A summer sojourn to South Africa? While it may sound like the ultimate vacation, professor Kathy Nelson has traveled there a handful of times on a special mission-working with a small group of events professionals dedicated to creating the EMBOK, the Event Management Body of Knowledge. The "Embokers," as this original group of seven refers to themselves, is comprised of the world's top event management academics and practitioners who are out to make standards the norm in this ever-evolving industry.
When she got the call from future Emboker Janet Landey (a special events practitioner based in South Africa) in 2004, Nelson was preparing to graduate with her Ph.D. from UNLV.
"I was so honored to be thought of by Janet for this group," says Nelson. "I'm not one to self-promote, so I was thrilled that someone knew of my lengthy experience as well as my education and research in the field. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the bush in Africa, realizing that I had just received my Ph.D. and was now in this incredible place just a few days later. It was like a dream."
The first International EMBOK Imbizo (pronounced im-bee-zo, it is the Zulu word for gathering) took place at the Edeni Private Game Reserve near Kruger National Park and was sponsored by the Institute of Event Management in Johannesburg. The academic and practitioner experts from around the world convened to define standards consistent with the needs of a global event management environment.
Bill O'Toole initiated the EMBOK concept in 1999 in his master's thesis work at the University of Sydney comparing project management methodology with the management of events and festivals. He created a website to collect data and promote discussion of this topic. Julia Rutherford Silvers, an event practitioner and instructor, who had been researching the scope of core competencies for event management, took notice of O'Toole's work and the two began working to develop EMBOK. Nelson and four others soon joined.
One goal was to create a solid foundation that could be "customized to meet the needs of various cultures, governments, education programs, and organizations," says Nelson. It's something to make the profession more credible as well as set standards throughout the event-planning process. When all is said and done, we, as event management professionals, want to ensure that people attending our events are safe."
The first Imbizo resulted in the International EMBOK Executive designation, which set standards based on a researched and tested model of event management functions, processes, phases, and core values. Using this model, the complex job of event management may be approached in a comprehensive manner, ensuring all critical functional responsibilities, possibilities, and opportunities are addressed properly and competently. According to Nelson, "A mission of the EMBOK is to regulate ourselves as an industry. If we don't do it, governments will eventually step in and do it."
In 2005, during another trip to South Africa, the International EMBOK model was unveiled.
"(The model) takes into account things such as accountability, risk assessment, cultural issues, and insurance liabilities," Nelson says. "In an academic context, many universities are now going to the EMBOK to assist in their curriculum development. And practitioners are using it each time they begin to plan an event. It's become a worldwide, recognizable resource in the industry."
The model describes the scope and processes that are used in the management of events. It includes five knowledge domains encompassing 35 functional areas (classes), five phases, five processes, and five core values.
According to Silvers, the five phases emphasize the importance of time in any project and the fact that each component in the knowledge domain has a time dimension. The processes detailed form an integrated system for every phase, with tools and techniques that may be used for all. Creativity, strategic thinking, continuous improvement, ethics, and integration are the values that must permeate all decisions in event management.
"It was so exciting to see what we had accomplished thus far," Nelson says. "Through our various research projects on different event planning models used throughout the world, we were able to construct an amazing model. We knew that we were onto something and that this global framework would be helpful for a systematic analysis of events, from the beginning phase all the way through evaluation."
The Embokers met almost every year to fine tune their body of knowledge. "It's important for the industry to have a set of standards," says Nelson. "Other countries do this very well in many industries but not the United States. This is primarily because we have so many states with differing laws; it's not used as widely here as it could be. We hope to one day change that mindset."
The Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council's Foreign Credential Recognition Education Projects National Advisory Panel now uses the model. "Philip Mondor, one of my fellow Embokers, presented the International Events Management Standard (IEMS) to the Canadian government and it now provides the standard by which events management professionals operate in that country," says Nelson. "The IEMS builds on the International EMBOK framework as well as other recognized and established occupational standards and curricula from six countries, and has been ratified by leaders from 16 countries. We're very proud to have helped with this endeavor."
The International EMBOK model has been released into the public domain on the International EMBOK website, which features a full description of the model's structure. There is also a portal for interested persons to make contributions toward the further development and improvement of the model. The model has been vetted at numerous industry and academic conferences throughout the world. "We're seeing all kinds of usage," says Nelson. "It is the most important project I have been involved with and I thank Dean (Stuart) Mann for being so supportive. I'm able to incorporate what I've learned through the EMBOK experience into the classroom."
To view the model, visit embok.org.