Intensive work is underway to finalise the organisation of the big IAGG-ER congress on gerontology and geriatrics, which will be held at the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre in Gothenburg in May. Boo Johansson and Marie Kivi are two of the key organisers of the congress.
The planning of The 9th International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics European Region Congress, abbreviated as IAGG-ER, is in full swing. Boo’s role is Congress President, while Marie, as Deputy General Secretary, has the task of coordinating a complex network. Normally, when they’re not involved in planning the congress, they work at the University of Gothenburg as lecturers and researchers on the subject of ageing. Among other things, they study the effects of ageing on memory, cognitive ability and psychological health.
Inspired by the Nordic congress
The process started in 2014 after the 24th Nordic Gerontology Congress was held in Gothenburg. Following the big success of this congress, the idea was hatched of Gothenburg also hosting a European congress.
“That was how it started, as a result of the experiences from the 2014 Nordic Gerontology Congress in Gothenburg. The congress had been a huge success in all respects, and we felt we could do it again,” explains Boo.
AgeCap, the Centre for Ageing and Health at the University of Gothenburg, was also involved in the process. AgeCap had recently been established, and the European congress would serve as a means of promoting the University and everyone involved.
In conjunction with this, the Gothenburg Convention Bureau contacted Boo to ask if he would work on helping to bring the European congress to Gothenburg. Several parties suggested that we host this congress in 2019.
The organisation decided to seek support from the European organisation IAGG-ER. The organisation also contacted PCO MEETX, the meeting organiser that helped to organise the Nordic meeting.
“Things proved more challenging than expected, since all the available funds had been used up by the previous IAGG-ER congress. Finding funding was a challenge right from the outset. One might wonder why we would choose to organise this type of event, given the financial risk. But in academia we’re motivated by other driving forces such as generating opportunities to network with colleagues and promote our research projects,” explains Boo.
IAGG-ER is held every four years. During the 2015 congress, Gothenburg won the hostship in competition with Málaga, which had Antonio Banderas acting as ambassador for his home city. The decision to hold the 2019 congress to Gothenburg was taken at a council meeting, where delegates from all member states and organisations voted on the matter. The organisation succeeded in convincing the council that Gothenburg was the best and most obvious choice for the next congress.
“That was definitely a wonderful acknowledgement. It meant a lot for those of us who were involved, and we also realised how it would benefit AgeCap. We will get exposure far beyond the University of Gothenburg and Sweden. I think we’ve been successful in marketing the congress internationally too. It’s a win-win situation organising this type of meeting,” says Boo.
“Since Gothenburg was elected to host the congress, we’ve attended several other international congresses, such as the IAGG World Congress in San Francisco in 2017. We also visited the Nordic meeting in Oslo in 2018 to market the congress in Gothenburg,” says Marie.
Boo and Marie believe the main reason that Gothenburg was chosen to host the IAGG-ER was the success of the Nordic congress in 2014, an experience shared by many of the delegates who voted. Another contributing factor is Scandinavia’s reputation for high quality and good organisation when it comes to meetings and congresses.
“We are very grateful that the congress will be held at a venue like the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre. Without this venue, we wouldn’t even have considered holding the event in Gothenburg. One of the venue’s main strengths is its ability to offer a complete range of services including hotel accommodation, meeting rooms and restaurants, right in the city centre. This is a huge competitive advantage we have over other cities,” says Boo, who adds:
“We also appreciate the fact that Göteborg & Co provided initial support and helped produce marketing material for the congress.
Capability in ageing – from cell to society
The congress is about ageing, covering a wide range of aspects such as what happens in our cells and what happens in society as people age. Because of this, many different scientific disciplines will be involved in the congress to cover all aspects of ageing.
“At AgeCap we’ve chosen to emphasise something we call capability: we examine the question of whether people can realise their potential based on what they want to achieve in old age. How do we want to live, and how can we ensure we age well? This is a general theme,” says Boo. He continues:
“In order to age well, our cells have to work well, and so does the social system. This is the theme for the congress: “Capability in ageing – from cell to society”.
