The Impact of the Parkinson’s Ready Program in Barcelona

5th April 2024

In July 2023, Barcelona played host to the 6th World Parkinson’s Congress (WPC), an event organized by the World Parkinson Coalition in collaboration with Associació Catalana per al Parkinson (ACAP). Sponsored by AbbVie and supported by Barcelona Convention Bureau (BCB), the congress witnessed the implementation of the "Make the City Parkinson's Ready" (Parkinson's Ready) program.

Words Remi Deve

Founded in 2004, the World Parkinson Coalition seeks to share knowledge and stimulate research to enhance the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The 6th World Parkinson Congress in 2023 gathered over 2,600 delegates from 73 countries, reinforcing the global commitment to address the challenges faced by individuals with Parkinson’s.

Introduced several years ago, but implemented on this scale for the first time in Barcelona, the Parkinson’s Ready program aimed to train public-facing and customer service groups to better understand Parkinson’s disease and improve support for attendees of the WPC. The underlying commitment of the World Parkinson Coalition was to leave a lasting impact on Barcelona, ensuring that knowledge about Parkinson’s disease persisted in the city post-congress, benefiting the over 29,000 people living with Parkinson’s disease in Catalonia.

Barcelona, known for its commitment to sustainability and social impact, saw the partnership with the World Parkinson Coalition as a natural fit. The Parkinson’s Ready Program supplemented existing accessibility initiatives in the city, aiming to train customer-facing staff to recognize Parkinson’s symptoms and adjust their interactions accordingly. The program aligned with Barcelona’s vision and strategy of creating an open and accessible city for residents and visitors.

The impact of this legacy project became a focal point for assessment, with Barcelona Convention Bureau partnering with #Meet4Impact, a non-profit organization specializing in evaluating societal impacts. 

Embedded in a Theory of Change, the programme sought to achieve several goals, including enhancing the experience of Parkinson’s patients at the WPC conference, raising public awareness, leaving a lasting legacy in Barcelona, and fostering collaboration between the local Parkinson’s community and service industries, with a focus on six key areas.

  1. People with Parkinson’s Increase in Confidence, Improving Their Ability to Travel: The mid-term outcome aimed at enhancing the experience of those with Parkinson’s (PWP) during WPC 2023. On-site feedback indicated a noticeable reduction in complaints compared to previous conferences. Attendees reported positive perceptions of ease of navigation in the city, satisfaction with travel experiences, and comfort in interactions with staff.
  2. Awareness of the Parkinson’s Ready Program: Communication efforts, including newsletters, social media, and press releases, aimed to inform delegates about the program. While some delegates were unaware, others found reassurance in knowing about the program, reducing anxiety about their experiences in the city.
  3. Inclusivity and Understanding from the General Population: Media coverage played a crucial role, with over 30 outlets featuring the Parkinson’s Ready program. The aim was to increase awareness and understanding of Parkinson’s, ultimately reducing stigma. Viewership estimates totaled over 97 million, showcasing the potential impact on public perception.
  4. Hospitality and Public Services Become More Inclusive: Training sessions for public-facing roles, including hotel staff, transport professionals, and police, were conducted. Surveys immediately after training and three months later indicated a positive shift in understanding Parkinson’s symptoms and how to respond. The program’s broader impact extended to conversations among trainees and their commitment to sharing knowledge within Barcelona.
  5. Increased Demand from Congress Organizers for Legacy Projects in Barcelona: The Parkinson’s Ready program became a case study, presented at 11 conferences globally, garnering insights from over 1,000 event industry professionals. The program’s success positioned Barcelona as a destination committed to social impact, potentially attracting future events with similar impact-oriented goals.
  6. Enhanced Support and Funding Allocation from Public Administration: Collaboration with local and national government aimed to draw additional support for PWP. The initiative showcased practical adjustments that were feasible and important for managing Parkinson’s in a comprehensive manner. Sponsorship from AbbVie and strengthened relationships with local stakeholders demonstrated the potential for continued support.

Beyond the numerical assessments, the initiative sought to improve the perception of Barcelona as an inclusive city. Survey responses indicated positive strides, with 68% of delegates intending to return, signifying a favorable outlook for the city’s future growth and its reputation as a welcoming destination.

Beatriz Ibáñez, Senior Social Impact Consultant at #Meet4Impact, points out: “The study on the World Parkinson Congress and its findings underline the transformative potential of legacy projects in the events sector. Beyond immediate economic impacts, it highlights the need for deliberate legacy planning, aligning the promoter’s mission with destination priorities and addressing gaps. Events are elevated when they are measured and communicated, not only as short-term economic drivers but also as long-term value creators to communities and destinations.”

In the end, the Parkinson’s Ready program not only succeeded in preparing Barcelona for the World Parkinson Congress but also laid the groundwork for a more inclusive and understanding society. As the echoes of this initiative resonate globally, it serves as a testament to Barcelona’s commitment to social impact and legacy in the realm of accessibility and inclusivity – and the longer impacts of it are of course yet to be measured.

Contact: abueno@barcelonaturisme.com / barcelonaconventionbureau.com

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