City Nation Place Global Forum - Citizen Engagement

City Nation Place Global Forum - Citizen Engagement

As we count down to 2017, we’re reflecting on the key insights and actions that emerged from the second City Nation Place Global Forum. What concrete difference can these make to the strategies of Place Brand Leaders as you plan the year ahead? This is the first of a series of short posts.

As we count down to 2017, Claire Farrow, who curates the agenda for the City Nation Place Global conference, reflects on the key insights and actions that emerged from the second City Nation Place Global Forum. What concrete difference can these make to the strategies of Place Brand Leaders as you plan the year ahead? This is the first of a series of short posts.

The key role of citizen engagement:

As part of their illuminating opening keynote, Fred Dixon, CEO, NYC & Co. and Frans van der Avert, CEO, Amsterdam Marketing, highlighted how, by engaging local residents and encouraging them to share their city discoveries, the #SeeYourCity and I Amsterdam campaigns have helped turn citizens, feeling perhaps at times disconnected from their city, into place brand ambassadors and champions.

City Nation Place provides a unique opportunity for the cross-pollination of ideas, so I wondered how Amsterdam and New York City’s experiences can be applied by other place brand leaders, in different parts of the world, grappling with the challenges of citizen engagement.

Natasha Grand is director of INSTID (Institute for Identity). Her recent work includes Visit Tatarstan’s place brand strategy and identity. The Republic of Tatarstan is part of the Russian Federation. Natasha believes that “campaigns like #SeeYourCity are certainly useful in generating locals' interest in the place, and they are easily replicable”. However, she pointed out “they are the first, rather than the last frontier in citizen engagement”.

"It is important not to work against changes in society, but instead identify them, evaluate our methods and identify how we can ally them to our strategy"

Using social media to engage citizens is not new. In 2011, Sweden was the first country in the world to hand over its official Twitter account to its citizens. The project, Curators of Sweden, which uses the Twitter handle @sweden, is an initiative of the Swedish Institute and Visit Sweden. Sofia Bard of the Swedish Institute attended City Nation Place. She fed back that Frans and Fred’s presentation had many interesting takeaways, and stressed that citizen engagement is relevant for the branding of nations as well as cities.  Sofia explained that “Curators of Sweden illustrates Sweden is the sum of different individuals and their ideas, competences and experiences”.

I asked Sofia how the Swedish Institute is approaching citizen engagement when it comes to supporting and evolving Sweden’s place brand strategy, taking into account @sweden has recently encountered some trolling? Sofia explained that in a sense it’s all about being in tune with the rest of the world and connecting this to the idea of your brand. By evaluating their methods and going back to their core values, Sofia clarified “we conclude that Curators of Sweden might be more relevant than ever - by defending free speech and emphasizing the importance of openness - although yes, we had to make a few changes in order to protect our curators”.

In essence Sofia summarized “it is important not to work against changes in society, but instead identify them, evaluate our methods and identify how we can ally them to our strategy”.  This approach has resulted in ideas such as the Sharewear concept, which is part of the Democreativity initiative. Sharewear taps into the trend for sharing rather than owning and promotes Swedish fashion through a shared wardrobe.

"The most interesting developments, to me, are the ones that enable participatory decision-making for places"

I also reached out to Jeannette Hanna for her opinion. Jeannette, author and founder of the brand strategy consultancy Trajectory, based in Toronto, is an expert in building citizen engagement into the development of place brand strategy.

Jeannette believes the I Amsterdam and #SeeYourCity form of citizen engagement could certainly work for other place brands at different levels of maturity, but stresses that “the hashtag-driven social media campaign is just one approach”. She added “there are lots of other approaches that can engage broader demographics and be intentionally more inclusive” and “the most interesting developments, to me, are the ones that enable participatory decision-making for places”. 

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Jeannette  shared some fascinating examples of citizen engagement:

Gaziantep,Turkey: The 10,000 year old city of 1.5 M people near the Syrian Border, dealing with an influx of 300K refugees, is also facing the challenge of how to protect its historic culture and plan for the future. In addition to qualitative interviews with key stakeholders the place branding team wanted to get "next generation" voices about what the future of the city should be like. They asked 200 school children and teachers to paint the Gaziantep of their dreams. Clear themes emerged that mirrored the stakeholder concerns: Preserving culture and heritage, Parks and green spaces, role of women, balancing celebrating life vs. work ethic.

Medellín, Columbia: MiMedellín allows citizens to share solutions for urban problems; more than 2,300 ideas have already been posted.

Iceland: “Better Reykjavik” is a platform used by over 60% of citizens. The City Council has invested €1.9 million to develop over 200 projects based on ideas suggested by the community.

Paris, France: The participatory budgeting process called ‘Madame Mayor, I have an idea’ has led to a €2 million investment in 41 vertical garden projects 

To dig deeper, into what's possible for place brand leaders, Jeannette suggests checking out some interesting citizen engagement tools:

https://neighborland.com
Metroquest.com
MySidewalk.com

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Given the surprises of 2016, not least Brexit in Europe and the outcome of the US election, 2017 looks set to be a year when citizen engagement could be more important than ever. 
If you have other examples of effective citizen engagement, or challenges to share, I’d love to hear about them. Contact me at cfarrow@citynationplace.com

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