The Head Start – Experiences from year 1 of a two year bid

Last year we stepped forward with Vienna EUDC as the first bid applying to council two years in advance of the actual event. In the paper below, I will shortly sum up our experiences with the ‘extra year’ of preparation in order to facilitate future discussion. Before that, two things need to be clarified:

1)      Vienna would have not even considered bidding for EUDC if there was only one year preparation time. We would have simply been unable to find hotels if we wanted them to be close to the campus.

2)      This article assess the situation of Vienna EUDC in the midst of the organising process. Certain things are still subject to change within the upcoming year.

The Benefits of the Two Years

The first and most obvious benefit from a current point of view is definitely the early booking of accommodation. Not only did we have a great bargaining power towards the hotels as we were still very flexible to switch to competitors, but also the fact that the contracts could be signed early eliminated contingencies in our budget. We know by now that hotels tend to charge a surplus for conventions compared to individual bookings because they know conventions are seldom flexible in terms of dates and the location of the accommodation. This is not the case for Vienna EUDC, we are proud to say that we will be able to afford upper three star accommodation in direct proximity of the venue. Thanks to the early signings, this did not change when Austria’s Eurovision Song contest win was announced triggering a 15% hike in accommodation prices for all 2015 beds, as the prices for Vienna EUDC were already fixed.

The second advantage is actually more of a necessity in Vienna. The Viennese universities, especially WU Wien, have been supporting DKWien continuously, yet dealings with the universities in regards to the venues can be lengthy and challenging. Although we have been receiving very positive responses since April 2013 when we started organising, the final sign off arrived via email not earlier than last week. Indeed I do not see how a project like this could happen with less than at least 18 months of preparation on an Austrian university campus.

Thridly, the result on sponsorship is mixed. Our Funding and Sponsorship team definitely managed to open many doors and our database is filled with contacts. However, I do not think the agreements we have by now, do not yet reach the level one would expect considering the massive work input. Most companies simply do not plan their budgets two years in advance, hence it proved to be difficult to access funding early on. We picked up the pace over the summer and some new open doors promise to help us obtain more funding than previous EUDCs. Anyway, we are to receive support from the public, since the early bid allowed us to meet the deadlines for grant applications (some of which are pending at the moment).

My judgement on the organisational spirit and the advancements in tournament planning is positive, albeit there are some surprising challenges. Naturally, two years provide an incredibly long time to plan. Matthias, Roman and Christoph proved that we can use this time wisely, by setting up our IT-System and establishing a project management platform that ensures a perfect overview.

At the same time though the seemingly unlimited time makes it hard to keep the crew engaged. It is challenging to start focussing on a funding application if the due date is unsure or lies almost a year ahead. In addition, most of the planning work lacks a visible benefit, it just strengthens the idea that nothing is going ahead – a desperate thought for those who believe in the project. We experienced these side effects quickly as we started with ambitious weekly meetings. After a few weeks, there were simply not enough news to justify these meetings and they became a bit of a waste of time. As a consequence it became harder to engage DKWien members into the project, as it was hard for them to see the benefit of their contribution at this stage of the project.

Luckily this problem vanishes as soon as more and more tasks need to be filled. The individuals at DKWien are not only very creative, but most and foremost they love being productive (which makes us an awesome crowd indeed, you will see!). Now that a more detailed phase of the organisation kicked in, we are working at capacity and the business makes it easier to reengage all the staff. However, to future conveners I would recommend keeping the organisational staff limited to the number of people that are actually needed during the first 9 months of the first year. There is little sense in preaching productivity if there are rarely fulfilling enough tasks to distribute. Instead, the time of these ambitious debaters should not be wasted, as it will be needed as soon as the project progresses beyond the planning stage.

Fifthly, from a personal side I experienced in the past year that the organisation of a tournament like Vienna EUDC is first and foremost a learning process that involves a lot of stumbling and falling. Personally speaking, there is a certain number of things that should have been done better or more efficiently. I think this is natural as I am a young business graduate who never organised an event like this before and failure is just an essential part of the learning process. However, these hiccups take time and delay the organisation process. This is another reason why I firmly believe that the two year process is superior to the old one-year circle. As long as EUDC is organised by students, which I strongly believe is a good thing, they will have to learn convening on the job. This takes a bit of time and the extra year provides exactly this buffer.

In conclusion, after one year of organisation of Vienna EUDC we accomplished a significant head start compared to the state of organisation we would have had otherwise. The major organisational advancements concern the ability to plan and prepare in a more detailed manner on the one hand and a better position for negotiations with the essential partners on the other hand. In addition, the extra year allows for a learning curve to happen in the convening team, even though it can be hard to engage all members in the early stages of the project.

As a result, I firmly believe bidding two years in advance was a freaking awesome idea.

Ahoi!
Stefan

Posted in Convener's Logbook, Crow's Nest

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