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The Higher ED Blog: Building a new tool to educate people on what economic developers actually do

Michael Pealow / November 6, 2017

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The Higher ED Blog: Building a new tool to educate people on what economic developers actually do

Being in economic development, it can be a challenge when your employer doesn’t understand the role that economic developers play, or what value they bring to their community. It gets even harder given the wide range of work that economic development professionals engage in, from investment attraction, to business retention and expansion, to entrepreneurship support and financing, cluster development, revitalization initiatives, labour force development, and more.

And if elected officials don’t understand your job, how much harder would it be for them to recognize the crucial role they themselves play in creating an environment of success, so you can do what you do best?

A Need for Education

I recognized a clear need to educate elected officials about economic development, the role that they play in economic development, and the value that economic development professionals can provide to the community. The right tool had to be available for EDOs to educate new councils or to help councils, boards, or committees who are about to engage in strategic economic development planning. We need everyone involved in economic development to have a shared understanding of what it is and their role in the planning and implementation process.

We asked around 20 elected officials and economic development professionals what they thought about this. They agreed that the right tool would be:

  1. Accessible (easy to use and easy to access)
  2. Engaging
  3. Relevant, and
  4. Respectful of the limited time and finances that elected officials have.

 

After considering a number of options, including: articles (academic and otherwise), a book, guidebooks/workbooks, and workshops (in-person, app-based, and online), we went for an animated video fewer than ten minutes in length.  The animated format had been previously suggested by the EDAC Year 3 cohort in 2013. Provided online, the video can be accessed by any economic development professional or elected official to educate interested elected officials, boards, or committees with an interest in economic development.

We landed on an animated video of under ten minutes, and took a few years to research options.  Conventional animation tools had a steep price tag, and needed considerable financial support, but thankfully, the LDAY Centre for Learning contributed the use of its license for the online animation system, GoAnimate.  We wrote and refined a script, which was then narrated by singer/songwriter Fawn Fritzen, and I animated the video over a five month period.  We then tested it on approximately 25 economic developers and non-economic developers for their overall perception of the video, engagement with the content, and understanding of the material presented.  The Economic Developers Association of Canada and the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers graciously allowed their contact information to be included at the end of the video for viewers interested in learning more about economic development and certification in economic development.

Video Content: Teaching Economic Development as an Organic System

As a profession, economic development has evolved considerably since its early days of focusing on industrial attraction and development.  The scope of economic development has expanded to include business development, infrastructure development, labour force development, and more.  Because of this wide and complex scope, economic developers may engage in the profession in a nearly unlimited number of ways depending on the needs of their government or organization.  As such, it can be difficult to teach how those many aspects of economic development interact and contribute to each other.  This is because economic development is much more than a range of functions, and it also is practiced within an ever-changing economic system.

In order to depict this in a way that anyone could understand, the video uses a tree analogy to demonstrate how key components of an economic system interact and support each other. This came in part from my personal need to understand how the many aspects of economic development interact with each other, a need to understand the role of an economic developer in communities where conventional approaches to economic development do not apply (ex. investment attraction in remote, northern communities), a need to prioritize and focus on which economic development initiatives to pursue, and a need to clarify which roles the many interested parties play in creating a successful environment for economic development.

Since its development, the tree model has been used and refined for over a decade to teach economic developers and elected officials alike about economic development and the roles that different parties have within the economic development ecosystem.  The model has enough flexibility that it can be applied in the smallest of communities or at a national level, in western-style economies, or in indigenous communities and nations.  Most importantly, the model allows the users to ask important questions about economic development objectives and the underlying reasons for those objectives.

Using the Video

While the author retains all rights, the video is available at no charge to all economic developers and organizations wishing to educate others about economic development and the role that elected officials and economic developers play in creating an environment for economic development success.  The video can be accessed at: https://youtu.be/7JliZZliZpU.

 

About the author

Michael Pealow was exposed to the north, from Alaska to Nunavut, at an early age and fell in love with the north and its people.  Pursuing that love, he relocated to Fort Liard in the Northwest Territories in January 2002, employed as the Economic Development Officer for Fort Liard, Trout Lake, and Nahanni Butte.  In that position, he worked closely with communities and entrepreneurs, and thoroughly enjoyed helping them become self-sufficient.

Relocating to Whitehorse in August 2005, he spent a short time as the Acting Senior Business Development Advisor – Renewable Resources for the Government of Yukon before previous clients asked him to contract his services to them.  Pealow left Government of Yukon in June 2006 to establish a business and economic development consulting company.  Since then, the company has grown, taking on a wider variety of economic and business development-related projects ranging from community economic development strategies to impact and benefit agreement negotiations for self-governing First Nations. In 2016, he expanded his practice and now works primarily as a social innovation consultant and facilitator.

About the series

Higher ED: Insights for the Next Economy is a platform for students, guest speakers, staff and faculty of the University of Waterloo’s professional and graduate economic development programs to share knowledge with the field at large. The series takes works destined for an academic audience and reworks them into a fresh, easy-to-digest blog article.

Established in 1987, the Master of Economic Development and Innovation (MEDI) is one of the only graduate programs in Canada focused exclusively on economic development. Students learn economic development theory and practice, and are exposed to leading edge knowledge, tools, and approaches to address contemporary challenges in cities and communities across Canada and internationally.

The Economic Development Program is a nationally-accredited provider of professional training. It delivers certification programs and seminars that offer a deep understanding of the Canadian context in a convenient block format. Peer learning is combined with informative lectures and practical case studies to provide dynamic instruction that is beneficial for junior and senior-level practitioners.

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