Genesis: place branding and regional development, a case study of Tasmania

Welcome to our BRANDUS project site. We hope you are all safe and healthy in what has been an incredible unusual and challenging few months, marked by a global pandemic. Despite the challenges COVID-19 has brought about, we are very excited about the next three years ahead where we will be exploring citizen participation and place branding for sustainable regional development. My name is Dr Laura Ripoll González and I am a Postdoctoral Researcher at Erasmus University. In this first blog entry, I am to provide you with my five cents about how the BRANDSUS project came about and next steps in our journey. I hope you enjoy and get in touch if you have any feedback! 

It all started with my doctoral dissertation (University of Tasmania, 2017) and pilot project to explore place branding as a governance tool for more inclusive and participatory approaches to sustainable place development. This PhD research project was motivated by scarce research on stakeholder engagement in place branding processes in action, despite scholarly research in place branding and public administration highlighting that hierarchical top-down models aimed exclusively at economic development often serve short-term instrumental purposes that fail to acknowledge the complex and dynamic nature of places. Academics recognized the influence of Web 2.0 technologies in the way places are though of and communicated (their meanings co created) and how a more networked society challenged formal, top-down, business-oriented brand communication in the public sphere. I then set out to research into the place branding process and search for more holistic models of stakeholder engagement that better reflect the communicative process of co-creation of place identities, at the heart of place brands. 

It all started with my doctoral dissertation and pilot project to explore place branding as a governance tool

The study followed a participatory action research methodology that combined interviews with the method of sociological intervention to investigate stakeholder interaction in the processes of developing and managing place brand identities. This innovative participatory, intervention methodology was applied to the case of Tasmania, an island-state and region in the Commonwealth of Australia to study place branding in action. A series of individual interviews were followed by several focus group discussions where participants debated the potential for an alternative approach to branding the state, following an alternative more horizontal and inclusive governance arrangement and scope potential for collective action. The before-and-after research design is aimed at empowering participants to jointly reflect on their practices and communicative interactions, as well as on the potential for collaboration towards sustainable place branding. The findings from participants’ discussions on the alternative network governance approach demonstrated the potential of policy networks as more inclusive, effective, and legitimate governance arrangements to operationalize participatory place branding. A further finding was that the use of the participatory action research and intervention methodology is itself a practical tool to achieve more holistic stakeholder engagement. The research also identified several impediments to the development and operationalization of such a model for enhanced collaboration linked to existing expectations, institutions, and power relations. This research could have never taken place without the altruistic support of all participants that kindly donated their time and shared their knowledge and expertise with me. 

Upon completion of this pilot project, I was left with many questions that needed to be explored further. In addition, I was interested in gaining additional insights by conducting additional research following this research design in other regions across different jurisdictions. Lastly, I identified a gap in research when it comes to rural and regional areas, as scholarly research on place branding mostly focuses on cities, and urban centers often present different contextual and socioeconomic characteristics than regional and rural areas. 

Upon completion of this project, I had the opportunity to develop a European Commission, MSCA Marie Curie grant proposal with a team at Erasmus University, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Department of Public Administration and Sociology to continue this work in the form of a comparative study. Together with Prof. Erik Hans Klijn and Prof. Jasper Eshuis, we successfully obtain funding from the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation program to conduct the next iteration of the project.

Now, a little bit on BRANDSUS.

Adolescence: Why does all this matter? 

The multidisciplinary BRANDSUS research project draws from the fields of public administration, sustainable development and place branding among others and will further develop this innovative methodology by combining qualitative (action research and sociological intervention) and quantitative (survey) research methods contributing to research into action intervention methodologies to study citizen-led governance models. Our findings will inform the development of innovative and inclusive governance models for sustainable place development. 

BRANDSUS will develop a participatory intervention methodology for place branding as a practical tool to facilitate stakeholder engagement towards sustainable place development, including economic, social and environmental sustainability. The practical application of the proposed methodology will thus support place development and economic growth while ensuring social and environmental sustainability. The project contributes to societal development by providing the governance framework for stakeholders to collectively enact positive change.

The methodology developed in this project will support a holistic approach to place development that contributes to effective policy making for sustainability and enhances stakeholder collaboration towards a common vision and fostered shared knowledge and resources following the goals of the European Union and Agenda2030 for sustainability.

Our project compares three Local Action Groups located in rural and regional regions across three countries (Australia, Netherlands and Spain) to further knowledge into the administrative, contextual, cultural and socio-economic differences in the application of the methodology. In the European Union, 2600 LAGs, covering over 54% of the rural population, bringing together public, private and civil-society stakeholders are charged with implementing LEADER. We are in the process of selecting LAGs that operate in comparable regions and share several important aspects: regional areas constituted away from coastal areas and main urban city centres; characterized by strong natural environment values and a strong agricultural tradition; facing similar challenges to development (i.e depopulation).

We look forward to bringing you our updates in the development of this project. Do not hesitate to get in touch should you wish to know more or have any questions.

The BRANDSUS team.

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