Infant Mental Health Congress at BCEC overcomes the odds in ‘roller coaster ride’ for organisers

Infant Mental Health

The World Association for Infant Mental Health (WAIMH) International Congress overcame two lockdowns before taking place at Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre (BCEC) in 2021.

Under the guidance of Bid Chair and Local Organising Committee Co-Chair, Dr. Elisabeth Hoehn in collaboration with the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health (AAIMH), Brisbane was selected as the host city for the Congress back in 2019, and was originally scheduled as a fully face to face event with 15 concurrent meetings at the BCEC in June 2020.

With the lead-up to the Congress bridging two lockdowns, organisers went though “an extraordinary roller coaster ride” in their bid to connect the international infant mental health community with Australia at WAIMH 2021, with new dates set for June 2021.

WAIMH 2021 Co-Chair, Dr Elisabeth Hoehn.

“We were very keen to host the event because it was an opportunity for us to bring the international infant mental health community to Australia and particularly to Queensland,” said Congress Co-Chairs Hoehn and infant mental health professional Libby Morton.

“It was the constant need to adapt and be responsive to an unpredictable situation which ultimately led us to transition to a hybrid event.”

The 15 original concurrent streams were reworked into two due to the restrictions at the time, a virtual attendee and in-person attendee delivered over four days.

The Congress saw 1,139 attendees from 61 countries including 303 in person.

The organisers were conscious of the need to provide value for money for interstate and international attendees watching virtually, ensuring they had the option to take part in the live sessions of the five-day congress, which was also recorded and made available on demand for six months post event.

One of the positives of going virtual was the opportunities it provided to those delegates from developing countries who previously had been prohibited from attending because of cost issues, according to organisers.

“We feel the event was very successful in the hybrid format,” said WAIMH event manager Emma Chalmers, from ICMS Australasia.

“The feedback we have received from those who attended in-person and virtually has been unequivocally positive.”

A strong, reliable and easy to navigate virtual platform, with customer time-zones for each attendee profile, was required in order to manage the virtual and hybrid elements.

Different delivery methods in the hybrid format required a variation in technical requirements. ICMSA and BCEC managed and provided both the technology and connectivity to the streaming platform. This included the integration of two-way live Q&A sessions and on-time display of all pre-recorded content which ensured delegates and presenters at the BCEC and online, shared exactly the same conference experience.

Following a five-year journey from bid process to event delivery, BCEC’s management, event planning and operational teams were dedicated to the success of WAIMH 2021.

Members of the local Petite Ballerinas group performing for WAIMH attendees.

“The willingness of BCEC to meet us halfway in making this Conference happen meant that we could have a hybrid meeting that brought Australian and international delegates together in such an inspiring way,” said Hoehn.

“We are confident that with the hybrid format we have strengthened the AAIMH membership.”

Morton praised the Centre’s flexibility in accommodating the switch from a fully face-to-face event to a hybrid format.

“BCEC stretched their flexibility as far as they possibly could,” she said.