Sicco van Gelder
The Journal of the Medinge Group, vol. 3, no. 1, 2009
Much is made of web 2.0, the collection of web-based services for online
communities, participation and user-generated content, and of co-makership, the
corporate movement to involve partners and consumers in the development or
improvement of products and services. Both web 2.0 and co-makership are
driven by a realisation that other interested parties can and are willing to
contribute to their success.
Governments have also started to understand that they are unable to solve all
the problems of their city, region or country on their own. Public-private
partnerships have become common, but they are still mainly aimed at providing
solutions for financing large (infrastructure) projects. And they usually do not
include other stakeholders who can contribute to solutions to the (future)
problems facing places, such as the aging of populations, integration of ethnic
minorities, traffic congestion, environmental degradation and global
This article argues that in future places will function differently and that their governance is evolving into one where multiple stakeholders will come together to solve specific issues and that governments, although almost always involved, will be only one of the partners of such new alliances, coalitions and partnerships.
In this article we will explore how places used to function, a state dubbed Place
1.0, how they are moving towards a situation dubbed Place 2.0, and what these
future places may look like.
Traditionally, places have been discrete political, economic, social and cultural
entities. Despite trade and migration being age-old phenomena, the movements
of people, capital and goods has often been fairly restricted. Most people were
born in a place, went to school there, got married there, worked there all their
lives, supported their local football team, and were buried in the local cemetery.
Businesses were devoted to their (company) towns and would often invest in
various kinds of services for their employees and their dependants: e.g. sports,
culture, health and education. Large and successful businesses were a source of
local or even national pride. Government would decide what was good for the
place, its businesses, institutions and population. Government also assumed that
it was synonymous with the place. Many a prime minister or president still claims
to be ‘running the country’.
Opinions were formed and decisions made by the political elite, innovations were
developed and wealth created by the economic elite, and moral standards and
artistic tastes dictated by the cultural elite. The general population was simply
considered to be a workforce and a market for what the elites decided to produce
and provide. Mass democratisation never fundamentally changed this situation.
Admittedly, over time, citizens changed from being mere subjects to being
considered as clients of the public sector. However, they were still subjected to
the same machine bureaucracy albeit with a little more efficiency, care and
understanding. This machine went from being driven by commands and
inspections to being driven by delivery targets and audits.
Mass democratisation and the newfound client status has turned people into
critical and outspoken citizens and consumers. Increasingly, the political elite is
unable to deliver on the growing and ever-changing needs and demands of these
citizens, the economic elite shifts jobs and allegiances to other places with seeming ease, and the cultural elite is either out of touch with the population or
they have become part of the creative industries (e.g. entertainment, design,
advertising). In this changing environment, the old solutions to solving places’
problems no longer work, because they are aimed at solving clearly defined
functional problems: build more roads, houses and schools, hire more policemen,
teachers, doctors and civil servants, subsidise culture, penalise anti-social
behaviour, etc. The issues that many places face today (and will face in the
future) are neither discrete nor purely functional. They are complex, multi-faceted
and often involve a lot of sentiments. For example, issues such as the integration
of immigrants into society, traffic congestion, healthcare and pension crises,
environmental degradation and competitiveness are all matters that defy the
machine bureaucracy’s capabilities. Dealing with such issues effectively involves
the participation of not just (local) government departments, but also the private
and civic sectors, educational and cultural institutions and the like.
The Emergence of Place 2.0
It is the community (citizens, businesses and institutions) that makes the place
into what it is. Not the bricks and mortar, the highways and railways, the
airports, the cables, the pipes and the sewers. This infrastructure functions as the
platform for the community’s investments, initiatives and activities. The quality of
the platform does determine a lot of the community’s opportunities. In Place 1.0,
the platform was used mainly for production, trade and consumption. The main
responsibilities of government were to ensure the development and maintenance
of the platform and the production of public goods, such as healthcare, education, the arts and public transport. The business sector provided jobs and goods and services for public consumption as well as the tax revenues to keep the place going. The population provided muscle and brainpower as workforce and consumed the goods and services produced by government and business.
