Four years ago, Vancouver, Whistler, British Columbia and Canada hosted one of the most successful Winter Games ever. With attention on the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, this is a good time to look back on some of the lessons learned by the public sector.
From the outset, the partners wished to ensure that if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the 2010 Winter Games to Canada, they would become “Canada’s Games.”
Another perspective which guided Games planning was that the partners – Vancouver, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, four host First Nations, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee – were all here before the Games and would remain long after the echoes of applause had faded.
Finally, benefits and legacies were to accrue to the people the partner organizations represented. Thus, all 2010 planning had to align with the priorities and vision of the community-adopted policy document “Whistler2020.”
Understanding the challenge
Even before the international bid effort was launched in July 2001, officials at the Department of Canadian Heritage were combing archives for the behind-the-headlines public sector support for the two prior Olympic events staged in Canada: Montreal ‘76 and Calgary ‘88.
They also looked to the recent experiences of Australia, New South Wales and Sydney, which were preparing for the 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The results of this research greatly influenced federal government decisions on many of its fundamental approaches to 2010. Those included how best to:
• support the bid and the Games;
• leverage the Games to achieve a wide range of social and economic policy goals;
• build relationships with other stakeholders; and
• organize itself to provide effective horizontal management within the federal family.
Previous experience had also proven that synergies emerged when governments had worked together.
Armed with these and many other valuable lessons from the past, the partners of the Canadian bid for 2010 designed a 21st century, made-in-Canada plan. Next, they put the framework into place that led to a winning bid.
Partnerships led to success
The partners recognized that achieving the vision of making 2010 “Canada’s Games” was going to require collaborative effort on a scale rarely seen. One collective decision made early on was to negotiate and sign a comprehensive multi-party agreement in the bid phase. This legal document outlined the roles, responsibilities and commitments of all the parties and the reciprocal obligations of the organizing committee. It took the partners nearly a year to get the agreement ready for signing.
The partners’ joint vision for the 2010 Winter Games was enshrined in the 2010 Multi-Party Agreement (MPA). Together they committed to: strive for excellence, be ethical and act with integrity and honour the unique characteristics, values, goals and principles of the host communities. Moreover, they committed to sustainable, social, economic and environmental practices.
With the November 2002 signing of the MPA, the partners agreed to collaborate for the purpose of delivering a high quality Games experience for athletes and spectators, while simultaneously protecting the greater public interest.
Having the MPA was a competitive advantage because it demonstrated to the IOC that the partners were well equipped to deliver on the promises contained in the bid. The IOC recognized the merits of this approach and it’s now compulsory for candidatures that the domestic partners enter into a binding multi-party agreement.
Key lessons learned
Stick together through thick and thin. No single entity can accomplish a project as large and complex as organizing the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games on their own. The partners spelled out the roles and responsibilities and fulfilled their obligations. Partners also stood behind each other and looked for ways to help out in solving problems.
Do this and do it now. Getting the basics right at the outset helped to avoid problems down the road. Having to meet external deadlines was very helpful in getting finished on time.
Get serious. Negotiating and signing the MPA was challenging. Full support was needed from all the senior decision-makers who pushed the process past the inevitable roadblocks. Sufficient resources were allocated. In particular, qualified people were dedicated to the task.
Sweat the details. The development of a comprehensive agreement was a risk management exercise. Team members collectively, and in regular consultation with their own organizations, looked to identify potential risks. As a group they considered and adopted agreement-based remedies to forestall or mitigate these eventualities.
Stick to principles. Not every partner was equal in every sense, but each one deserved to be heard. Ample time was devoted so as to arrive fairly at a mutual understanding of the priorities and concerns among the partners. Differing views were exchanged and differences were settled. The partners’ fundamental principles were held at the forefront and strictly adhered to in drafting the MPA.
Nurture the partnership. Ongoing effort preserved the collective goodwill that emerged from the process of signing the MPA. Formal and informal contact mechanisms were created at the executive and working levels to sustain the spirit of collaboration.
Collaboration is a leadership competency
The 2010 experience demonstrated that effective human relationships are fundamental to productive business exchanges. While collaboration was supported through formal processes and agreements, it could not be imposed upon unwilling participants.
Throughout the partner network, leaders created an environment which invited, encouraged and rewarded collaborative thinking and behaviour. They championed collaboration as the right approach to achieve the collective goals. The concept of jointly sharing Games-related risks and rewards was emphasized.
The leaders consistently demonstrated a genuine wish to work together. They listened to and respected every member in the collaborative network, regardless of where they were positioned in the hierarchy.
Things did not always go smoothly. When something went wrong, safeguarding the collaborative atmosphere meant that leaders focused on taking corrective action, and then making sure the incident was forgiven and forgotten – but not lessons learned along the way.
All 2010 planning documents and processes reinforced the partners’ shared vision. Achieving the common goal created an incentive to collaborate. The bond was strengthened over time by the very act of sharing the risks and the rewards.
The roles, responsibilities and activities of the partners were clearly outlined to avoid confusion. In turn, points of program and policy intersection were evident. The limits and constraints that each partner faced were known. This awareness reduced the likelihood of missed expectations later on when the rubber hit the road.
Significant effort was dedicated to keeping the lines of communication open. This was a real challenge for 2010. The number of partners involved and their extended networks required elaborate measures. However, the resultant timely and free flow of information and dialogue cemented the feeling of mutual trust which underpinned collaboration.
Keep in mind
The 2010 partnership was challenging because of differences in size, capabilities and processes of the groups involved. The fact that the 2010 partnership comprised three different levels of government, First Nations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector meant that considerable effort was required to sustain an appropriate balance and ensure that activities were harmonized and synchronized.
Conversely, the 2010 partnership was facilitated because of the high degree of correlation among the partners’ stated values. For example, collaboration was easier because of each partner’s commitment to sustainable, social, economic and environmental practices.
For the government officials who were involved, the Canadian experience surrounding the 2010 Winter Games demonstrated that partnerships are essential as the means to consolidate the interests, investments and efforts of disparate stakeholders. Equally, the experience showed that collaboration cannot be imposed: it fell to a strong group of visionary leaders to inspire the extensive partner network which in due course embraced a spirit of collaborative thinking and behaviour.
Through a partnership with Canadian Heritage, the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) is publishing the 2010 Winter Games Case Study Series in its case study program. Future host governments and students in public administration and sport management will benefit from exploring the narratives based upon personal interviews with government officials who contributed directly to the 2010 experience: www.ipac.ca/CaseStudyProgram-About