Aug 18, 2021 | by Karen Elson

Learning legacy – applying lessons from the 2012 Olympics to major projects

In this blog, Karen Elson at Co.Cre8 Ltd talks about how the learning legacy from the 2012 Olympics has been turned into a methodology and applied across other major projects as a structured approach to sharing knowledge across industry.


And so the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games has drawn to a close with an enthralling few weeks of spectacular sporting events and the Paralympics next to look forward to. Seeing all the empty stadia makes me reflect on the fact that hosting an Olympics is greater than just the Games. At London 2012, we approached the building of the Olympic Park as a sustainable regeneration project in East London which was rented out for a period to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games to host a spectacular London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games event.  

However, the legacy extends beyond even this. The construction of the Olympic Park set new standards in terms of major projects delivery – on time and on budget and exceeding industry benchmarks for health and safety performance, equality, inclusion, employment and skills and sustainability. For me however, the legacy taken forward from the Olympics is the Learning Legacy.

Learning Legacy framework

I worked for the Olympic Delivery Authority from 2007 to 2011 as a Programme Assurance Executive which included responsibility for project close out and lessons learned. Due to the high profile and success of the project we were being inundated with requests to share learning and good practice from across industry and for research by academia.  

The Learning Legacy framework was set up as a response to this, to provide a structured approach to the capture of learning, good practice and innovation from a major project aimed at raising the bar in industry. Working across the organisation and supply chain, we captured over 600 learning legacy resources which we shared online and in a range of industry journals and publications. Working with industry partners we also disseminated the learning through an ambassador programme which enabled the speakers to share their learning at events hosted by industry. The owner of the London 2012 learning legacy is now the Major Projects Association.

We also supported a number of academic research projects to capture the lessons and successes on subjects such as health and safety, programme management and environment which were published in high quality academic journals with plain English summaries for industry professionals. These papers are still useful today and have been used in benchmarking on the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal programme.

The real impact from the London 2012 Learning Legacy is the methodology that was created and subsequently applied by future projects and programmes as a structured approach to sharing knowledge across industry and as a showcase for UK PLC. Learning Legacy has become an industry standard.

Applying the learning

In 2014 the Crossrail Learning Legacy was set up, and we published the first set of content in 2016 whilst the project was still in construction (as opposed to the end of construction for London 2012). We were really pleased to see that the Thameslink London Bridge programme also published their own learning legacy using the methodology. I have also set up the HS2 Learning Legacy which will go live in October 2021. It’s brilliant to see that HS2 is proactively seeking to share their learning so early in the project cycle which means that learning from project initiation, early works and procurement (usually long gone by the time learning legacy is set up) can be captured for future projects and programmes.

Next steps  

The Learning Legacy continues to evolve and improve. I am seeing a real step change in people’s appetite to share their knowledge, in particular by the supply chain. Another key shift is that the focus for learning legacy is moving from just one way sharing to reciprocal sharing. This structured approach to facilitating the flow of knowledge between major projects has huge potential to improve project performance and improve productivity across the construction sector and wider industry.

Tokyo 2020 is hosting a brilliant sporting event in very difficult circumstances. But the Games is only part of the story, the legacy – if anything like London 2012 – will last for years to come.

For more detail on how the London 2012 learning legacy was set up read: A Learning Legacy from the London 2012 Construction Programme and the subsequent outcomes analysis: Do Learning Legacies Work? The learning legacy survey says they do!

Ruth Hollis, Chief Executive of Spirit of 2012 talks here about the importance of their legacy work: 

Spirit of 2012 has spent the last eight years funding projects and research that aim to keep that spirit of pride and optimism we saw in the London 2012 Games alive through future events for people and their communities. All the work we fund has learning at its heart – building on previous learning and seeking to examine existing evidence gaps so that we can build on the evidence base. We don’t want to just know whether something was successful but explore the how, the why and for whom it was successful, who and why it wasn’t as successful and how we can make changes – big and small – to really understand what works. This evidence is being used by major event organisers and people wanting to engage others in more locally-focussed events and participatory activities. It also focuses on the impact for people and the communities they live, work and play in. 

As we approach the ten-year anniversary of the London 2012 Games, we want to see government, event organisers and funders commit to long-term evaluation of the legacy of major events both in terms of how to deliver a successful project and the long-term impact of the investment on the wellbeing and connectedness of people and communities.” 

Further reading

Look at our guidance on using case studies to tell your project’s story and show its impact

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Further reading

Look at our guidance on using case studies to tell your project’s story and show its impact

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