Beware the 5 sins of local economic development strategy

Updated: Sep 29

Let's face it - not all attempts at local economic strategy work out. Some plans sink without trace. Others enjoy a brief moment of fame, only to be overtaken by events. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here's 5 of the top pitfalls to avoid. Can you think of others?

The best local economic plans start from an independent, data-led review of the present. Then they ask: where is the area headed if it doesn’t change its ways? They set targets that improve on these business-as-usual outcomes and prioritise actions to bridge the gap. For real-world impact strategies must influence decisions made across the local economy. But sometimes they fall short. Here's why...

  1. Chasing fads rather than genuine opportunities. Good plans show how areas can use their unique strengths to access future economic opportunities. But pressure to align with out-of-area strategies or funding sources can lead to 'place-blind' priorities that are ‘of the moment’.

  2. Confusing boosterism with strategy. In economic development, marketing materials sometimes bear the title of 'strategy'. But real strategies make trade-offs, set priorities and targets. They map the course between business-as-usual and aspiration.

  3. Failing to engage a diversity of perspectives. The way a strategy is agreed matters as much as the words in it. You should engage the full breadth of your community of interest. The strategy's visibility, influence and credibility with decision makers depends on it.

  4. Forgetting that decision makers don’t read ‘doorstop’ plans. Large, unfocused strategies don’t travel well. If you can’t share the gist in a one-page summary or a few pithy sentences likely it’s no good. Keep lengthy review materials like evidence papers separate from the main document but within easy reach.

  5. No clear plan for delivery – who owns it? If it isn’t the reference point for an ongoing programme of activity a strategy will gather dust. They should hold people and organisations to account for delivery. It should cover timescales and governance frameworks.

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