Going Hybrid: Biennale of Luanda 2021 Lessons Learned (Part 1)

Biennale of Luanda 2021

As the Covid-19 pandemic continued to affect special events worldwide, the second edition of the Biennale of Luanda (November 27th-30th 2021) was held in an innovative hybrid format, mixing livestreamed, in-person, virtual and pre-recorded sessions. From the thematic forums and partnership sessions to the official ceremonies and the Festival of Cultures, the 4-day Biennale was designed to bridge the digital gap, reach and engage new audiences.

Organising such a big scale event like the Biennale has taught us that having inspiring content with a clear programme accompanied by a sound communication strategy is key to cut through the noise!

With a scalable format, broader audience and enhanced interactivity, going hybrid offers a unique opportunity to expand an event’s outreach and use this an opportunity to innovate.

Biennale of Luanda 2021
Biennale of Luanda 2021
Biennale of Luanda 2021
Biennale of Luanda 2021
Biennale of Luanda 2021

Enzo Fazzino, former International Coordinator Biennale of Luanda, UNESCO, explains “Our main concern when planning this edition and adapting to this totally new way of delivering a large-scale event was to guarantee accessibility to everyone interested in participating in our effort to create a Pan-African movement for the Culture of Peace.

Jointly organized by UNESCO, the African Union, and the Government of Angola, the Biennale mixed in-person events held in Luanda, Angola, with live and pre-recorded virtual sessions broadcasted across the globe. Combining all these segments required a great planning effort, technical support and preparatory workshops for speakers, moderators and chairs of sessions to use this opportunity to innovate to its fullest. The Festival of Cultures, a hugely popular feature of the in-person Biennale of Luanda 2019, was also organized with both live and online events.

We found that the Festival of Cultures in the first edition of the Biennale of Luanda was absolutely mesmerising. The challenge became how the in-person experience could translate to something just as compelling online.
Kathleen Newlove International Event Manager

As a result of the engagement strategy, over 20 personalities and artists from Africa and the diaspora took part in the Festival. Cultural activities (exhibitions, film festivals and art performances) were organized in Luanda, Angola throughout October and November 2021 by several embassies and 44 countries created virtual pavilions to offer cultural content on the Biennale’s virtual platform. With this innovative format, the 2021 Festival of Cultures had a broader impact, giving the opportunity to an extended audience to celebrate the cultural diversity of Africa and promoting interaction between cultures, artists and the public.

The Biennale of Luanda 2021 was highly attended online and in presence, here are some lessons learned to help you stay relevant, build a strong event strategy, and engage your audience:

  • Think first about the content you want to deliver to the different audiences and build your programme around that, keeping it simple and accessible.
  • Put the purpose of your initiative at the core of your strategy and take time to analyse your target audiences, their habits and the key take-aways that you want for them.
  • Link the event strategy with a strong and sound communication strategy.
  • Remember that not everything needs to go live and be virtual - choose carefully which sessions are worth livestreaming.
  • The digital divide is real and must be considered when crafting the overall event strategy to make sure the right platforms and media are selected.
  • Choose your venues carefully - do thorough technical checks so that you understand what it is feasible and what it is not.
  • Set realistic goals and stay flexible. Event management is still about planning for the unexpected, even more so when hybrid. Always have a plan B and C.
  • Surround yourself with professional staff who understand what you are trying to achieve and who can support to the best of their capacity.
  • Monitor audience response to understand what has worked and what has not
  • Finally, plan your budget and resources carefully and be aware that going hybrid means providing two platforms (in-person and virtual). This brings greater organisational overheads and often greater costs than purely in-person. However, these can be offset by greater audience, larger impact and greener events.

Working on this edition of the Biennale has shown us that no matter how challenging the context, this new generation of events is opening up the path to exciting ways of bringing events to new audiences with just the right amount of innovation, flexibility, purpose and sustainability.

Coraline Bardinat
International Event Manager of the Biennale of Luanda 2021 & Founder of Ellipse Communications
Grazia Piras
UNESCO International Coordinator of the Biennale of Luanda 2022-23