Best Citizen Engagement Winner 2015

Emma Roche Emma Roche Reporter, Debtwire

Interview with Joanna Murphy, CEO, ConnectIreland, & Winner of the City Nation Place Award for Best Citizen Engagement in 2015.

CNP: “Citizen Engagement” is a phrase that covers quite a range of activities as part of a place branding strategy.  For ConnectIreland, what are the objectives of effective citizen engagement?

JM: ConnectIreland is, in effect, an incentivised referral scheme. Through introductions from members of the public and the Irish global community, we work with expanding international companies to encourage them to locate their business operations in Ireland in partnership with IDA Ireland. As such, citizen engagement is a key priority for us in our strategy and the objective of such engagement is ultimately job creation.

CNP: How important is it for ConnectIreland that the return on investment in citizen engagement is measurable?

JM: We are tasked with job creation and converting introductions into successfully established operations throughout Ireland with the final measure being the number of projects established and jobs created. However, the percentage of our network of connectors that introduce companies which successfully establish in Ireland when compared to the appetite for the programme is disproportionate and therefore citizen engagement is also measured in other ways – such as creating awareness, sharing the message, brand recognition and positive engagement. This softer measure is also hugely important as we continue to build our database into a working global network.

CNP: What lessons have you learned since the launch of ConnectIreland – what has not gone so well?  

JM: Initially when ConnectIreland was established the concept was so new and so unique that it took time for people to properly understand it. We have had to work hard to distil our message into something that is short and understandable and even now it’s something we are constantly working to improve upon. 

CNP: What are the more positive learnings with regards to the effective engagement of citizens that you would suggest are transferrable to other place brand strategies with differing objectives?

JM: A targeted, specific approach to engagement and a clear understanding of your offering is key. In order to effectively engage with your audience you must have a keen understanding of who that audience is. It is important to have a message that can be owned by the citizens. We have found that by creating a model that relies on the active engagement of our audience, people are more invested in the programme as they feel a certain ownership of it.  It’s about language and creating a commonality of purpose that citizens can engage with and makes them feel good.

CNP: Which channels of communication have worked best for Connect Ireland in terms of engaging with citizens?

JM: Our presence in Dublin Airport has been incredibly successful in terms of connector registrations. We have found that a personable approach with face-to-face contact allows people more of an opportunity to interact and engage. To this end we have also developed the Community Action Plan, one strand of a face-to-face strategy that involves meetings, events, gatherings and community participation which has proven successful. Our online presence has also proven hugely successful in terms of interaction and engagement with our target audience.

CNP: How do you maintain the momentum – given that the ConnectIreland strategy was born from a time of financial crisis for the Irish economy, what strategies are you pursuing to keep citizens engaged to continue pushing for investment?

JM: When ConnectIreland began, Ireland was in the depths of a very difficult recession, many people had emigrated, and continued to emigrate. It was a difficult environment but one which spurred people to get involved, be part of something and help do something constructive. Now Ireland is on the other side of that and our economy is continuing to grow. As a result our messaging and focus has shifted. Ireland is in a more positive space now and our focus is no longer purely on job creation, but on returning people to Ireland, building a shared community worldwide and developing alternative investment opportunities.

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.