• 6th Dec 2023
  • Case study

From 30 August – 1 September, the Royal Geographical Society with IBG’s (RGS-IBG) 2023 Annual Conference took place, bringing together more than 2,000 scholars, researchers, and enthusiasts from fields spanning geography, science, policy and the third sector. Chaired by Professor Harriet Bulkeley (Durham University, UK), this year’s theme of climate changed geographies provoked discussion about how climate change is changing the way we understand and act geographically and with what consequences. Over the course of the three-day conference, more than 400 sessions took place at the RGS-IBG, Celesta Venues (formerly Imperial Venues) by Imperial College London and online. We invited Sarah Evans, Research and Collections Engagement Manager at Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), to discuss her experience hosting this event in collaboration with Celesta Venues.

Key priorities of the event:

  • To continue building a community of academic geographers
  • To provide opportunities for professional development and networking
  • To promote knowledge-building and the dissemination of the latest research in the field
  • To provide an opportunity for early-career academics to present and discuss their research

Thinking beyond hybrid

The demand for in-person events has continued to grow for the RGS-IBG. ‘There’s very clear demand to return to in-person events.’ Of the 2,100 attendees at the 2023 conference, 1,800 attended in-person. With a significant global audience, climate pressures and the growing cost of living, the RGS-IBG saw an opportunity to trial a new event format to breakdown barriers to attendance and to increase engagement and inclusivity at the annual conference. ‘One of the highlights was probably our international hub plenary… We had three sessions over the course of the day, each focusing on bringing in speakers from different international hubs starting with Melbourne in the morning and then Nairobi and India in the middle of the day, and then Colombia and California at the end. That was a particular highlight for us this year.’ The ‘hub’ model involves simultaneous events happening across geographies which are connected via hybrid technology, providing a base for those who cannot travel to participate and get involved in the events both in-person and online. ‘It’s something I’m very keen, in terms of thinking beyond hybrid, how primarily in the light of the climate crisis challenge for events, these linked hub models, where you’ve got events happening in parallel which are connecting up with each other using hybrid technology, but also doing their own things. So people can go to their nearest hub and still get involved, get engaged.’

A convivial atmosphere in Central London

The RGS-IBG maintains a long-standing relationship with the College. Located only 10 minutes down the road, our event spaces on campus provide a nearby option to host some of the many events that take place at the annual conference. ‘We’re at the top of Exhibition Rd, just up the road from Celesta Venues. So, it’s 10 – 15-minute-walk at most between the session buildings and that’s very important for the delegates in terms of being able to get back and forth between sessions.’ Our shared location in Central London also provides convenient transport links for local and international delegates, alike. South Kensington Underground (tube) station is a five-minute-walk-away with direct access to Heathrow Airport and Kings Cross St Pancras International. Beyond our central location, the college provides a great atmosphere to support the key priorities of the conference. ‘One of major aims of the conference is to provide a friendly, convivial atmosphere. Celesta Venues is conducive to that.’ With many event spaces available in the same location, delegates can easily get from one session to another and network in-between. ‘It’s important that the rooms are kind of clustered together and are easily accessible, and that makes a big difference.’

Why partner with Celesta Venues?

The RGS-IBG conference has many values in common with the College, including the aspiration to promote research, knowledge-building and to benefit society at large. Its annual conference is a high-profile affair with complex requirements. ‘It is quite interesting because the majority of those attending will be presenting over the course of the event. We have about 400 sessions over the three days. So, some of those will be fully online, some of them hybrid with us at the society, some of them in person.’ Many of the sessions take place at the RGS-IBG, however, with so many attendees and sessions taking place simultaneously, support from the Celesta Venue’s team was conducive to a great experience for delegates. ‘We value working with the Celesta Venue’s team, we find them responsive and helpful and supportive and attentive.’ In addition to the event support, we provided catering, audio-visual technology support and on-site accommodation, which was a great added benefit for guests. ‘We promote [the accommodation] as an affordable and very nearby option to the delegates. I know a lot of them make use of it… We’re aware with funds being tighter for everybody that accommodation costs is one of the big things [to consider] about coming to an in person event.’

Did the RGS-IBG annual conference achieve its objectives?

The RGS-IBG seeks to connect geographers from across the world. Over 2,000 attendees came together for the 2023 annual conference, with the goal of networking, knowledge-building and sharing research related to this year’s theme of climate changed geographies. ‘We were enabling that knowledge exchange and community building. So, [the conference] was meeting its goals in that regard, which is really, really good.’ According to a feedback survey conducted following the event, ‘[Attendees] seemed to enjoy the event and the atmosphere,’ when the conference takes place in London, ‘Celesta Venues is the obvious choice, and it works very well. So, it’s something we’re keen to continue.’

The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) is the learned society and professional body for geography. It is committed to the importance of international collaboration and hosts this annual conference with the goal of sharing ideas, understanding and perspectives across the discipline. Learn out more about the RGS-IBG 2024 annual conference. 

‘Marzena was particularly impressive… she was our event manager in the immediate run up to the conference. It was great working with her.’

Sarah Evans

Research and Collections Engagement Manager at Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

A snapshot

The RGS-IBG 2023 annual conference

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