There are now less than four years to go until the Commonwealth Games open in Birmingham, and the city is under pressure to deliver a gold-standard event. In the first of a three-part series, Copper’s Melanie Ryan explores the communications lessons Birmingham can learn from the Gold Coast’s recently-completed Games.

Australia’s Gold Coast played host to the 21st Commonwealth Games in April, and now passes the baton to Birmingham as the city prepares to manage the next event in 2022. Birmingham’s Games organisers and City Council are already busy coordinating one of the biggest events to take place in the West Midlands in decades – and with less time than usual to prepare, given they became hosts after initial 2022 winner Durban’s bid fell through.

Though there are many elements Birmingham can borrow from the Gold Coast’s Games to help organisers save time and engage more closely with stakeholders, there are three areas where communications will be crucial for a successful event: infrastructure impacts; regeneration and placemaking; and community legacy.

Part 1: Infrastructure impacts

While there have been criticisms of some aspects of the Gold Coast Games, it was largely praised as one of the best in the history of Commonwealths. It was not just what happened on the track and in the pool that won accolades; the organisers are also widely praised for having delivered an extremely strong programme in PR, communications and engagement terms, way ahead of the opening ceremony.

The Gold Coast’s experience of managing cumulative infrastructure impacts from the Games will prove a particularly useful springboard for Birmingham, a city that is already undergoing a period of intense renewal and growth.

Phase One of the High Speed Two (HS2) rail project is underway; the West Midlands Metro and Birmingham Airport are being expanded; and new commercial, retail and residential spaces are booming. Games organisers have a complex task ahead in managing the event amidst all the construction. They’ll need to promote clear messages in easily accessible channels about the longer-term benefits of short-term disruption, and employ close collaboration between government and private sector stakeholders to avoid unnecessary impacts.

A challenge during the Gold Coast’s Games was ensuring traffic issues were addressed and communicated to the public while infrastructure was being developed. Traffic disruption in areas containing venues and ancillary infrastructure – like the expanded Gold Coast Airport – was a source of frustration for fans, but was saved from becoming a higher risk thanks to Games organisers’ use of a specially-tailored consultation management system.

It was used by the organising committee, Council, transport department and road authority to distribute one set of messages about traffic, working from the same up-to-date database of stakeholders. It tracked all engagement with stakeholders to avoid doubling up, and helped government spot gaps in communication. These sorts of project management tools are crucial for planning, monitoring, evaluating and reporting on stakeholder engagement for a massive undertaking like the Commonwealth Games.

Birmingham needs to get the right communications frameworks in place now, and use them with an engaging tone of voice to convey messaging about navigating the city-region during development of the Games Village, venues, HS2 and the various other projects. The Gold Coast’s ‘Get Set for the Games’ campaign used down-to-earth language to match the fun and energy of the Games, shaping locals’ expectations of the timeframes and temporary burdens involved in hosting such a significant venture. British institutions are usually tempted to communicate in a formal and sometimes distant way, but Birmingham can take a leaf out of the Australian dictionary to keep its marketing casual, neighbourly and positive – ensuring locals feel understood and involved in making the Games happen.

As I found after my own move from Australia to the UK, one of the benefits of the Games shifting from an Australian to an English city is that the two country’s institutions, processes and approaches are so similar that knowledge transfer is relatively easy. Organisers from the Gold Coast and Birmingham are working closely together to ensure as smooth a transfer as possible; for instance, the Head of Games Operations for the Gold Coast has been appointed Project Director for Birmingham 2022. The great hope of locals will be that Birmingham improves upon the Gold Coast template for managing infrastructure impacts.

Further instalments in coming weeks:

  • Part 2 – Regeneration and placemaking – the renewal of Perry Barr as the Games Village alongside other Games hubs will transform Birmingham. In adapting the best of Gold Coast’s branding, marketing and consultation tactics, Birmingham can make the most of this development opportunity and create positively-perceived housing and community facilities
  • Part 3 Community legacy – engagement tools and techniques helped Gold Coast Games organisers to involve both local and global audiences in a feeling of ownership of Games milestones and events. This sense of involvement converted to a strong take-up of post-Games infrastructure, and a willingness to track the benefits beyond 2018.