by Ken Gibb

In a few days Glasgow will host its first mega event. The preparations, the visitors and the symbols of the Commonwealth Games are inescapable throughout the city. Even where I live in Lanarkshire, the triathlon is taking place in Strathclyde Park and I’ll be able to walk to the event.

Since the announcement that Glasgow had won 2014 more than six years ago, with academic colleagues we have been debating the Games, the notion of legacy and the pros and cons of committing to such a massive project. It will cost more than £560 million, not counting the disruption and other unaccounted for real costs, and many have argued that this is a high price to pay for what is predominantly a sporting festival. Critics point to the previous evidence of other sports and cultural events, which found little evidence of long-term benefits. Others argue that these mega events represent neo-liberal responses to urban decline and post-industrial regeneration through sport and cultural tourism attached to more or less city boosterism. Contrary to the position stressed by the organising hosts, critics argue that far from being inclusive, they are examples of and reasons why local people lose out when events like the Games are imposed on them.

The response to this from those more favourably disposed or at least willing to test the proposition is multi-faceted. First, the external bodies awarding future games require credible legacy pledges. So, if you are going to bid, there will necessarily be clams being made. Expectations of legacy have also steadily risen with each round of bidding. Are they realistic and have they been modified in the light of the experience of preparing for Glasgow 2014? Second, unlike previous events, Glasgow is different because it has since the awarding of the 2014 Games been planning for legacy, developing a multi-level evaluation framework for the different dimensions of legacy and involving extensive independent research testing both the Government’s and the council’s legacy frameworks. Third, legacy happens after the Games and analysis and measurement will go on for 5-7 years after the event is over. But the evaluation commitment will need to be sustained if these lessons are to be learned.

These are all lessons learnt from previous games in places like Barcelona, Manchester and London. Glasgow is another step on that journey and the 2014 Games is a different stage on the city’s long term regeneration which offer the possibility of impacting positively on that process. But to be clear, these are all propositions to be tested, and, moreover, the multiple nature of the legacy goals (e.g. economic growth, environmental sustainability, inclusiveness, international connectedness, etc.) may well come into conflict with each other and not simply be additive.

As part of my policy knowledge exchange work we have established a new legacy research network which we hope will bring cities and academics together to discuss sharing knowledge and learning about what works and what does not from sporting and cultural events around the world (and also provide a space for robust critical analysis). Initially, we are looking at Glasgow 2014 and we seek to clearly situate legacy in terms of Glasgow and its regional regeneration/development. We are working with the City, its cultural and sport agency Glasgow Life, and representatives of the three Universities in the city. Our first activity was to hold a panel session last week asking what is legacy, what can it mean for Glasgow and what lessons can we draw about its evaluation? We plan to hold an inaugural international conference in Glasgow in the middle of October 2015.

The panel session involved contributions from Bridget McConnell (Director of Glasgow Life), my colleague Ade Kearns (who leads the Go Well programme and the east end community evaluation of 2014 legacy) and Robert Rogerson (Strathclyde University) who for three years has been funded to examine legacy in an innovative partnership involving the same partners who are involved in our legacy network. The main points that struck me from the debate were the following:

  1. The evaluation of the legacy will be complex (to put it mildly). Isolating cause and effect and capturing the independent effects of Games-related activities that are genuinely additional, to point to just two issues – will be methodologically challenging in the extreme.
  2. The panel were clear that there would be no simple answers confirming or denying lasting legacy effects. As Ade Kearns pointed out, almost any element of the games project investments can be viewed in positive and in negative terms depending on perspective and context. Moreover, the idea that legacy impacts will follow in an emulative way always runs the risk of depending on how the individuals concern choose to respond. Interventions cannot make people be more active, for instance, if they have other countervailing incentives that trump the intervention.
  3. A novel feature of the 2014 model is early access to community facilities for local people. This has been successful and is likely to help sustain the facilities investment (as well as make wider local provision available).
  4. Ade Kearns also argued that broader regeneration initiatives (in public health and in physical infrastructure via the M74 motorway extension and Clyde Gateway business space investment) would inevitably overwhelm the independent effects of 2014. But that does not mean that legacy’s complementarity to the bigger regeneration programme is not worthwhile.
  5. It was also pointed out that the opportunity cost figure is not straightforward because some of the big investments represent the acceleration of investments that were planned but were able to be brought forward and done so together for 2014. For instance, the national sport centre was accelerated while the adjacent velodrome was completely new.
  6. The hosting of 2014, assuming it is successful, also places Glasgow in a more competitive position to draw benefits from future bidding for sports and cultural events to the benefit of the city and region. In 2015, for instance, Glasgow will host the World Gymnastics. Will the city develop a capacity to build on this success, how do we assess the returns on such a direction taken strategically, and, who stands to benefit from it?
  7. Finally, Glasgow city council has recognised the partnership working benefits of delivering a huge project like 2014. They are keen to not lose these process benefits when normal service is resumed and they are therefore looking at how to mainstream them into everyday council activities.

Like the study of area regeneration, research and evaluation in this field is remarkably difficult and challenging, which makes it so interesting and this is precisely why knowledge exchange and opportunities to work with other cities including to challenge legacy ideas and beliefs – is something that seems really worth doing. You can find out more about the legacy research network at the Policy Scotland website (http://policyscotland.gla.ac.uk).

First things first – there are events to deliver and sport to enjoy. We’ll talk more after the festival is over.