3rd IPM Place Management and Branding Conference, Poznan University of Economics, 6th -8th May 2015

The 3rd Institute of Place Management Conference took place this week at Poznań University of Economics (Faculty of Management) on the 6th-8th May 2015 in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, Poznań University of Economics and Stockholm University (Stockholm Programme of Place Branding). 

The title of the conference was “Sustainability, liveability and connectivity” and the three main themes of the conference were place branding, place management and the influence of global trends on places.  Chaired by Dr hab. Magdalena Florek, SFIPM, the conference was an opportunity for academics and practitioners to explore how theory and practice dealt with the conflicting pressures of global forces and sustainability (profit, planet, people) – all within the context of increased connectivity – real and virtual. 

Having a call for papers helps us make links between different conceptual and methodological inquiries - and it helps establish the 'so what' - or, in other words, the collective impact of our efforts.  As Dr Massimo Giovanardi noted in his reflections on the third day, the conference was hard proof that we had moved on from the more myopic destination marketing and management research that place marketing used to be associated with, to a more provident application of place branding and management to holistic goals, such as sustainability.  

In a paper presented by Prof Lars Nilsson, 'Coping With Decline: Management Strategies For Shrinking Cities', inward investment strategies focussed upon replacing large industries that have dominated locations, but which have since declined, are often not successful. Nor is it possible to attract new residents to fill empty housing units without a local supply of jobs and services or easy access to other centres of employment and activity.  So, for many smaller, post-industrial cities, strategies that facilitate 'shrinking' are going to be more sustainable (or, at least, less delusional!). Another development in this conference, is the broader spatial focus of the research, away from a pre-occupation with the large cities and nations to the examination of place branding and management at much smaller scales.  For example, the paper by Dr Chiara Rinaldi, Alessio Cavicchi, Richard N.S. Robinson and Cristina Frittelloni, University Roles In Co-Creating Place Branding: The URBACT Gastronomic City Project Case.  Not only did this presentation establish place branding as a way to strengthen very local economies and communities, it also showed the important role a university can play in helping to "manage wicked problems", or, in other words, face the realities inherent in places.

In his key note speech, Simon Quin (SFIPM) looked at various place rankings and, whilst we are all fairly critical of the methods and motivations behind such listings, overall it seems clear that the strategies and development plans for many places are, at least, focussing upon profit and planet, or responsible economic development. There was much less emphasis upon people.  In contrast, liveability was a theme of the conference, and more papers set research questions or adopted dependent variables directly related to liveability. For example, the paper by Dr Irina N. Shafranskaya, Anastasiya Bozhya-Volya, Dmitriy B. Potapov, 'Residents’ Perception Of The City: The Interaction Between City And Life Satisfaction'.  This work clearly showed a relationship between what the city offers, in relation to its services, and happiness. This can help local authorities prioritise city management tasks and improve the liveability of their cities. 

Dr Carlos J L Balsas' presentation on NYC’s Times Square Walkability Improvements, Motivations, Designs And Expectations For A Rebranded Global Core illustrates the tensions inherent in place management and development.  By making such dramatic improvements to the pedestrian experience in Times Square, it is not surprising the area is attracting 1000s more pedestrians.  So, instead of being crowded with cars, the space is crowded with people and some strategies to demarket the space at certain times may need to be employed...such as praying for rain ;-)

The pedestrian development in Time Square could be seen as a 'first mover disadvantage' in places; where localised innovations to improve liveability attract not only tourists, but also visitors from other local districts because these districts are lacking these facilities. In another area in New York City, the High Line (an abandoned flyover that has been developed as green public space) is criticised as an instrument of environmental gentrification, forcing property prices up and local residents and businesses out.

Keeping with the theme of the Law of Unintended Consequences, Dr Sebastian Zenker, Dr Erik Braun and Dr Jan-Jelle Witte presented 'When The Place And Destination Brand Fight - The Fehmarnbelt Case' and the construction of a tunnel that will increase connectivity between Germany, Denmark and Sweden. The PR and press coverage associated with the region appears to be affecting people's 'front of mind' associations' especially the Danes, who used to think about the region in terms of nature, but now think tunnel and traffic. This highlighted the potential negative associations with increased connectivity. The paper, like others, also highlighted the tensions and synergies academics face when undertaking research for a place 'client' and brings me to my last reflections upon our collective conference experience and how we can improve the quality of research.

1. Our underlying philosophical and political positions should be made more explicit. In both the development of research and practice we should make it clear why we are doing whatever we are doing and for who.  Applied research is not pure science and both are associated with different philosophies.  Likewise, our research and practice as well as the places we study have their own political contexts. We should note these and their influence, as Emma Björner did in her paper 'Political Rationale In Place Branding: Images, Ideology And Power.  At the very least, when we are talking about vague concepts, such as sustainability, we should make some attempt to operationalise these into more specific outcomes (e.g. reducing income inequalities and/or improving air quality). After all, we are a sub-discipline of business. These relationships between theory and practice were explored in more detail in a special session organised by Dr Mihalis Kavaratzis, where more engaged scholarship methods and action research were highlighted as ways to make sure our research is relevant and robust.

2. I think we need better approaches for building conceptual frameworks in interdisciplinary place research. The paper by Nikos Ntounis, Javier Lloveras and Cathy Parker, A Review Of Epistemological Issues And Philosophical Positions For The Development Of Theory In Place Marketing explained why it is difficult to bring theory from different disciplines together.  Whilst we may disagree whether we are managing, marketing or branding - we all agree we are enacting or studying these practices in 'place'. And the place to study place is geography.  In addition, many other academic disciplines also have a long-standing interest in places, such as history, sociology, political science and economics - developing strong, robust theory. If we ignore this knowledge in the very foundations of our research, our research questions and conceptual frameworks, we could end up siloed and irrelevant. Perhaps we could focus on ways of conducting interdisciplinary reviews at our next conference?

3. The quality of our contibution would improve through being more critical. A more mature and critical engagement with the literature would help.  We do not need to be reminded of definitions. We want synthesis and evaluation.  I would like to see more explicit comparing and contrasting of concepts and interpretations.  Also, the purpose of a conference is to get constructive feedback from peers.  The audience only had 5 minutes to contribute their ideas - but often this was limited to saying what was right about the paper - not what was wrong!  I do not advocate a return to the dark days when presenters were humiliated and destroyed BUT if we are academics (and not just evangelists) we should be able to give (and receive) constructive comments - and act as informal reviewers, so that the quality of research can be improved BEFORE it is submitted for consideration by journals.

I hope these reflections are useful.  I thought it was a very good conference, and so did the delegates as the conference evaluations are very high.  But, as usual, I expect the next IPM conference to be even better!

Professor Cathy Parker, SFIPM, Manchester, May 2015