Industry News

A look ahead to ICMA’s UNITE: A Digital Event

UNITE: A Digital Event, scheduled for Sept. 23 to 26, will virtually convene local government professionals from all over the world. This year’s theme of UNITE reflects the commitment local government professionals live every day: to improve the cities and counties where they serve. In advance of UNITE, SmartBrief heard from Moncton, New Brunswick, City Manager Marc Landry, co-chair of the 2020 Conference Planning Committee along with Cedar Hill, Texas, City Manager Melissa Valadez-Cummings, to learn more about what to expect.


Marc Landry, 
City Manager, 
Moncton, New Brunswick
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Tell us a little bit about the conference's transition from in-person to virtual. 

ICMA conferences of the past always presented a great opportunity to meet in person. Although past conferences had a virtual component, this year we are going fully virtual. It’s a new reality for all involved. The ICMA team has been working hard to make this event special, create unique opportunities for participants and deliver excellent value.  

What sessions on the agenda this year are you looking forward to the most?  

We have a great number of educational opportunities (200+), keynotes and trailblazer speakers at the conference, covering a wide range of topics. The keynotes are always a highlight of the conference for me; you don’t always have the opportunity to hear such prominent individuals focus their messaging on what we are concentrating on in local government. 

There are a number of global programs customized for Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia that will be available. The exhibitors’ trade show will be presented virtually too.

We’re especially excited that some people will be able to take advantage of the fabulous entertainment who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Sheryl Crow, for example, will be a headline entertainer. 

What is typically your favorite aspect of the conference? 

For me, the ICMA conference has always been an opportunity for professional development, networking, and learning among the best leaders from across the world in an environment custom-made for local government professionals. It makes you reflect on innovative options and gives you so much to take back to your communities.   

Is there a takeaway from a previous conference that changed how you handled a situation in your city? 

Every year, a number of the different keynotes always provide excellent takeaways to help our communities. When I am back in my city following the conference, I always provide many of the highlights and takeaways to our leadership team. Focusing on some concrete items that you want to implement or follow-up on when you are back from the conference is always beneficial.

What advice do you have for first-time attendees?  

Take it all in. The benefit is that all of the sessions will be recorded and will be available until the end of the year. 

We’ve made it a priority to facilitate relationship building and networking; there are really good tools that we’ll be using to make that happen. 

How can people still feel connected with the conference and share the UNITE message even if they aren't physically together this year?

This year is all about breaking down barriers; there will be no limitations for people participating in the conference. I’m excited about the platform we’re using and the dashboard participants will have. 

We want this year to stand out in people’s minds. When we look back on our 2020 ICMA Conference a number of years from now, we want participants to say, “yes it was virtual and we remember how we appreciated and enjoyed this unique format. We took so much back from it.”

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Paula Kiger edits the ICMA SmartBrief, attended the 2019 ICMA Conference in Nashville, and is looking forward to participating in UNITE: A Digital Event. She welcomes your ideas by email about what sessions she should attend at the conference. She also edits SmartBrief's other nonprofit sector newsletters and co-manages @SBLeaders on Twitter. You can find her at her blog Big Green Pen, on Instagram, at LinkedIn and on Twitter.