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IAPCO stands for quality and international connections


The International Association of Professional Congress Organisers, better known as IAPCO, is committed to quality and education to set the tone for good and reliable congress management. Membership is not granted lightly; it is preceded by an extensive process of audits and reviews. Nicolette van Erven, founder and former owner of Congress by design and council member of IAPCO talks about the added value of membership for PCOs and clients.

Quality mark
“An IAPCO accreditation is an internationally recognised quality mark that represent the quality of a PCO member”, Nicolette van Erven explains from her role as chairperson of the Quality Committee at IAPCO. “To become a member, a PCO applicant must first submit all kinds of documents that show who you are, what you have done and what your organisation and operations look like. References are also requested. This gives IAPCO an impression of how the company is run, whether it is financially healthy and whether there is room for education and development, because those are important conditions for IAPCO.”

Congress visit as audit
Those who make it through the first round will then undergo an IAPCO audit, anywhere in the world. “We don't only pay a visit to the office of the candidate member, we also attend a congress to assess how the set-up and organisation is realised in practice”, Van Erven outlines. “We look at the whole picture, from strategic advice and meeting design to financial management and communication. We also talk to the client’s participants and exhibitors to hear how they experienced the congress and cooperation with the PCO.”

In good hands
IAPCO stands for continuous quality and members are subject to an annual compliance review. Van Erven: “Together with the Quality Committee a ‘rotational review’ has also been added in recent years. This is not simply a mystery guest, but an announced in-depth evaluation, which all members go through once every five years. It shows that the PCOs affiliated with IAPCO continue to prove that they are professional congress organisers for a reason. Any client that works with such a PCO knows that the quality is guaranteed and that the congress is in good hands.”

International network
There are other advantages too. IAPCO is active throughout the world and its 140 member PCOs form an international network. The lines of communication are short and anyone who needs help, e.g. to become familiar with local tax rules or other relevant knowledge, can always turn to a fellow member in the country concerned. We also tackle issues quickly. For example, a few weeks after the first lockdown, IAPCO organised a COVID-19 webinar, where members and non-members were welcome to discuss and come up with solutions.”

Trends and developments
“After 12 years of IAPCO membership, a number of things strike me”, Van Erven says. “There is an ongoing development, for example, in which PCOs are increasingly shifting from implementers to advisers. This creates a greater distinction between PCO and PCC, Professional Congress Consultant. From that role, a bureau can advise clients on what fits within a given situation and objective. This includes, for example, strategic advice on form and implementation, such as the choice between live and online, but also the set-up of the congress, the so-called meeting design. Many scientific associations would like to return to full live post-COVID-19. In my opinion, however, almost every congress should have a hybrid shell, which would greatly increase the reach of a congress.”

Expanding the reach
“One example is content on demand, which we will use at the International Symposium on the Diabetic foot, which Cbd has been involved in since 1993. Diabetic feet are a big issue in developing countries, but there can be a financial barrier for scientists from those countries to come to the Netherlands to attend a congress. By also making the sessions available online, they can still access the latest developments, so that the applications can also find their way into practice and thereby effectively reduce the number of complications.”