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5 Research Design and Methodology

5.1 Research Context, Material and Methods of Analysis

In order to study stakeholder collaboration in the context of regional place marketing projects, a multiple-case study was selected as a research design. In this sub-chapter the research design and the case descriptions are introduced.

Two regional level place marketing projects were chosen based on the logic of literal replication (Yin, 2014, p.97), because the findings from the cases were expected to be broadly similar due to the geographical, socio-political and institutional similarities between the projects. The selected projects were titled as:

• North Karelia and Joensuu attractiveness program (2011–2013)

• Mission future – Northern Savonia regional marketing program (2012–2015).

Both of the selected cases are located in adjacent regions of North Karelia (NK hereon) and Northern Savonia (NS hereon) in Eastern Finland (Figure 3). They are categorised in accordance with the European Union (EU) categorisation as NUTS (Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics) level 3. Both projects were European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) projects, which means that half of the funding for the projects was provided by the EU, while the other half was collected from the participating organizations. ERDF is a funding instrument of the EU’s regional policy, which is targeted towards reducing economic and social disparities between Member States and their regions. ERDF funding is distributed through regional development authorities (Regional Councils), which by law (Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, 2014) are responsible for the distribution of EU funding. Eastern Finland has been traditionally been a recipient of ERDF funds due to its weak economic development, high rates of unemployment, and rapidly ageing population.

It is likely that these demographic trends will extend to the future, which further accelerates the migration of resources to other parts of Finland.

Regional development supported by ERDF has mainly aimed to develop physical infrastructures and advance economic growth, which the place marketing projects at hand can be considered examples of. Both cases can be considered as relatively high-profile projects as they were listed among highest recipients of ERDF funding from the regional level place marketing projects in Finland (Mikkola et al., 2013).

Figure 3. Map of North Karelia and Northern Savonia. The regional centers are marked with dots.

According to the project manager, the project of NK is the latest project in a succession of three regional place marketing projects coordinated by the Regional Council of North Karelia (starting from 1999). The original purpose of regional place marketing activity was to re-repatriate former residents.

The initial actors in the place marketing activity, in addition to the Regional Council, were the regional tourism management organization (Karelia

Expert), and three sub-regional economic development organizations of the sub-regions of Joensuu (JOSEK), Middle Karelia (KETI), and Pielinen Karelia (PIKES), which are still strongly represented in the present project as they are in charge of sub-projects under the umbrella of the main project. The project of NS is the first large scale regional level place marketing project in the region, which meant that there was no existing project structure before the project at hand. In this sense, an important function of the project according to the project manager, was to create a structure for future regional place marketing actions. Earlier regional place marketing efforts in the regions were more oriented towards attracting tourists, while the project at hand has broader aspirations to attract businesses, workforce, residents and students. Initial actors in the project were the Regional Council of Northern Savonia and the municipalities of Varkaus, Iisalmi, Siilinjärvi, and Kuopio.

The project of NK was coordinated by the Regional Council of North Karelia, which according to the project manager of NK, was a ‘neutral party’

which could gather stakeholders from various sectors. The project of NS was coordinated by the regional center of Kuopio (city), which according to the project manager was a result of discussions between the biggest cities and the local regional council, which had reached an agreement that the regional center of Kuopio should take the responsibility of carrying out the regional place marketing project. Both projects were organized formally as ‘partnerships’, which is a collaboration model between public and private sectors supported by the EU (European Comission 2008, p.32).

Hence, project managers invited various organizations from both public and private sectors to participate in funding, management and producing content for the projects (Table 2). According to the project managers, an important criteria for the selection of stakeholders was the significance of the actors in the economy of the region. Therefore, the business sector was specifically considered as an important stakeholder and beneficiary in the projects, which related on one hand to the purpose of the place marketing activity to increase the business possibilities of the region, and on the other hand to the funding that businesses could provide for the place marketing activity. However, project managers pointed out that there

had been difficulties to get businesses engaged with the place marketing activity, which resulted in their representation in the project not reaching the desired level. Finally, in both projects the same external consultancy was hired to assist with carrying out the projects. The consultant provided assistance in producing material and planning the projects. There were two main differences in the stakeholder assemblage in the projects. Firstly, the tourism sector had a direct representation in the case of NK, but was omitted in the case of NS. The project manager of NS pointed out that it was a conscious decision to leave the tourism sector out of the project.

Nonetheless, some cooperation existed between the tourism sector and the place marketing project at the level of activities. Secondly, various municipalities had direct representation in the project of NS, while in the case of NK municipalities were only represented indirectly by the Regional Council and sub-regional economic development organizations.

