Event Legacies: Two Case Studies Reveal Path to Success

An interior view of a Danish congress, Electric City, held at a major convention center, with natural light streaming in from skylights above and a crowd of people walking around wind-energy-related booths below. This event served as an event legacy case study.

Skift Take

Sometimes, there’s no better way to get a firm grasp on industry best practices than to learn from case studies. Here are two Danish congresses that reveal the best ways to approach event legacies from beginning to end.

This content was created collaboratively by MeetDenmark and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

The industry is full of event legacy success stories, but rarely do we have a chance to understand the inner workings of the start-to-finish planning process. MeetDenmark’s latest report Powering Meeting Legacies: New Insights for Associations & Host Communities shares precisely this level of insight.

As Skift Meetings recently reported, the white paper stems from six years of collaborative research and testing that culminated in a comprehensive set of recommendations for event legacy projects.

To clarify a framework for success, MeetDenmark applied insights from its first two studies as it initiated, facilitated, and drove legacy strategy processes for nine congresses with key partners. Collaborators included the four Danish congress destinations — Destination Nord, Destination Fyn, VisitAarhus, and Wonderful Copenhagen — and consulting agency Gaining Edge. The result was a refined understanding of what works and what doesn’t, providing a framework and set of tools that can be brought to bear on the legacy ambitions of associations, their local hosts, and DMOs/CVBs alike.

Here, we dive deep into two of these case studies — Electric City 2021 and the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) World Congress — to highlight some of the key findings from this monumental research.

4 Key Steps for a Successful Legacy Framework and Methodology

1. Start Early

Initiating the legacy process within an appropriate planning horizon — between 18 and 20 months in advance of the event date — is key. This is the time to initiate communications with the association leadership and the local host (typically a representative of the local chapter of the organizing association or a representative of a trade organization within the field). Holding these discussions too late runs the risk that both the association leadership’s and the organizer’s planning priorities will be focused on the status-quo practicalities of the congress, with little bandwidth left to co-create legacy initiatives.

2. Identify Core Partners

The trick is to engage the right partners at each stage. The initial vision should develop through a joint effort involving the association leadership, the local host, and the CVB. Once this core group has identified the challenges and commonalities within their mission, they can then select the right stakeholders to develop activities and KPIs. For both Electric City and ESPGHAN, a critical factor for success was the formation of a legacy steering committee (LSC) with a smaller group of core stakeholders drawn from CVBs, local hosts, and international association staff.

From there, strategic partners with shared interests were brought in to help lead and drive the identified shared vision, followed by further supporting organizations tapped to help with specific legacy activities. For instance, Electric City’s highly successful legacy projects (more on those below) were directly related to their careful consideration of partners, with WindDenmark’s strong alignment with WindEurope bringing an international scope to the proceedings.

3. Engage Legacy Beneficiaries

Although community beneficiaries were not part of the core strategic planning process for most of the congresses involved in this study, their early involvement can also be effective in some cases. ESPGHAN, for example, brought in patient representatives to help identify core challenges in patient care and advise on a plan to connect patient families directly to international experts at the congress. This initiative, called the Family Education Day, was a success in part thanks to this early involvement.

A crowd of people gathers at the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) World Congress, with displays that relate to the health of patients and the Family Education Day that helped connect patients to medical experts as part of the event's legacy.
The European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) World Congress.

More generally, community beneficiaries are valuable contributors to event legacy projects during the execution and measurement stages, particularly when it comes to assessing whether they have been successful. They are also key partners in communicating about initiatives to their broader communities.

4. Set Realistic Expectations About Partner Commitments

Understanding the professional obligations of on-the-ground partners is also important to ensuring that the legacy planning team has realistic expectations about time and resource commitments. For instance, internationally recognized medical specialists like those involved in ESPGHAN will have less time to commit to legacy projects than a full-time researcher in an academic profession might.

Similarly, the association should sign off on the full scope of the project early in the process to ensure that their teams are actually equipped to follow through.

Success also depends on engaged and continuous leadership, particularly by the local host. They have the relationships on the ground and the presence before, during, and after the event to ensure continued legacy strategy implementation.

Align Goals for Long-Range Success

The initial legacy vision should ensure that association and destination goals are aligned and fully integrated into the event’s core mission. This ensures that the legacy programs truly benefit all parties and that all stakeholders can activate their specific capacities and resources.

The collaborative process itself can help to expand the vision. With an intentional approach that brings together the right stakeholders at the right time, early discussions enable ‘a-ha’ moments that lead to new value-adding initiatives.

