impact a conference venue and the business it attracts can have on the community living nearby and on the local knowledge economy.

Answering an ICCA call for conference session ideas, Amanda Ferguson, Head of Business Development at The University’s Hospitality & Events Collection, conceived and chaired a traditional debate that stimulated a wider and more balanced discussion around legacy.

“As an industry, we get very enthusiastic about conference legacy,” Amanda says. “It has frustrated me for a number of years that we tend to take a very one-sided view of it and never have an authentic, fully-rounded conversation about this important topic.”

Amanda thinks her industry can be cautious about the risk of losing conference business, meaning delegates shy away from speaking out or voicing dissent: “The types of conference we run though are at the heart of knowledge creation.

“They bring together academics who can have very conflicting ideas. The whole point of these conferences is to meet, exchange ideas, challenge beliefs and disagree. It can be difficult, but its that engagement that gives their research real rigour. I wanted to take that thought process and apply it to my own industry.”

To create an environment conducive to challenging established thought on conference legacy, Amanda enlisted the support of expert debaters, pitching the Edinburgh University Debates Union against Glasgow University Debates Union. Each was appointed two industry experts who provided evidence and insight to help shape their arguments.

Pictured (L-R): Rhea Abraham, Glasgow University Debates Union, Amanda Ferguson, Head of Business Development, Hospitality & Events Collection, and Nora Flynn-McIver, University of Edinburgh Debates Union.


Nora Flynn-McIver, MA English Literature Year 3, the Secretary of Edinburgh’s Debates Union, took the minority position, presenting the controversial motion ‘This House believes Conference Legacy is just Hot Air’.

“It worked like a dream,” said Amanda. “They stood up and went at it hammer and tongs, giving very impassioned speeches for their side and in rebuttal of the other. The biggest success was the audience questions that came from the floor. It really did give permission to the experts in the room to vocalise some of the doubts they’d had in their heads. The whole evening afterwards, that’s what everybody was talking about. It created such a buzz.”

Although the motion against conference legacy was ultimately voted down, neither Union was a loser – both received a contribution from the ICCA towards their fundraising efforts to attend the European University Debating Championships later this year.

To find out more about debating at the University of Edinburgh, visit the Edinburgh University Debates Union.

If you are interested in the positive impact of hosting conferences in Edinburgh, visit the University of Edinburgh Conference Alliance.


Photography: Ross MacDonald / SNS Group