A number of developments are bringing this tidy arrangement to an end. Firstly,
most places have an increasingly vocal population that now demands a say in
what used to be government matters, such as urban development, infrastructure
programmes, environmental protection and international treaties. Not
surprisingly, citizens have so far mostly been reactive. They protest, appeal, and
may participate in official consultation and in referendums. This has meant that
citizens have usually opposed decisions and propositions put to them rather than
taken responsibility for coming up with improvements or offering alternatives.
Some places (e.g. France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States)
allow citizen initiatives to put topics on political agendas and sometimes even
repeal, propose or amend laws. However, such initiatives are limited forms of
citizen participation and remain strictly within the political realm. Public
consultation, referendums and citizen initiatives have actually often helped to fuel
citizens’ disillusionment with government and politics. Rather than narrowing the
gap between government and the people, they seem to have widened the gap, as
people felt that they weren’t being taken seriously by politicians. Cursory forms of
consultation designed to keep people away, flawed referendums, and non-binding citizens’ initiatives have left a bitter aftertaste.
The second development that is bringing Place 1.0 to an end is increasing
globalisation, which has accelerated the flow of capital and goods around the
world and has made many businesses and increasing numbers of people
footloose. Loyalties and allegiances to some places crumble while other place gain such affinity. Decisions, investments and initiatives taken for the community of today may not be the right ones for the community of tomorrow. And tomorrow’s community is certain to be a temporary one also. This not only means that places need to be dynamic to meet every changing needs and demands, but also that today’s elites cannot decide what’s right for tomorrow’s community. This puts the onus on the community itself to come up with solutions rather than just being the consumers of someone else’s decisions.
The third development is partially a reaction to the first two, namely the growing
need among communities (despite their transience) to define themselves in terms
of culture, identity, aspirations and competitiveness. This is an ongoing debate
that often sits uncomfortably with places’ conventional wisdom and established
political, economic and social structures and processes.
Work in this area is leading the charge to develop new operational modes for
places. These new modes of operation are characterised by active participation
and interaction between public, private and civic stakeholders. It is exactly
because the issues at hand involve multiple and varied stakeholders and cannot
be dealt with through traditional decision making that new forms of organisation
and interaction are sought. These new forms of organisation often take the form
of alliances, coalitions or partnerships between stakeholders that are established
for the purpose of tackling issues that Place 1.0 finds too hard to deal with. The
problems are amorphous, tend to shift over time and are unworkable for a single
stakeholder, certainly for one that tends to frame its answers to problems in
terms of policies, legislation and taxation. Within the frameworks of these
alliances and partnerships, stakeholders take joint responsibility for defining and
implementing strategies that help create better functioning, more competitive and
A New Modus Operandi for Places
Instead of relying on traditional elites to decide and provide, Place 2.0 depends
on alliances, coalitions and partnerships of public, private and civic stakeholder
groups to deal with specific issues. These alliances, coalitions and partnerships
will differ from issue to issue (e.g. traffic, health, environment, integration, urban
blight) and will change over time as partners leave and others join the
arrangement. Alliances, coalitions and partnerships for places are not your usual
public-private partnership or a committee of wise men and women. This is a
formal or informal body in which the key stakeholders jointly develop, create and
lead on the implementation of the strategy for a particular issue. Creating such
an alliance or partnership is the first step in changing the way the place operates,
because it simultaneously crosses divides such as those between town and gown,
government and business, arts and sports, and commerce and culture, the public
and community sectors. The alliance, coalition or partnership should be one of
equals between those stakeholders that can help solve the issues at hand through
their actions, investments, decisions and communications.
Alliances and partnerships are not like central government departments, or local
government or private companies or voluntary, community and charitable
organisations. They are a hybrid form of organisation. Their characteristics are
determined by those who set them up, the purpose for which they were created
and by those who lead the work of the partnership. The form of organisation and
operation is rarely a given. It has to be negotiated and agreed by those who are
going to be involved. What is required is an alliance or partnership where the
participants regard each other as equals, regardless of their power or resources,
where their individual contributions are valued.
