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Learning and legacy–Proud partners of the North American Indigenous Games

Learning and legacy–Proud partners of the North American Indigenous Games

2023 North American Indigenous Games

2023 North American Indigenous Games

It’s been just two weeks since more than 5,000 athletes, performers, coaches, and managers from 756 Nations from across Turtle Island (North America) gathered in Kjipuktuk (Halifax) for the 2023 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG). NAIG is the largest multi-sport and cultural event held for Indigenous youth in North America and takes place every four years.

As a communications partner for NAIG, NATIONAL was honoured to be a part of the thousands of people who came together to help realize the vision for NAIG 2023: to encourage equal access to participation in the sporting, social, cultural, and spiritual fabric of the community. The energy and positivity of the Games were truly inspiring, and they will be sure to leave lasting memories for all. It is in the spirit of learning and legacy that we take a moment to pause and reflect on our experience and lessons learned.

Preparing for the Games

It takes a significant effort to prepare for a sporting and cultural event of this scale. Our three main takeaways from the pre-Games planning phase include:

Being prepared with a crisis plan. Ensuring timely and efficient response and coordination among Games operations and partners to effectively manage incidents and crises is key to protecting reputation. This means having a clear goal and objectives to anchor your plan and clarity of roles and responsibilities, plan activation, communications protocols, and tools and resources to efficiently implement your plan.

Anticipating risk scenarios. Good crisis planning requires planning for the worst, and hoping for the best. As part of the planning process, we worked with the Host Society and key local partners to identify those most likely scenarios with the greatest potential for impact on the operations and reputation of the Games. Reflecting on these scenarios and having a plan in place to respond is essential to crisis preparedness.

Capacity building and training. Crisis plans should always be reviewed and tested prior to an event to ensure accuracy, awareness, and understanding among those with a role to play. In a large-scale event such as NAIG, running crisis exercises with inter-agency partners helps ensure alignment on planning priorities and clarity of roles and responsibility, including the identification of the lead agency.

NATIONAL also had the opportunity to share our expertise in social intelligence and provide best practice examples and techniques for gathering real-time insights about the public and other key audience’s reception of the Games and any issues that might arise.

Game-time support

It was truly incredible to see the tremendous coordination effort required to deliver a positive Games experience, which communications played a central role in facilitating. There are so many positive things to share about the Games delivery, but a few key learnings stand out for our team:

Create a safe space for sharing and reflection. The importance of sharing information on a regular basis allows for conversations about what is working well and what needs to be adjusted as an event unfolds. The NAIG team held daily planning meetings at the beginning of the day to understand planning priorities for the day ahead and at the end of day to reflect and look ahead.

Identify issues early to mitigate risk. The NAIG communications team did an exceptional job of issues tracking and escalating to the appropriate department or responsible agency for action. The constant vigilance to manage any potential issues helped maintain the positive Games experience. One of the things no one can entirely plan for is the weather, and even though some of the events, including the closing ceremony had to be cancelled, the timeliness of sharing of the information kept people engaged and informed.

Timely dissemination of information. With more than 16 sports and events happening at 47 venues for more than 5,000 participants and 3,000 volunteers, there was no shortage of information to coordinate and share. The Games Operation Centre (GOC) played a central role in collecting and sharing information and the communications team leveraged multiple channels to fan out and share information. The multi-channel, targeted approach helped maintain the flow of information and keep people informed.

Post-Games reflection

Clearly, the effort and preparation that went into getting ready for and delivering the Games, helped create a positive experience for all. The NAIG Host Society staff, community, and volunteers created a welcoming space to celebrate the people, culture, and heritage of Mi’kma’ki and Mi’kmaq peoples.

In four years’ time, the Games will be hosted in Calgary. As a part of the continued legacy of the Games it is important to pause, reflect, and share learnings to help prepare the next host community. It is in this spirit of learning, we hope we have contributed to the ongoing legacy of the future of the Games.

——— Kenny Cameron is a former Consultant at NATIONAL Public Relations