Table 2. Steering group members by sector

Sector Case 1: North Karelia Case 2: Northern Savonia

Municipalities and cities 4 6

Educational sector 3 4

Business sector 6 2

Social and Health care

sector 1 1

Project management 1 1

Total 15 14

In both projects, stakeholders were divided into management and

working level groups. Working groups consisted mainly of marketing and communication personnel, and were responsible of producing content and planning the activities of the projects. These also covered thematic advisory groups, which included experts of specific fields that gave provided advice for the project activities. Managerial ‘steering groups’

were instead comprised of high level representatives of the participating organizations, and were responsible for evaluating and providing guidance for the projects. While the role of the steering groups was officially

advisory, both project managers emphasised their strategic responsibility for steering the decision-making process in the projects.

5.1.1 Preliminary Interviews and Documentary Data

Three main data sets were collected from the selected cases during two data collection rounds. The first consisted of conducting semi-structured interviews with the project managers, and collecting document data from the projects. The second round consisted of conducting semi-structured interviews with the steering group members. The collected data was filed and stored in the personal working computer of the researcher. This sub-chapter describes the first data collection round, and next sub-sub-chapter describes the second round.

The first round of data collection was carried out in summer 2014 and involved collecting document data from both cases and holding preliminary interviews with the project coordinators. These were done in order to become familiar with the formal setting of the projects, and to assist in preparing interview questions for the steering group interviews.

Documents collected included advertising materials, minutes of the meetings of different managerial and work groups, project presentations, planning, strategy and funding documents, and media articles.

Article I was compiled on the basis of this preliminary data collection, and focused on the case of NK which was considered as ‘prototype case’ which illustrates the broader discourses (see Chapter 4) which underpin the regional place marketing activity in rural sparsely populated areas in Finland. From the documents collected from the case of NK, three central strategic documents were chosen for in-depth analysis, in order to understand how the discursive legitimacy of place marketing practice is constructed at a text level. The strategic importance of these documents was confirmed by the project manager. These documents can be categorised to belong in the ‘strategy genre’, a directive genre with an influential position in contemporary organizations. The central purpose of the strategy genre is to communicate socially negotiated meanings, producing consent, and legitimating ways of thinking and de-legitimating others (Vaara et al., 2010, p.686). In this sense, strategic documents were

considered as the most efficient way of gaining insight into the discursive antecedents of the collaborative process between stakeholders. These documents were:

• “North Karelia’s Renewable Competitiveness Master Plan 2011-2013”

(Regional Council of North Karelia 2010b) : A key strategy document of the project, which indicates its strategic foundations. These include defining the reason for the necessity of the project, and a description of budget and planned activities. Furthermore, it contains the results of a survey done by the consultant of the project regarding the experi-ences of stakeholders of preceding regional place marketing projects.

• “ERDF-project plan” (European Comission, 2008): A mandatory EU doc-ument for recipients of ERDF funding. It has structured form regard-ing participatregard-ing stakeholders, management, purpose, target groups, aims, activities, and the budget of the project.

• “Regional program of North Karelia 2011-2015” (Regional Council of North Karelia, 2010): A key strategy of the organizer of the place mar-keting project (Regional Council) which defines the strategic lines of regional development. It includes a section focusing on the image of the region, which explains its relevance for regional competitiveness.

5.1.2 Semi-Structured Personal Interviews

The second data collection round was performed in spring 2015 and involved conducting semi-structured personal interviews with steering group members of the projects of NK and NS. The steering group level was selected as the target for the interviews because of the interest in the collaboration aspects at the managerial level of the projects, and not in the content level. Personal semi-structured interviews were selected as the data collection method because they can offer an insight into the views and opinions regarding the communicative processes between participants (Gray, 2004, p.217). Minutes of steering group meetings (collected during previous data collection round) were also considered as possible sources of data, but were finally only applied as contextual data because they did not provide a level of detail required for a discursive

analysis of the collaborative processes between the participants. In relation to the applied discourse theoretical approach, it needs to be noted that while the interviews do not provide “naturally occurring data” (which is preferred in the discourse analytic tradition), the accounts of interviewees can be used as data in discourse analysis, especially if the theme concerns personal opinions or thoughts, rather than societal issues (Phillips and Hardy, 2002 pp. 70-73).

The interviews lasted around 30 minutes to 1 hour each. The interviewees were given the possibility to see the interview questions before hand, in order to give them time to reflect on their experiences in the project. The interviews were divided into three sets of questions.

The first set of questions concerned the representative’s interpretations on the practice of place marketing, their previous relations with it, and their expectations and interests towards the project at hand. This set of questions was analyzed in Article II. The second set of questions concerned the formal roles of the representatives, their perception of the collaborative process with other organizations and the coordinator of the project, and their opinions on their possibilities for participation. The findings of this set of questions was presented in Article III. The third set of questions which concerned the outcomes of the place marketing projects was not used in this study. One member of the steering group from the business sector in NK refused a personal interview (response by email), and one member of the steering group from the business sector in NS refused a personal interview on the grounds of their low involvement in the project.