Electric City Expanded Its Legacy Vision

Prior to MeetDenmark’s intervention — which began 13 months in advance of the event kickoff — WindDenmark’s legacy vision for WindEurope Electric City was to:

  • Showcase Danish expertise, tech products, and services
  • Influence business leaders and European policy makers
  • Secure foreign direct investment (FDI)
  • Expand into new markets

The intervention process helped to expand this vision with initiatives that were fully integrated into the event agenda. In particular, a project to showcase and scale up the concept of Energy Islands — purpose-built hubs for offshore wind farms — led to a successful Lego Masters installation that raised awareness for their multiple potential uses and benefits.

A close-up shot of a Lego model of offshore windmills, one of the event legacy projects highlighted in the Electric City case study.

Another focused on encouraging upskilling for renewable energy industry professionals. As part of this effort, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and Electric City partnered together to promote DTU’s world-leading online master’s course in wind energy. Further initiatives worked to create a stronger interface between regulators and investor communities. These efforts helped pave the way for the Baltic Sea Declaration, through which eight countries agreed to increase their collective offshore wind energy production to 19.6 GW by 2030 — from a starting point of just 2.8 GW.

ESPGHAN Developed a Stronger Legacy Focus

Similarly, ESPGHAN benefited from a well-calibrated intervention timeline, with a robust LSC beginning its work 12 months prior to the event. This allowed organizers to move well beyond the initial legacy vision of promoting pediatric GI, liver, and nutritional health.

Through collaboration, the LSC developed a more focused and concrete mission to enhance quality of care and life for infants and children with PGHAN diseases. This led to the aforementioned Family Education Day, which connected parents and patients directly to international experts in moderated conversations — with all parties learning from one another. Further, following a drive to create a new research fund, the Danish government committed 3 million Danish kroner (about $340,000 USD) to the initiative.

Additionally, the LSC took on a mission to enhance Danish treatment capacity and global leadership by recruiting talented and emerging researchers in the field. A concrete outcome was the addition of a Talent Workshop, helping to bolster recruitment efforts and catalyze research partnerships and initiatives.

Set KPIs that Drive Mission Success — and Measure It

How did each of these events manage to pull off such successful legacy projects? The MeetDenmark approach requires:

  • Targeted identification of potential added value
  • Strategies for how to create that value
  • And last but not least, a plan for how to assess the success of legacy projects

Considering KPIs at the foundational stage of legacy planning was found to be a clear driver of success. How so? For starters, this methodology shapes projects with a clear orientation towards concrete goals. Here, the CVB and other key partners can provide expertise on existing resources, initiatives, networks, and potential community beneficiaries, in this way helping to develop a logistical plan for both achieving and measuring meaningful goals.

Legacy programs should ideally go beyond measuring the value of an event via its immediate economic impact in the form of ticket sales and business event revenue. It’s essential to leverage experts from each key stakeholder group when developing KPIs for tracking legacy success. Each stakeholder will bring its own capacities and specialized knowledge, in turn helping to identify the metrics that are both easiest to track and most likely to reflect well on the legacy mission.

For example, ESPGHAN measured the success of projects to encourage new talent by tracking the number of new:

  • International contacts and collaborations
  • Research fund and patent applications in the field
  • Incoming international PhD students and postdocs
  • Published papers

On the other hand, measuring the degree to which Family Engagement Day was successful involved a more qualitative approach: asking patients and physician presenters alike to provide feedback on how valuable these sessions were.

Similarly, many of Electric City‘s KPIs focused on measuring engagement with a range of meeting activities. This included tracking:

  • New registrations to the DTU Master’s in Wind Energy program
  • Patent applications and new startups that followed from engagement with the convention’s Innovation Park feature
  • New jobs secured through contacts made at the congress
  • Growth in market engagement by industry operators who had participated in the Energy Islands Lego Master installation
A shot of a poster explaining Denmark's "energy islands" project, featuring a map of Denmark and surrounding countries with markers for the location of offshore wind-energy hubs. In the foreground, an out-of-focus Lego model of an offshore wind farm is visible. This display was part of an event legacy case study.

The Benefits of a Strategic Legacy Vision

When expertise and strategic thinking are brought to bear on legacy initiatives, associations and host destinations both benefit. In the most successful cases, shared event legacies also realize a top value for many sustainability-conscious attendees: In-person events may require travel, but they also contribute in a meaningful way to the delegates, the congress community, host destination, to the overall purpose of their association, and to global society at large. In many cases, legacy partnerships and outcomes endure long after the event, strengthening the associations’ local and global profiles while generating long-term benefits in the host city and country.

To see more detailed data from these case studies and others download the MeetDenmark report, Powering Meeting Legacies: New Insights for Associations & Host Communities.

This content was created collaboratively by MeetDenmark and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.