Driss MOUSSAOUI : « How to organize a psychiatric congress »

Published by the World Psychiatric Association – Supported by an unrestricteg educational grant from Janssen-Cilag, France – 1999

Preface by Norman SARTORIUS, President of the World Psychiatric Association


Prof. Moussaoui is very well placed to write this book. His rich previous experience in the organization of meetings (often with minimal resources) has recently been magnificently complemented by first hand knowledge gained in the course of his service as the Secretary for Meetings of the World Psychiatric Association. He has produced a remarkable manual that should be read by those who organize meetings, by those who attend them, and those who never do. The effort to organize a good meeting is often, in terms of time and need to neglect other duties (for example those for one’s families), enormous. Yet, for those who organize meetings, the only reward is normally the recognition and praise that the participants offer and a feeling of satisfaction that the work has been done well. This feeling of satisfaction is not only dependent on the capacity to avoid organizational blunders and make the participants happy. The real determinant of the organizers’ satisfaction is their sense that the meeting was worthwhile because it served a noble function. This raises for the organizers and the agencies to whom they belong, the more fundamental question : why would meetings of professionals be organized ? In this era of electronic communication, CD-Roms, e-mail connections, radio, TV and telephone lines, easy publications and shortage of time, which is increasingly invaded by numerous administrative and other chores : is it really worth our effort to organize meetings, entailing absence from work and family, and often frustration because of a variety of things ? My answer is yes. Electronic and other communication tools mentioned above convey information and can do so better and cheaper than ever before. The provision and exchange of information which in previous years had been the main reason for attending meetings is no longer the chief reason for getting together. Other reasons therefore appear or gain prominence. First, it is important and useful for all of us to know the persons who produced the informations, to see and sense the commitment they have to what they show. Second, for most of us, particularly those working in peripheral institutions, it is important to see the people to whom information is being conveyed, to learn from their reactions, criticisms and suggestions. Third, it is important to be in touch with people to establish or reestablish friendships and collaboration or to simply spend time together, with colleagues from other places, with different experiences, ideas, orientations. Al of these makes meetings retain their attractiveness. So people will come together, often at considerable cost, and deserve to be offered an opportunity to take part in scientific and personal exchanges and contacts, to benefit from a well organized meeting. This book should help in making meetings better. It contains hints and ideas formulated by Prof. Moussaoui on the basis of what he has seen, heard and done over the years.

He deserves any praise for presenting this book and will be best rewarded for his effort if scientific meetings are organized better using some of the experience summarized here. On behalf of the World Psychiatric Association, I wish to thank Prof. Moussaoui for his effort that has resulted in a must useful text which should be used by many. Professor Norman SARTORIUS – President of the World Psychiatric Association



There are many reasons why this booklet is timely. One of them is that from 1996 to 1999, the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) organized directly or co-sponsored 50 scientific meetings and congresses all over the world. More than 40,000 participants attended from about 130 different countries. That represents about one third of all psychiatrists in the world who attended scientific meetings initiated or co-sponsored by the WPA. The total number of organized congresses in this period of time is higher than the number of congresses organized by the WPA during the past 3 or 4 decades. This huge increase is due to the steady progress of the number of Member Societies in the WPA (115 in 1999 as compared to 81 in 1996), especially from developing countries, and to the development of the field of psychiatry worldwide. The WPA feels that it is time to help increasing not only the number, but also the quality of these congresses.

One of the main handicaps in organizing congresses is an insufficient know how. This leads many potential organizers of scientific meetings to feel insecure, when they decide to embark in this adventure, especially from the financial point of view. The WPA Executive Committee felt the need of promoting congresses by developing educational activities, training those interested on how to organize a successful psychiatric congress. This booklet is the first step of this program, the second being the organization of workshops, whenever possible, during WPA meetings and congresses (as it is the case during the World Congress in Hamburg). As a matter of fact, it is clear that this is becoming more and more of a specialized field. The methods and technology of organizing congresses are evolving fast, and it will be increasingly difficult to start this kind of project without having a minimum of knowledge and skills, at least to be able to communicate correctly with the professional congress organizer.

This booklet is directed more towards those who collaborate with the WPA. A number of guidelines and policies of the WPA which have been recently adopted and implemented by the WPA for its meetings and congresses are appended. However, this book can be useful to all those who wish to organize a psychiatric congress.

On the other hand, the principles contained in this booklet are necessarily general, and have to be adapted to the specific situation of the hosting group, with all kinds of variations from the cultural and from the economical points of view. As a matter of fact, the needs and areas of interest are different not only from one country to the other, but also from city to city in the same country, and from association to association in the same city. In this diversity, the personality of the organizer(s) plays a critical role.

Much of the information contained in this document is well known to the many who have attended a number of congresses. On the other hand, there are a few good guides which can be useful companions in the difficult task to undertake the organization of a congress. One of them is the excellent “Guide to organizing an international scientific conference” of G. Rivlin, a well known PCO. However, the interest of this booklet lies in the fact that it is written by a user, a clinician and not a specialist of organization of conferences. It is meant to put some important details into perspective within the whole picture. This will be particularly felt by those who need help, and have nobody at hand who could advise on various technical matters. In other words, this booklet will be mostly beneficial to potential organizers in developing countries and in remote areas of industrialized countries, where the access to good congress management is not always available.

