Economic Development News & Insight

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Boston World Partnerships (BWP) was a marketing agency set up as a private-public partnership funded by the City of Boston and Proctor and Gamble (the parent of Boston’s Gillette). The agency had a novel design: it asked its volunteers, called ‘Connectors’, to be more than simply ambassadors for the city.  In Part I, I discussed my research (University of Waterloo major research paper) into BWP’s design- the ways the Connectors were asked to combat the city’s reputation for elitism, mistrust, and hostility to outsiders, by leveraging their social capital (business connections) for the benefit of the entrepreneurs they encountered. Now, I turn to the lessons learned from the operation of this innovative marketing and development strategy. What can we learn from the way BWP operated?

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BWP forwarded a lead to the city’s development agency that resulted in hundreds of jobs staying in Boston.

Connectors can be a source of information. Connectors were able to forward some big leads to BWP- for example, they learned that a medium-size software company was planning to lead the city, allowing other development agencies to step in and retain the company.

Traditional metrics aren’t always effective. If the goal is to create an atmosphere of generation and trust, metrics like job creation aren’t always going to be appropriate.

However, it can be difficult to measure intangible outcomes such as trust.  Instead, measure a range of outcomes. BWP measured its impact through social media analytics and events attendance.  But new metrics need to be created to show the effectiveness of this program.

Design around evaluation. BWP struggled to measure its success. A successful ambassador organization needs to be designed around a range of metrics that together demonstrate effectiveness.

Keep your mission focused. BWP struggled because stakeholders were constantly adding new expectations to this little marketing startup.

Identify sustainable funding. Ambassadors networks have many spinoff benefits, but they need ongoing funding from government or civic organizations.  This funding needs to be present from the get-go. Your ambassadors may have additional competencies and so the network may be able to partially finance itself. BWP tried a number of models, from events management to consulting, which could in the long-term allow such an agency to generate some revenue.

As it turned out, BWP wasn’t able to navigate these challenges effectively, and it ended up closing in 2012.  Because the dual needs of marketing cities and improving

business climate aren’t going to go away anytime soon, it is likely that Boston and many other cities will continue to experiment with relationship building, professional networking and social media as potent tools for development.  If BWP showed the way of how cities might use ambassador programs as robust tools of development, what programs might already be incubating that offer both BWP’s promising design and solutions to the operational challenges it faced?

 

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Joshua Hurwitz completed Waterloo’s Local Economic Development program under the supervision of Dr. Tara Vinodrai. Toronto-based, Joshua’s research interests include urban planning, education theory, and infrastructure economics.