Boo points out that with regard to ageing, society often tends to emphasise negative aspects. This manifests in prejudice and discrimination, a phenomenon known as ageism. He believes it is important to ascertain what people’s actual capabilities are later in life, and to challenge actions and attitudes that are based on people’s chronological age rather than on their actual capabilities.
Besides the many parallel sessions held during the three days of IAGG-ER, various activities will take place on open stages during the breaks, where organisations will have the opportunity to present themselves and their work.
“A wide variety of activities will take place on the stages during breaks and at lunchtime. For instance, music will be performed by Margaretakören, a choir where older people and children sing together. There will also be a fashion show presenting fashions for older people. While these things aren’t strictly scientific, they still contribute to the conditions for ageing well,” explains Marie.
In conjunction with IAGG-ER in Gothenburg, a World Council Meeting will be held for the whole international organisation.
“It’s always a challenge holding meetings within meetings,” says Boo. “But in this case it will help us attract participants from all over the world to the scientific programme.
The congress will rely on a large number of voluntary workers for its implementation. Volunteers of all ages, from students to pensioners, will contribute their time and efforts to make the congress as successful as possible. Boo and Marie are confident that the volunteers will also gain many new and valuable experiences from their involvement.
As during the European Stroke Organisation Conference(ESOC), hosted by Gothenburg in 2018, many additional public activities are being planned outside the congress venue. Årsrika, a photographic exhibition, will be held at Gothenburg City Library. It presents elderly people with different backgrounds and experiences. The photographs illustrate different aspects of people’s lives, telling stories of joy, love, happiness and death. Parts of the exhibition will also be shown in other locations around Gothenburg.
The Carin Mannheimer Award is awarded to emerging scholars affiliated with AgeCap for all types of research on ageing. The award will be conferred during the congress. After the award ceremony, the winners will go to Gothenburg City Library, where they will be presented along with previous years’ winners.
In addition to this, the organisers hope the congress will receive coverage via the press, radio and TV in order to reach a wide public.
Nearly 1,300 participants have registered for the congress to date, but this figure is expected to increase. Boo and Marie hope that about 1,500 people will participate. While meetings held in the Nordic region tend to be of high quality in terms of content, logistics and technology, there are many potential obstacles.
“If you look at the expense for the individual participants – the whole package, travel, accommodation etc., it is very costly to take part. Moreover, in this type of broad congress, which covers a wide number of areas, it can be difficult to motivate people since they also need to attend smaller, more specialised meetings in their own area of specialism,” explains Boo.
The organisation would like to see many junior researchers at the congress, as they would benefit enormously from it.
“Of course we offer a discount for pre-PhD researchers. It’s always a challenge to make congresses accessible to junior researchers with limited financial resources, even though it is this generation that will ultimately lead future research. However, a larger number of students have registered for this congress than previously,” says Boo.
Most of the registered participants are from Europe, but there are also participants from South America, USA, Canada and Australia.
“Region Västra Götaland is a partner that has provided a lot of funding and staff for the congress. The congress offers a valuable opportunity for training staff locally,” says Boo.
“The same applies to the City of Gothenburg,” adds Marie. They have an option for participating with 200 staff members, who could benefit greatly from taking part. Based on our planning experience, both of us recommend that Region Västra Götaland and its bordering municipalities take advantage of this type of meeting as a means of offering their staff advanced training, and to encourage local research and development.
– …an amazing congress, the best ever!
When asked what they would like participants to take away with them from the congress, in terms of knowledge, experiences, thoughts and ideas, both Boo and Marie agree:
“We want them to feel it was an amazing congress, the best ever! They should go home with many new ideas and new contacts. They should feel it was well organised,” says Boo.
“Well organised, good premises, a wonderful city and great content. We have created themed symposia and a scientific conference that tie in with each other. It’s much more inspiring to take part in things that are interrelated, rather than attending isolated activities without a greater context.”
In conclusion, Marie says, “I think this will be a fabulous meeting!”
If you would like to work as a volunteer at the IAGG-ER congress, contact our volunteer coordinator Grazina.WojnickiJohansson@gmail.com