In many aspects, this booklet reflects my personal experience as organizer of a number of national and international congresses in a developing country during the past 20 years. On the other hand, having served as Secretary for Meetings of the WPA during 3 years gave me the opportunity to be directly involved in the organization of some prominent congresses, or indirectly as a counselor for others. This provided me with experience which I want to share, as I am convinced that the better organized the psychiatric meetings are, the more progress our field will do in the future.

As the technology and management of organizing congresses evolves rapidly, this booklet is only the first of a series ; it will be republished every 3 years during world congresses of Psychiatry, in extended versions. I would appreciate receiving comments and suggestions to improve this booklet. My contacts are : fax +212-2-294707 or e-mail . All contributions will be acknowledged.

I would like to thank very much the IAPCO (International Association of Professional Congress Organizers) for its help, particularly its president Carolina G. Sicilia, especially for allowing me to use the documents of the 25th seminar of IAPCO (January 1999). I would also like to express my gratitude to those who reviewed the manuscript (Norman Sartorius, Carolina Sicilia, and Harold Visotsky) and who contributed significantly to its improvement. And last but not least, my thanks go to Janssen Cilag France, especially Dr. Philippe Bouhours and Daniel Bordez, for their financial support which allowed this booklet to be published and distributed for free during the XIth World Congress of Psychiatry in Hamburg.


Medical meetings are probably as old as medicine itself. In this respect, there are number of historical facts about regular meetings of druids and shamans to exchange their knowledge and experience. Egyptian and Greek doctors used probably to do the same. But the first medical congresses seem to have taken place regularly at the beginning of the XIXth century. Since the mid XXth century, the medical field changed tremendously, leading to an ever decreasing of the half-life of knowledge, necessitating therefore a wide dissemination of new scientific knowledge. This is why medical congresses are becoming increasingly popular and much better organized. This has been possible also because of the remarkable economic growth of the pharmaceutical industry, which represents the major source of financial support for the organization of medical congresses. It is highly probable that despite all the new communication environment, allowing at decreasing costs video-conferencing, instant communication by satellites, fora by Internet, that the XXIst century will witness an increasing number of medical meetings, but which will be better shaped to fit the needs of the various concerned parties (doctors, associations, pharmaceutical companies, regulatory authorities, patient advocacy groups).

For the time being, it seems that the most powerful industries are : arm production and trade, drug smuggling and trade, and prostitution. For example, the United Nations estimate of the annual trade of illegal drugs is about 500 billion dollars, almost double of that of the whole pharmaceutical industry worldwide. Economists foresee however that in the XXIst century, the most powerful industry will be tourism, and the business one will be an important part of the picture. The financial gain of the cities which host such medical congresses can range from 20 to 50 million dollars, and the competition is becoming fierce between potential sites for such organization. In 1996, the estimated gain of the city of Madrid for example, which hosted the Xth World Congress of Psychiatry, was 30 million dollars. Visitors’ bureaus and convention centers market aggressively their product, supported in their effort by mayors and other officials of the country. It is now a usual practice that decision making bodies concerning sites of large congresses receive letters of support from the Prime Minister of a country or even the head of state within the bid of candidate cities.

The figures given by the World Travel and Tourism Council for the year 1997 about the market size of the business travel and tourism in the world is 475 billion US$. In comparison, the annual budget of the Pentagon (USA) is about 400 billion $. Business travel accounts for 18% of the total expenditure in travel and tourism. In the United States of America, the estimate of the American meeting market is 90 billion $ annually.

Europe (especially the European Union) is for the time being the most important business travel region in the world (43%), before the Americas (34%), Asia Pacific (18%), and Africa (3%). The expected growth of the business travel market from 1997 to 2007 will be 41% worldwide. This growth will be more pronounced in developing countries (61% in Latin America, 59% in Asia Pacific, 52% in Eastern Europe, 50% in Africa) as compared to industrialized ones (35% in European Union and 27% in North America).

If we consider the number of international and national meetings organized in various countries in the world in 1997 (source : Utell International quoted by IAPCO), the USA is first with 1054 meetings, France follows with 647. From other parts of the world, Australia organized 294 meetings, Japan 250, and South Africa 110. If we consider the cities, Paris comes first (249), then London (205). Singapore is 6th (138), Washington 9th (100), New York 13th (89), Sydney 18th (82), and Cape Town 52nd (33). One difficulty in setting these statistics is to define what is a conference : how many people should be present to consider it as such : five, one hundred, or one thousand ?

Medical associations are among the most active in organizing congresses. For example, the World Psychiatric Association is considered to be one of the top 40 N.G.O.s in the world from its congress organization point of view, (including the International Olympic Committee or the Rotary Club for example).

Why is it so ? What are the reasons that are making psychiatric congresses becoming an important part of our profession ?

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