I’ve been involved with and worked for all manner of organising committees, these have primarily been in the sports sector, though some in the arts, and a few in the corporate (business to business) sector too. From the Olympic / Paralympic Games, Tour de France, the London 2012 Festival and more besides.

Organising Committees are typically formed to organise, create or deliver large events. This is all well and good, but how much organising do they actually do? Is a committee the best tool? And does an organising committee actually make a large event more expensive and more complicated than it needs to be?

Organising Committees should be great super powers, however I see so many people who are either supporting or working in organising committees struggling and suffering. Why?

‘Organising Committee’ is in itself an interesting term. ‘Committee’ is often the least useful tool to get anything organised, especially when dealing with the fast paced world of live events.

‘Normal’ Events

Let’s look first at how all, or most normal (non-organising committee led) live events are, or should, be organised:

1. Someone needs to lead the event, they’re responsible for driving it forwards, and have relevant live event expertise.

2. Someone needs to lead on the content (the sport, the art or whatever else the event is about).

3. Someone needs to be responsible for physically delivering everything.

4. Someone needs to be responsible for all the operations and logistics.

That’s it. That is all any live event needs to manage it. These roles could be four different people or a single person doing all of them, but never a committee doing each. Clearly accountable people in each position. On large events, or multi-faceted events you’ll end up with lots of these sets of four roles, but these four roles are the linchpins.

The people in these roles have the experience then to pull in all the other resources, expertise and whatever else is required to pull off an event, under their stewardship (PR, marketing, commercial, consultants, procurement, technical specialists, performers . . . the list is endless).

This is all it needs. Simple. As events grow in complexity the resources and issues increase, but everything still comes back to these key roles.

Committee Led Events

Let’s look at how an organising committee led event forms. And I realise I am generalising wildly here . . . in essence though, due to their nature, the number of people involved and the politics at play, what typically happens is that all manner of experts are brought in to focus on their key areas: PR, sponsorship, commercial, marketing, delivery, ticketing, infrastructure . . . the list is endless. Add to this any number of levels of governance: local government, national (or international) governments possibly, rules and regulation oversight, procurement compliance . . . again the list goes on.

Before you know it you have a committee. A committee of people who are trying to organising something.

Eventually, the key roles I outlined above come in to play, usually quite late in the day, but by this point, a huge machine exists, usually at huge cost, and then the people tasked with actually organising and actually delivering need to fight their way though this quagmire from the back to find what they need. It’s completely back to front, and everyone ends up frustrated.

Some will of course claim the nature of major events demands this level of governance and oversight. I would agree, but it should be governance and oversight of the key, experienced people doing what they do best.

Look at this another way, compare the situation to getting a house built. Do you a) without a design, choose some windows, maybe choose some carpets, choose the paint, choose the bricks you like, buy them, and then hand them over to an architect to design a building around? Or do you b) engage an architect to design and create something fit for purpose and then find the best materials windows, carpets, bricks etc., consultants and all the rest of it? Clearly, most sane people would choose the latter. Organising Committees tend to follow the former approach.

Take a tangible example: triathlon, I pick this purely as I set up the Central London World Championship Series Triathlon in Hyde Park back in 2009 with Upsolut.

A relatively straightforward event that might cost £1m or £2m to stage on a normal weekend, and is successfully organised by just a handful of people (see above). This with international competitors and broadcast live on mainstream TV around the world.

Sprinkle the word Olympic or Paralympic over exactly the same event and everything changes. In the race to win the right to host the event and then impress the IOC: boards, advisors, consultants, more committees, inspections, maybe another committee or two, auditors etc etc all combine to try and organise the event in what results as the most complicated way possible. It’s probably impossible to work out what an Olympic or Paralympic version of this triathlon event costs accurately given the number of committees, de-centralised cost centres and departments involved, but the figure is enormous. If the true cost of the London 2012 Games was £12bn for 41 sports, a rough calculation might be almost £300m per sport. Of course this calculation is too simple but I can guarantee it cost considerably more than the £1m or £2m it usually costs.

Of course many will argue the Olympics is a completely different beast with higher profile, more infrastructure required, more at risk and increased security concerns. This is true. Even if you doubled or tripled the typical cost of staging such an event you still get no where near what it seems to cost at a mega event.

Many will argue too that these major events offer great economic benefit to cities. I would agree. I would argue that they would create far more economic benefit if they didn’t cost as much to stage.

They needn’t.

Many major non-Olympic related events suffer with the same committee curse. Worst still many of these committees swell to enormous sizes and then, rather than organise and deliver everything themselves, outsource all the organising and delivery. Crazy. Duplication, waste, frustration . . . how does this make any sense? If you’re going to set up an organisation to deliver an event, set one up that can deliver. Or outsource everything. Doing both is ridiculous.

Organising Committees – The Simpler Way

If you’d like to save money and reduce the costs of major events, I have nothing against organising committees per se, or the people on them, I have sat on many, they can be useful, I merely ask that they are structured more effectively:

1. Get the core team sorted out – the people with the experience to organise and deliver, this is just four roles (or four roles per event if the event is actually a number of events). Seriously – that’s it.

2. Then ask them to work out what support and resource they need and how to go about things. These four people are the experts: your architect.

3. If you are going to end up outsourcing most things that need delivering to event agencies or similar, then it’s not an organising committee you have or need; you merely have or are setting up a procurement and governance committee. Either set up an organising committee to deliver, or outsource everything. Doing anything in between is unnecessary, is a mess, results in duplication and is almost certainly more expensive and time consuming.

4. Apply all and any governance where appropriate and to support not hinder the people in place.

It really is that simple. Or should be.