It means that he has left his chair behind the secretary’s desk and opened the door of the conference room. This allows him to “feel the pulse” of the meeting: focus his attention on the actions and reactions of the participants, and be attentive to the needs of the speaker. In other words, meeting planners are no longer practitioners, but professionals with all the implication of knowledge and responsibilities this involves. The technical aspects are no longer a separate issue but are used by the meeting professional as instruments to maximise the outcome of a meeting.
Epistemology: bridge between practice and discipline
Conference planning is not a Tourism niche, meeting planning is not any longer a “secretarial” activity, meeting planning is not “leisure activity”. Meetings are a powerful communication tool.
Communication through meetings impacts Economy, Politics, Science Evolution and Human Progress. It generates “social processes” (such as knowledge, integration, conflicts, and socialisation), and is influenced by “structural elements” such as roles, group dynamics, power, dominion, social control, etc.
This complex knowledge cannot be reduced to a “practice”, but deserves a “discipline”.
In the early eighties, I discussed this issue with three Italian colleagues, while taking a break in a Milanese bar. It was clear to us that, to cover the gap between meeting planning as a practice and meeting planning as a discipline – as for any new discipline – it was necessary to go through a process called Epistemology.
It consists of designing some theoretical hypothesis (“models”) and analysing all their ingredients. If each of the ingredients are covered by an existing discipline, there is no need to introduce a new “science”. If some of the specification of the practice under development is not in the dominion of existing sciences, then a new discipline may be codified.
In his book Le Parole Organizzate, Marco Ferronato highlighted what is special in meetings as a communication medium, and this gave a strong base for the cultural evolution of the “new” profession. Gianmaria Bianchi, Gigi Ronchi and myself started the first education programs for meeting professionals aimed to transfer knowledge on “why to” (basic of a science), rather than “how to” (basic of a techniques).
Meanwhile, American meeting planners where in the process of coding the numeric standards of this specialisation, and where launching a certification: the CMP, Certified Meeting Planner.
By that time, not an age ago, but just 11 years ago, the meeting industry was following different tracks: one in North America (USA and Canada) and one in Europe.
Associations – with the exception of MPI, SITE and very few others - where merely “alliances of operators”, devoted to protecting their members rather than enhancing professionalism. As everywhere else, also in Italy new associations where founded with different aims and objectives.
In 1990 I raised a question: is meeting planning an international activity or a “domestic” one? The answer was clear: an international approach to the possible, new discipline would have better served the needs of meeting initiator, meeting suppliers, delegates and planners.
The approach with MPI – Meeting Planners International - was an obvious move, but not an easy one. The “I” was a hope, not a reality. But the times where mature, and Francesca Buccafusca, Maria Grazia Riontino and myself succeeded in forming the first ever chapter out of North America.
As a chain reaction, other chapters and clubs started in Europe, and each of them contributed in internationalising the Association. This process facilitated an exchange of expertise and experience for meeting professionals on both sides of the Atlantic.
A cultural bridge
We all agree that numeric standards are important to simplify the process of planning meetings and negotiating services related to them. Which standards?
Americans use Gallons and Europeans use Litres, Americans use Feet and Europeans use Metres. So, what? It is sufficient a ruler to exchange parameters. It is much more important to build a cultural bridge and avoid tendencies of supremacy in order to reach a high, common goal: professionalism.
Again a clear vision: let us take advantage of the efforts made in North America to define numeric standards, and let us incorporate them before proposing a new deal.
It was not easy to “study” while conducting business, and I am grateful to those Italian colleagues that joined me in preparing and sitting for the CMP – Certified Meeting Professional.
Again, for the first time ever outside of North America, a CMP exam was organised in Rome, and twelve Italians gained the certification.
In 1994 the cultural bridge was working, and the cooperation was bearing interesting fruits. It was time to put in motion the most important step of the “Italian vision”: to move meeting planning into universities, as an independent discipline.
“It is a long process, that will take at least eight years”, stated one of the most famous members of the European meeting industry. I am so happy to say that he was wrong: in less than two years the whole process was done. Among the factors of success where:
- the contribution of the epistemological research conducted in Italy;
- the experience built up in Italy with four 120-hours education programs based on “why to” ; and,
- the endorsement of 12 CMPs (as a demonstration that we were not looking for a “European” accreditation in opposition to CMP, but just to a “university level” accreditation).
In 1996 the first CMM (Certificate in Meeting Management) designations were approved, and six Italians were among them.
Now the CMM accreditation is globally recognized as the “senior” certification, and Italy holds the highest rate between CMMs and MPI members. MPI is also the association that includes over 75% of CMPs in its membership.
“What is a certification”? My response to this question is: “Someone else has tested my knowledge as a meeting organiser and confirmed that I should know how to professionally plan and manage meetings, no matter if as an independent planner or a paid staff”.
This is also the sense of “quality certification”. Hotels or agencies that hold ISO quality certification guarantee their client that the procedures they follow are within a frame of standards that their industry has designed as acceptable and good. Again, Italy is at the avant-garde also in this segment, with companies, hotels and full “meeting chains” certified for the quality of their services.
We cannot say that those who do not hold a professional certification do not work properly. Some of them might achieve even better results out of a meeting. But be honest and think: should you be the initiator of a meeting, would you prefer to dialogue with a certified professional or with somebody that was not tested for his or her professionalism?
International suppliers prefer the certified professionals: with them, suppliers have an easier time in gaining a better understanding and easier organisational process based on shared standard and knowledge.
Information about the educational programs released by MPI are available at www.mpiweb.org. A résumé of the basic information about CMP, CMM and Institutes is boxed around this article.
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