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Activating a three-day international pharmaceutical conference

Using an interactive simulation to increase learning outcomes amongst 100 conference delegates as part of the Bridge Program.

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Executive summary

In 2017, we designed an interactive (and immersive) simulation for the inaugural three day Bridge Program residential training. With over 100 participants from a range of scientific and technical disciplines, the simulation was a first-of-its-kind for a major Pharmaceutical Conference.

The purpose was to give practical experience to participants of the commercialization process.  This involved assessing product viability, pitching the product to industry and dealing with potential pitfalls that would derail the product path to market.

Participants: 100 leading scientists, researchers and technology transfer professionals; 15 senior pharmaceutical company representatives

Length: 3 days, integrated into conference agenda

Client: Bridge Program Consortia

Meeting the design challenge

Being a new engagement format within a pharmaceutical conference setting, it was imperative to ensure that the simulation aligned with the overall objective of the program and was accurately representative of the sector at large.

There were three key challenges to consider in ensuring the success of this simulation.

1. Stakeholder buy-in

There were a wide range of stakeholders involved in the Bridge consortium including representatives from the 15 pharmaceutical companies supporting the program, major universities, Government agencies and technical program staff.

In order to mimic real world dynamics, our goal was to give an active role to most of these stakeholders within the simulation. We asked them to play the part of Companies or support agencies negotiating deals with the delegate teams.

We overcame this challenge by engaging key players within the Bridge Consortium, spending time listening to their feedback and explaining in detail our own approach. Given their in-depth understanding of the industry, years of experience and individual expertise, they became our biggest assets in ensuring the success of the simulation. After finding our champions within the group, we communicated our design strategy, roll out plan and risk mitigation through clear simulation design documentation and meetings.

2. Content alignment to real life challenges

Another challenge was ensuring that the content presented to the participants was an accurate representation of the real-life marketplace for pharmaceutical technologies and an appropriate representation of the challenges facing researchers and entrepreneurs.

We consulted with the educational professional writing the content of the program to overcome this challenge. In co-creating the content, we had an accurate basis to work from. We also sense checked our thinking from other Bridge Consortium members involved in the program.

3. Working within the conference agenda

The Conference agenda was busy, so finding enough time within the agenda to run the simulation was difficult. We cleverly mirrored presented content with the flow of the simulation while thinking carefully about what interactions would be most valuable to participants. We then designed parts of the simulation to run concurrently within the rest of the agenda to keep momentum and create moments of discussion and networking between the representative companies and delegates.

The solution

Over the three-day conference, the simulation unfolded in a series of carefully curated interaction as the agenda of the conference allowed.

The situation and narrative

In the simulation small development teams from fictional companies were handed an early-stage prospective drug and challenged to negotiate a license or buy-out deal with one of five major Pharma companies in a competitive marketplace.

Mirroring a real market place, teams had to manage flaws within their early stage products, the competition with other teams working on similar products and limited resources. New information that affected teams from a funding, legal and governance perspective was introduced periodically via team tablets. Teams had to respond to these changes, adapting their approach to give them best chance of success.

How the narrative unfolded

Teams were presented with their company ‘pack’ which outlined their objective and product. Immersive elements were considered, including company branding, business cards and company email addresses. Individuals were given key roles within their Companies in order to direct their time, energy and expertise.

Teams had dedicated time in which they could understand their product, perfect their pitches and seek mentorship from Consortia members. This was curated within a workshop format, facilitated by a key Consortium member. Teams were then challenged to meet with Pharmaceutical company representatives (members of the consortium) and eventually negotiate a deal to progress their product to market.

There were 18 teams within the simulation. There were five prospective deals available. Teams had to work effectively and efficiently to win a deal over the course of the conference.

Using digital technology

Our customised app was used to facilitate and track all interactions. It was branded to the Bridge Program and simulation. Each team had a dedicated tablet to use through the three days that was used to:

  • Gather and dissect information in order to make strategic decisions
  • Rate interactions and meetings between themselves and pharmaceutical representatives
  • Facilitate dynamic communication between teams and facilitators

Results, return on investment and future plans

With more traditional presentations and panels reinforcing learnings about the commercialisation process this simulation brought the three-day training alive, creating a practical learning methodology and networking approach that was the highlight for many participants.

By creating space to unpack and hone skills such as pitching products, analysis of products and refining deal agreements, delegates had the opportunity to learn through doing. These learnings were then further reinforced in direct practice with industry representatives who were charged with putting delegates through their paces, essentially simulating real life scenarios and therefore demonstrating the importance of upskilling to ensure product to market success.

Qualitative data is still being collated and published by Cynthia Cliff and the QUT Bridge team. However, anecdotal evidence points to success outcomes of our interactive experience as part of the residential program as evidenced by the direct positive feedback received from Cynthia, committee members and the delegates of the program.

Now, a similar simulation is being explored by other universities in Australia in different fields such as business studies and engineering.

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