Are face-to-face OR digital conferences key to thriving research communities? BOTH!

Interview with Prof. Dominik Mahr, co-host of Frontiers in Service Conference.

Interview with Prof. Dominik Mahr, co-host of Frontiers in Service Conference in Maastricht June 14-18, 2023; questions by Tetiana Kotiuk, lecturer at Maastricht University.

Together with a group of service scholars at the department of Marketing & Supply Chain Management, Dominik is organizing the large-scale, prestigious Frontiers in Service Conference 2023.

Thank you for meeting and talking about your role as co-host of a large-scale research conference. Maybe a direct question to begin with: Are traditional in-person conferences still needed for research collaborations or - in a time of rapid digitalization accelerated through the Corona pandemic - a concept of the past?

Indeed, digital transformation has given us many advantages for communication in research groups. Quicker and more engaging communication through digital channels makes our cooperation more effective, international, and sustainable. The pandemic led to even more experimentation with different formats: virtual conferences, for example, with many successes. On the other side, we also realized and, to a certain extent, found the limits of digital communication where humans collaborate. Onboarding and getting to know new people is more difficult if you only see a small part of the person. Email conversations can lead to endless email threads due to misinterpretation of text pieces. Creative brainstorming sessions may require more work to organize in the structured set-up of the online session. So it’s not about a one size fits all, but about using the right communication tool for the right purpose.

So how have research conferences like Frontiers in Service changed over the past years?

The Frontiers in Service Conference has a long history and builds on a strong global community of outstanding scholars in service research. At its core, the goal of the conference is still the same: to connect people! We welcome junior scholars and are always happy to see the service scholars who are already longer in the community - this creates opportunities for meeting new people and strengthening existing relationships: with inspirations around new topics at the edge of our community, social activities, interactive workshops, and just having fun and “idle” time; it allows us to get beyond our initial thinking and sets the ground for novelty. Digital tools like the conference app, social media, and interactive technologies create additional opportunities for connecting and, what is crucial - staying in touch.

Sounds very good and very relevant; what are the specific activities you have planned for the conference in Maastricht?

Every conference host and city gives it its touch; of course, a few peers have joined all 30 editions so far and can talk better about it, but I recall each of the conferences I joined with its unique flavor. We want to do this too and give it a Maastricht feeling: a conference of short ways where everybody can walk or bike between venues. We want to let people experience some recent developments like VR technologies for services. To dive together as a community into topics that will be relevant for decades, such as food ecosystems, service robotics and automation, new forms of customer experiences, or biases in digital interactions. To have fun and enjoyment at the conference parties, and plenty more, but some will remain surprises. I can not give them away just yet, but I can invite you to join and be part of this welcoming and forward-looking research community.

More articles