Once an alliance or partnership is created, the challenge is to make it work
effectively. The representatives of the organisations that constitute the alliance or partnership have their own agendas and motivations for participating, as well as
their own ways of working, of making decisions and of getting things done. They
need to devise a whole new way of working together to reconcile their goals and
practices and to make the alliance or partnership an effective vehicle for the
issues at hand, taking the lead on finding or creating the resources required.
Shared leadership requires a far greater degree of common understanding and
joint thinking than traditional forms of leadership in the public and private
This provides opportunities for (groups of) citizens, businesses and institutions to
contribute to the development of their place as active participants in the process
rather than only as passive onlookers or hecklers. The initiative to bring together
an alliance, coalition or partnership therefore rests with everyone in the
The Future of Places
The development of Place 2.0 means that the future of many places will be quite
different from their current situation. Rather than being administered by a
government places will increasingly be governed by various and varying alliances,
partnership and coalitions made up of players from the public, private and civic
sectors. This does raise a number of poignant questions, such as:
• Will the government lose control over its entire remit?
• Who will have final responsibility for their activities?
• How will these arrangements be funded?
• How to retain democratic oversight over their activities?
The answers to these questions are not easily given, but the following provides
some possible answers.
Local, regional and national governments will be active participants in these new
arrangements and will not cede responsibility entirely, but will act more and more
as one of many players rather than being the dominant one. At the same time,
traditional government activities, such as providing public services, policy making
and inter-governmental relations, will not change or cease to exist.
The partners in the alliances, partnerships and coalitions will share responsibility
for their activities and will need to figure out which party takes which
responsibilities. This means that they are accountable to each other as well as to
the wide society in which they operate. Governments can still be held to account
by voters and elected representatives, and businesses and institutions can be
taken to court if they fail in their duties. These purpose built partnership
organisations will need to allow sufficient public scrutiny of their deliberations and activities and the onus is on them to avoid secrecy and silence. But as they are established by a cross section of society’s stakeholders this should not be a major issue to them.
The funding for these partnership organisations will come from their individual
members’ resources and should be accounted for in the same way that they are
now: government budgets, company accounts, private donations, etc. This may
mean that it becomes more difficult to determine exactly hoe much a certain
project costs, but that it is still possible to trace spending for each individual
organisation involved. And each organisation will be responsible to their own
stakeholders (e.g. citizens, shareholders, employees) whether the money and
other resources were spent wisely.
The issue of democratic oversight may be trickier, because responsibilities are
moved from a single government to less well-defined entities. However, as
governments are likely to be key partners in any of these new arrangements,
parliaments and councils will still be able to call their governments to account for
their roles in these alliances, partnerships and coalitions. That is not that much
different from government responsibilities for the civil service and for outsourced
activities. Voters that are unhappy with the results of the government’s
involvement can still send them packing at election time.
Places are set to change the way they operate in order to compete, solve their
problems and innovate more effectively. The involvement of groups of citizens,
businesses and institutions in doing so should be applauded because it turns them from passive consumers of policies, decisions and public services into producers who can better deal with their place’s issues and shape its future. This will also help to develop more closely knit communities in a time when these are more and more fleeting. Better to belong to a shifting community for a while than to belong to a stable one that is disappearing or, even worse, never to belong at all.
Sicco van Gelder is founder of Placebrands a company dedicated to helping cities,
regions and countries develop and implement their brand strategies. He has been
instrumental in developing the theory and practice of place branding. Sicco has
advised places such as Amsterdam, Botswana, East Africa, Malaysia,
Southampton and The Hague.
Sicco has lived, worked and travelled across five continents. His exposure to the
great diversity of these continents has helped him to develop his understanding
of and sensitivity to differing cultural, motivational, economic, social and
Sicco has (co)authored several books, among them:
• Global Brand Strategy – Unlocking Branding Potential Across Countries
Cultures and Markets (Kogan Page, 2003)
• Beyond Branding – How the New Values of Transparency and Integrity are
Chaning the World of Brands (Kogan Page, 2003)
• New Age Branding (ICFAI Press, 2003)
• City Branding – How Cities Compete in the 21st Century (Placebrands, 2006)
• Global Branding Perspectives and Challenges (ICFAI Press, 2007)