a woman performing on a stage at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh with the audience watching the show

New report offers guidance to events industry partners on managing risk in the time of unexpected crisis: COVID & Innovation within Edinburgh’s Festivals

The COVID-19 pandemic imposed significant social and economic losses on festivals globally. Government imposed lockdowns prevented socialising and meant that events were cancelled, paused, or redeveloped into a virtual format. Event organisers turned to creative problem-solving and accelerated innovation to manage the crisis.

Edinburgh Napier academics – Prof. Jane Ali-Knight, Dr Gary Kerr, and Hannah Stewart MSc – have created a report in collaboration with Prof. Kirsten Holmes from Curtin University (Perth, Australia) examining the impacts of COVID-19 on festivals in eventful destinations and the response of festival managers to the ongoing pandemic, using the case study of Edinburgh’s Festivals.

First, the team reviewed policies and practices relevant to the safe opening of festivals and events up to the Autumn of 2021. Second, they used a mixed methods approach to collect a range of data between June 2021 to November 2021, including participant observation of events, and in-depth interviews with key Edinburgh Festival Directors, managers and city stakeholders to identify how they initially responded and continue to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The fieldwork data are supported by content analysis of key media narratives focusing on festival and event cancellation and post COVID-19 recovery.

Key Findings revealed that since March 2020, 10 out of 11 of Edinburgh’s major festivals have successfully delivered programming in a live or digital format; all participants reported having to restructure their organisations’ business and delivery models in response to COVID-19; festivals were forced to shift their primary funding avenues from a ticket sales and revenue-based focus to securing funding from sponsorship, donations and COVID-19 recovery support with several organisations trialled a digital ‘pay what you can’ model for access to online events, championing and maintaining financial accessibility in an economic crisis.

The research team used the data to develop a new framework (please see below) for industry partners to approach risk management within festivals and events. This new model provides a tactical response to unexpected crisis events, such as a global pandemic, acts of terrorism, natural disasters, and other unique disruptive scenarios beyond the sector’s control.

illustration of the framework developed by Ali-Night et al. The framework has 3 components: Respond, Reassess, Reimagine with a fourth component: Communication sitting in the middle, interlinking the other components

The framework consists of three components. The first one, response, refers to organisers first assessing the situation, then reacting to evolving customer needs and behaviours by offering new types of experiences, products, and services, and lastly, strategically planning the next steps to cope with high levels of uncertainty.

The model’s second element, resilience, describes the critical importance of business model innovation that can be done through establishing new partnerships, as well as adjusting and adapting business and delivery models and supply chains to manage risk in the long term.

Lastly, the reimaging component touches on dynamic recovery through the reviewing of organisational successes and areas for opportunity, the development of potential future scenarios and how they can be prepared for, as well as the building of flexible and dynamic strategies that are stress-tested against various scenarios.

The importance of effective communication and support between festival stakeholders in times of crisis is emphasised by the researchers, and it appears in the centre of the framework interlinking all elements.

To download the full report please click here.

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