A co-creation session during Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Congress last month generated some useful feedback on the association’s research agenda, but pointed to the perils of relying too heavily on any community or customer group to come up with all its own answers.
“If we build it, you may come. If we build it together, you’re already there.” That phrase has been MPI’s co-creation mantra for several years, and Knowledge Manager Miranda Van Brück quoted it again to open the session. In the hour that followed, a group of about 35 experienced meeting professionals divided into working groups to discuss MPI’s five current research areas.
The conversation was useful as far as it went, and there may have been some blazing insights at some of the discussion tables that were never reported back to the rest of the group. But from what I heard, the session generated little if anything that has not been discussed in MPI circles for the last three to five years.
We can all benefit from having colleagues bring us up to speed on material we’ve missed or forgotten. But the session left me wondering whether co-creation is a limited strategy that tends to deliver a familiar common denominator, rather than reaching out for bold new ideas or information.
Van Brück said the session wasn’t designed to generate new material. “Getting the cutting edge isn’t the point of co-creation. It’s to get unfiltered views from our community and give members a chance to participate,” she said. “MPI’s responsibility now is to go out and find the answers that will come from outside the industry.”
Researcher Bill Voegeli of Association Insights, the lead behind MPI’s Business Value of Meetings (BVOM) project, said co-creation had shed light on the differences in content needs and expectations between “strategists and budget approvers, and planners charged with execution.” He added that the WEC session gave him information on audience vocabulary and perceptions that will help him present the study results more effectively.
None of this suggests that there’s no wisdom in crowds—on the contrary, the co-creation session brought together a wonderful range of industry knowledge and experience. It does make me wonder though whether crowd-sourcing, like any other hot trend, can be taken to such an extreme that it begins to do damage, rather than good.
If an organization relies too heavily on peer-generated knowledge, it could end up talking in circles and miss emerging issues that are just a few degrees off the radar. On the other hand, as Voegeli points out, it’s easy to talk past an audience that isn’t brought into the conversation.
Whether you’re building a research program or a conference agenda, the challenge is to strike the right balance. Most of the time, that means using the community as a source of ideas and a reality check for new material—but when you give the crowd a voice, don’t lose the vision.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.