Unity is strength

In 2020, the event industry made us proud through a demonstration of resilience and adaptability. We pivoted to build hospitals, united to support charities, protested to raise awareness; and all the while we tried to keep events alive through whatever medium could safely facilitate us. Although they deserve it, I’m not going to post a celebratory end of year review about all of these amazing achievements. Instead, I want to recognise and applaud what I see as the most important win of 2020; our increased cooperation as an industry.

As events began to slowly close down in March, something new seemed to be happening. People began to share their knowledge, their experience, their challenges, their solutions. Experienced professionals delivered webinars explaining how they did their jobs. People posted their risk assessments on LinkedIn. Organisations united on Zoom to deliver their thoughts to the wider industry. Education was offered for free…..In a time of uncertainty and instability, we unified as an industry in an attempt to become stronger.

It might seem the obvious way to overcome a challenge, but our industry hasn’t always been this open. Individual events often operate in a silo, and when accidents or incidents occur they are rarely shared with the wider industry. Whilst all organisers are usually working to deliver safe, commercial successfully, culturally relevant events, we seldom cooperate with other organisers to meet these shared aims. Be it through the fear of competition, or the impact of confirmation bias, we often operate as isolationists.

But if we don’t share and cooperate then we open ourselves up to failure. Toft (1997) affirms that a failure occurring in one system will have a propensity to recur in a similar system; essentially meaning that an accident happening on your competitor’s event has a high chance of also happening on your event. Whilst our socials and press usually mean we are aware of incidents when they happen, such occurrences frequently stem from deeply underlying latent failures (Reason 1990; Turner and Pidgeon 1997). Hence, unless we cooperate and share our learned experiences in detail, our industry colleagues are unlikely to understand their full causation. And how can we work to prevent accidents if we don’t understand their causes?

Isomorphic learning is considered essential to the development of safety in other industries (such as aviation, through the AAIB). This type of generative safety culture is what we should be aiming for. In 2020 we took big steps to increase cooperation and learning; but with a long way to go it is pivotal that we move into next year with this as a central theme. Now is the perfect time to adjust any insular operations, and begin to listen to the views, experience, and learnings of others in order to prepare us for a return to this changed world. Let’s adapt our culture to share more widely and support more openly, so all events have the chance to survive and thrive in 2021.

So as we move out of this challenging year, we should celebrate our resilience and whatever small wins we may have achieved; but let’s also sieze the opportunity to establish a culture of cooperation, where we can benefit not just the future of our own events, but the industry as a whole.

Janis, I.L. (1972), Victims of Groupthink, Houghton Mifflin, .Boston

Reason, J. (1990), Human Error, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Toft, B. and Reynolds, S. (1997), Learning from Disasters: A Management Approach (2nd Editi on), Perpetuity Press Ltd, Leicester