Selecting a host for the Global Symposium on HSR: what does it involve?

We have sought to learn from past experience of the process of selecting Symposium host organizations, and in the Symposium planning and management.

Selecting a host for the Global Symposium on HSR: what does it involve?

As we gear up to meet again in Liverpool in October this year, we are also pleased that we have already been able to announce that the Sixth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR2020) will take place in the Eastern Mediterranean Region in Dubai from the 8th to the 12thNovember 2020.

Our biennial Symposia have become a critical meeting point, a melting pot of ideas, and a catalyst of energy for our community. We have sought to ensure that with each Symposium we add new dimensions to our engagements, such as embracing organizational sessions beyond panels; encouraging multi-media inputs and sessions; actively drawing in policymakers; planning the market place as an additional space of engagement and dialogue; engaging journalists; and reaching out to different language audiences. The value placed on the Symposia by our community can be seen in the growing interest of people to attend. We expect over 2000 people in Liverpool, and as we have previously announced, the numbers of submitted abstracts for every type of session and activity has significantly increased from Vancouver levels.

We have also sought to learn from past experience in terms of the process of selecting Symposium host organizations, and in the Symposium planning and management. As the Board of HSG we are committed to transparency in our decision-making processes, and so we want, here, briefly to outline the steps involved in the decision-making processes around host selection.

Our first step in selecting the 2020 hosts was an open call announced in June 2017, requesting interested bidders to submit a concept note and outline budget for further consideration. Rather than passively waiting to receive bids, we also went out and actively encouraged proposals from groups around the world – with a specific concern to encourage submissions from organizations and consortia in low- and middle-income countries. Through a process of clarification, engagement and more detailed specification lasting several months and led by a HSG Board sub-committee, we eventually considered several different bids against a range of pre-determined criteria. The final decision was then made by the Board as a whole.

Organizing the Global Symposium on HSR is a significant undertaking that has particular demands because of its intentions and scale. As a society, we have specifically seen the Symposia as one way of reaching out to the global membership of the Society. Over time, then, northern settings for Symposia – Montreux, Vancouver, and Liverpool – have been complemented by southern settings – Beijing, Cape Town and now Dubai. We have also sought to ensure that successful hosting bids are led by a local organizing team with HPSR credentials and expertise who can bring their own regional flavor and interests into the organization of the event. For Dubai, we are delighted that a regional consortium will take the lead, who have the intention of building on and further catalyzing the emerging regional HPSR networks.

The scale and reach of the Symposium then demands that in selecting a host city we think carefully about a range of logistical issues. These include visa requirements, travel options enabling reasonably easy access to the host country from across the world, as well as participant accommodation and participant security issues. Also important is the size of the conference venue itself, which must allow for the range of Symposium activities including space for 14 to 16 concurrent sessions. Other logistical issues include the availability of audio-visual equipment, translation, and other services, which are important in assuring equity in access to the Symposium across language barriers.

And finally, we need to examine bidders’ costs and budgets, and the Symposium fundraising needs. Not only must we examine the basic costs – of venue and catering, for example – but also the costs of simply managing an event of this scale. In addition, we aim to generate enough revenue through sponsorship, registration and fundraising to fully cover the costs of the event. These costs include – uncommon for large membership societies – a large number of scholarships for attendance to ensure the global reach of the event. We also have to consider more arcane issues such as VAT and tax liability in the host country and regulations around the movement of foreign exchange in and out of the country. Overall, we aim to ensure that the financial health of the Society and our ability to support Thematic Working Groups and other activities outside the Symposia is not jeopardized by host selection.

And once the decision on hosts and venue is made, the process of developing the Symposium’s focus and program, and engaging the Society’s membership, begins. Over the whole two-year period between Symposia, various groups are hard at work – reflecting on past experience; developing the theme; thinking through the overall shape and size of the program; adding new activities and engagements; raising funding; reaching out to new audiences and communities; reviewing abstracts; building the program itself; engaging within the host region; managing the logistics ……. Phew! It really is a big – and exciting – endeavor!

As we look forward to being in Liverpool, we already want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of the Fifth Global Symposium’s Local Organizing Committee, Program Working Group, Fundraising, Scientific and Executive Committees, and partners and supporters, in working with HSG to meet our ambitions in organizing the 2018 Global Symposium. We will continue to learn from this experience to support the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government and the American University of Beirut teams in preparing for the Sixth Global Symposium in 2020.

But first, HSG looks forward to welcoming you to Liverpool in October. See you there!

Lucy Gilson and Kabir Sheikh, HSG Board

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