Bouncing forward: Leading digital transformation

With Jay Brodsky, Chief Digital Officer of American Geophysical Union

Nonprofits and member associations have had to reconcile a rapid digital pivot with their event strategy due to the pandemic. Jay Brodsky, the CDO for The American Geophysical Union, was faced with the challenge of moving AGU2020, their signature event, from an in-person celebration of science and research to a virtual event, all without losing engagement or value to the community of 130,000+ earth and space science enthusiasts. I had the privilege of talking at length with Jay about the business impact of digital transformation and best practices around technology.


Episode highlight

What goes into shifting a massive in-person event to a fully digital experience?

AGU2020 involved more than 7,000 video presentations, 11,000 virtual posters, and more than 20,000 scientists from around the globe. Listen in as Jay describes the lift in transitioning that in-person event to a fully digital experience. Jay looked at the event from the participants’ point of view – how people want to engage during the event – as they leaned on 50+ years of running the in-person event. There are so many questions and opportunities to reinvent in a digital space, including questions of bandwidth, access, and experience. Jay’s team also considered accessibility and inclusion as they stitched together more than a dozen platforms used to deliver AGU2020.

Interestingly, AGU2020 gave the AGU an opportunity to make the conference more widely available to a broader audience than those who would previously have had to travel to the US. Funding is difficult for many when you consider lodging costs in the Bay Area over the course of a multi-day conference. Jay’s team re-engineered the pricing strategy to make AGU2020 accessible for students and a broader international audience who would have been unlikely to attend in person. In this way, AGU2020 reached a more diverse network of scientists, both culturally and generationally.


Episode highlight

How do you facilitate interactions that take place in the real world during a digital event?

Tony Hsieh, Zappo’s recently and tragically deceased founder, wrote about designing interactions to facilitation “collisions” or the intentional serendipity that comes from humans connecting. It’s more challenging to create collisions and connections in a virtual space than it might have been in a physical space, but platforms like BrainDate allow interest groups to connect. Small group meeting areas called pods can be reserved by conference attendees around interest, as well as discussion boards tied to conference sessions. There are 800 different defined scientific conversations happening over the course of AGU2020, plus the ancillary and incidental conversations that spin out from the conference.


Episode highlight

How is digital transformation giving associations the opportunity to increase revenue?

Engaging digitally opens up access to a broader audience and creates a world in which savvy organizations will focus on analyzing data for personalized, relevant, timely content. A tranche of associations will leverage this opportunity and will see increased revenue as they tap into increased value delivery for members and a greater total addressable market. On the other hand, the digitization of experience is also a democratization of experience and organizations now face increased competition at a global scale.

As Jay says, “This is such an opportunity for us to throw away old ideas and try new ones. It’s painful…but what an opportunity!” AGU has an agile mindset and the stability to iterate through this time of rapid change. Jay’s team now has a chance to think about how they are operating and to reinvent processes that may not have been working. Digitization comes before digitalization – i.e. processes are often retrofitted before being reinvented.


Watch the full episode

Tune in to the full interview below to hear more from Jay about the AGU’s ongoing digital transformation, how they’re looking to employ technologies like artificial intelligence, and more. And don’t forget to follow Celerity’s LinkedIn page to find out about upcoming LinkedIn LIVE interviews.

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