Juggling multiple events

With more than 6,000 attendees, the massive 6th IUCN World Parks Congress brings together the world’s most influential people involved in protected area management. By S Puvaneswary

Event brief

Pitched after the preceding edition that was held in South Africa in 2003, the 6th IUCN World Parks Congress had a long 11-year lead time. Peter Cochrane, ambassador of the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress and former head of Parks Australia, was instrumental in securing the meeting in Sydney.

Conducted last November, the objectives of the meeting were to set the agenda on global nature conservation for the next 10 years through an initiative called the Promise of Sydney. The congress took stock of the challenges faced by people concerned with environmental conservation and explored how leaders from every corner of the world were finding and implementing solutions to a range of challenges, from climate change to economic recessions.


Home to 400 native plants and 200 native animal species, the 640ha Sydney Olympic Park located west of the CBD was considered the perfect destination for the congress.

The opening ceremony, welcome function, exhibition, plenaries and meetings all took place at Sydney Showground and its large number of indoor and outdoor spaces.

The challenge was in harnessing the facilities at Sydney Olympic Park, which were not specifically designed for hosting international conferences.

“We needed lots of small spaces for the many break-out sessions planned,” said Bryan Holliday, managing director at ICMS Australasia, the PCO company that was hired to run the congress.

He noted other challenges were in coordinating the smooth delivery of the activity-packed programme, which featured world leader dialogues, more than 300 stream
sessions, 240 satellite events and 100 exhibitor-led showcase events in total.

As events were happening at 20 different locations, getting food served at the same time in these different locations was also a challenge, if not for proper coordination.


Vast exhibition halls at the Sydney Olympic Park were divided into four separate areas with a wide aisle between them and these areas were used for the break-out sessions.

Acoustic drapes were used to minimise the cross-spill of noise and the PA systems were positioned from the centre pointing to the outside, like the spokes of a wheel, which meant that the sound could only be heard in the appropriate space.

To make delegates comfortable, hay bales for seats were casually spread around The Dome, as were picnic tables, while wait staff refreshed glasses and served up tasty morsels.

Holliday said: “In coordinating a smooth delivery of a complex programme, clear communication with stakeholders was vital. We developed a mobile app specifically for this programme which informed delegates of the location of events and programme changes.

“Each member of staff had a specific responsibility for certain aspects of the event. They were responsible for their section and were empowered to make decisions on the spot.”

ICMS assisted Sydney Olympic Park with a system flow to ensure that food was delivered to the different venues at the same time, with many part-time staff hired to ensure food delivery.

Key takeaways

The week-long event saw a doubling of delegate numbers compared to the 2003 Congress. Congress director, Trevor Sandwith, attributed this to Sydney’s global appeal combined with a progressive programme.

As delegates hailed from more than 170 countries with different levels of English proficiency, the organisers had 100 rostered volunteers from 20 countries at the event to help with interpretations and assistance.

Holliday said empowering staff to think on their feet and make quick decisions helped ensure the event ran smoothly.

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