Platforms, networks, communities - what difference do events make?
Events are multidimensional tools. They can be used to celebrate, negotiate, highlight, frame and promote a wide range of content, from culture to sports to technology and business. But the terminology surrounding these functions of events is unclear. Take platforms and networks, for example. These two terms are liberally used in event studies and urban studies, often to refer to the same phenomena. In their enlightening study, Fernández de Losada and Abdullah describe how cities use platforms and networks to position themselves and claim a place on the global stage. However, no distinction is made between the two terms.
In the introduction to a new collection of papers on events, David Jarman and I attempt to put an end to the platform/network confusion. In our view, networks are systems of actors or nodes connected by flows of information and resources, which can provide moments and spaces for events to occur, as well as ordering the hierarchy of events. A platform, on the other had, serves to frame and highlight connections and flows in the network. Platforms combine three basic qualities: a flat surface that enables movement and interaction, the quality of being raised in relation to other surfaces, and the potential to programme and create new content or structures. As I highlighted in my contribution on the role of networks and platforms in place development, networks serve to connect places to flows of resources, whereas platforms focus attention on particular parts of the network.
Processes of value creation in networks and platforms (Richards, 2020)
This approach to the synergies between platforms and networks provides a novel perspective on the idea of Field Configuring Events. As defined by Joseph Lampel and Alan D. Meyer, Field-Configuring Events (FCEs) are "temporary social organizations such as tradeshows,professional gatherings, technology contests, and business ceremonies that shape the development of professions, technologies, markets, and industries." This concept has been widely applied to the study of change in global and organizational fields, but less attention has been paid to the synergies between events as platforms providing attention for the agenda of networks, and the functioning of networks to support events.
If we separate the functions of platforms and networks, it becomes clearer how these elements interact in events to produce value. Platforms serve primarily to focus attention and resources in particular (physical or virtual) locations, while networks help to create and channel flows of information that can also create "network value" for members of the network. Events provide platforms for the network to manifest itself, and a mechanism for highlighting particular actors, issues and places. By marking out significant moments in the life of the network, events also become agents for change, with agendas being presented and developed through successive events. This process is evident in global fora such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which generated the Paris Agreement on climate change, but also at a smaller scale in the development of trade associations or organisations.
To understand how events play a role in developing and transforming agendas and stimulating action, we arguably need to consider both their platform and network functions. Without the network, the glare of attention created by the event platform soon fades. Without platforms, events struggle to create value and a sense of belonging for participants. Many of the papers in the special issue of Event Management deal with these tensions, such as the role of the Royal Show in providing a platform for the agricultural community in Wales, or the role of WeChat networks in driving music festival attendance in China. This publication represents one further step in the network approach to the study of events pioneered by the ATLAS Events Group, which had its first 'field configuring event' at Breda University of Applied Sciences in 2011.