7 Lessons from Designing a Global, COVID-19 Resilient Event

September 20, 2022  • Tommy Loper & Olivia O'Neil

One of the biggest and most variable challenges facing conveners is the risk and impact of COVID-19 on the event participants and staff. As planning for the 2022 Resnick Aspen Action Forum began in late 2021, vaccine distribution was increasing and COVID-19 rates were decreasing. With this positive landscape in mind, our team decided that after two virtual gatherings, it was time to go back in-person – a desire that was also felt by the community the event engages. This choice set in motion a year-long work plan to deepen our learnings and capacity to create a safe and resilient program by design.

The Action Forum is an annual event held at the Aspen Institute’s campus in Aspen, CO that brings together more than 550 people from over 30 countries. Participants are Fellows in the Aspen Global Leadership Network, aspiring youth leaders, and invited guests and partners, ranging in age from 10 to 90 years old. We wanted to do everything within our means to create a COVID-19-safe environment for this diverse range of participants. 

Ten days post-event, while not perfect, we were able to maintain the reported community spread of COVID-19 at our event to about 5.5% – 32 people – out of the more than 550 who participated, worked, and supported the event. 

This success comes from taking key steps to mitigate risk at each part of the program design process. We share these learnings to help other conveners develop COVID-19 safe gatherings. We invite questions, insights, and best practices for anyone who is interested in engaging. While there are risks and costs to being in-person, we found the payoffs and outcomes of bringing people physically together to be worth it.

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