In mid-2008 MNL and ACOA made a joint decision to review the progress of the LADR program and whether new goals, objectives and delivery methods were needed. The general feeling was that the workshops were becoming too generic for a core municipal audience – too far removed from their day-to-day responsibilities and activities. However, the importance of effective municipal involvement in economic development was recognized as continuing to be an important public policy goal. In addition, the economic development environment had changed significantly since the workshops were first designed in 1999. Therefore, the decision was made to undertake research into the perceptions and needs of the MNL membership with regards to economic development.
A questionnaire was developed by ACOA with input from MNL to be distributed to municipal elected officials and staff. Preliminary results from the survey were discussed with a small focus group at the MNL Annual Convention in Corner Brook.
Once the survey was complete ACOA staff tabulated the results and prepared a presentation on the findings which was used in a second focus group. This larger group met in St. John’s and spent several hours reflecting on the research findings and their own opinions of the program.
Overall impressions from the survey and focus groups were very positive, both in terms of the need to continue this kind of work and in terms of the quality of the material and events provided by MNL. There were several key findings that deserve special note as they are the primary basis for the urrent approach taken by MNL in supporting economic development:
- participants were extremely satisfied with the content of LADR workshops;
- the project needs to continue and perhaps expand;
- the focus should be on information provision/best practices/tools;
- the delivery should be regionally oriented and reflect the needs of the host region in the case of a workshop;
- the needs of rural vs. urban municipalities need to be recognized as well as the needs of volunteer Councillors with little economic development experiences vs Councillors and staff from more advanced municipalities; material has to relate to core municipal responsibilities – four of the ones recommended from the survey: o municipal taxation to encourage economic development o how to identify major projects for your community o role of infrastructure planning in economic development o municipal planning and zoning to encourage economic development;
- smaller, more interactive workshops are preferable;
- it is important to involve local stakeholders and local networks to get speakers and participants; and,
- MNL should engage REDBs and NLREDA early in the planning process for workshops.
Based on the information collected through the survey, the focus groups, meetings with ACOA representatives and discussion with the Board, the following outline of a renewed approach to LADR was recommended.
- LADR must be seen as fundamentally concerned with core municipal responsibilities and based on their legitimate and legislated role in economic development. It is clear that the best way to engage municipal leaders is to link their day-to-day responsibilities to economic development.
- As such, LADR should be primarily an information and education program and should be able to respond to the divergent needs of smaller, economically challenged municipalities as well as more advanced municipalities. However, this should not presume a passive mandate. Just as the CCRC acts as a referral mechanism and catalyst for municipal action on service sharing, LADR workshops and services should complete the loop from awareness to action.
- The LADR Toolkit should focus on using municipal planning, infrastructure, zoning, regulations, and human resources to further economic development goals. Guides on each of these and perhaps other issues will be developed and used as the basis for workshops and more intense training.
- MNL should tap into existing information sources such as BR&E and Community Accounts in delivering the workshop materials.
- MNL should work with EDANL on more intensive training for municipal EDOs and training for non-professionals.
- MNL should create a searchable database/library on the LADR website along with a blog and a Facebook group to encourage networking.
- MNL should focus on shaping LADR as the municipal piece of the economic development puzzle. An ongoing support mechanism for municipal councilors and staff.