What’s next for Make Something Edmonton?

A few weeks ago I attended a discussion hosted by Make Something Edmonton (MSE) at Startup Edmonton. For a few hours on a particularly cold Saturday morning, a handful of former MSE volunteers shared their thoughts on the past year, offering insight into what worked and what didn’t. It was an opportunity to reflect on how MSE has evolved over the last year, and to consider where it should go next. There hadn’t been much communication with volunteers since the final report was produced in September, so many of us were unsure of MSE’s status. It turns out that many things were happening behind the scenes!

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

Funding Make Something Edmonton

The final report of the City Image & Reputation Task Force was presented to Executive Committee on September 9, 2013. The recommendation that was passed was for EEDC and the task force to work together to:

“operationalize the Make Something Edmonton Initiative, and bring back recommendations to continue implementation of the Make Something Edmonton Initiative, including setting up an agency or other entity, and with a service package developed and funding to be requested for allocation in the 2014 budget.”

In December, a plan for funding MSE was presented to City Council. That plan suggested the following approach:

  • An Executive Director and Operating Budget would be provided through EEDC.
  • A Make Something Edmonton Activation Board would be established to provide strategic direction and implementation support.
  • The Activation Board would be co-chaired by two community leaders, jointly approved by the City Manager and the CEO of EEDC, who would serve a two-year term.
  • A Leadership Group comprised of the City’s Chief Communications Officer, the CEO of EEDC, and the Co-Chairs, would be established.

It also outlined the allotment of a $2 million budget:

  • $500,000 for the City of Edmonton to adopt the MSE brand platform in its marketing & communications
  • $975,000 for MSE through EEDC to fund operations & implementation
  • $525,000 for EEDC to execute targeted external marketing campaigns

That might seem like a large amount, but it pales in comparison to what has been spent on branding in the past.

An Initiative of EEDC

As a result of that plan, MSE now calls EEDC home:

“As of January 1, 2014, Edmonton Economic Development is proud to steward the Make Something Edmonton Initiative, continuing this grassroots organization’s mandate to make Edmonton a hub for building, creating, changing, for making something. An advisory board will soon be established to ensure connectivity with the vibrant creative and entrepreneurial communities and to keep the spirit of the program alive.”

The idea is for MSE to be part of EEDC’s “coordinated incubator strategy”. That’s basically a fancy way of saying that EEDC provides the necessary supports for organizations like TEC Edmonton, Startup Edmonton, and now MSE so that they can focus on their core objectives.

I asked EEDC’s VP of Marketing & Communications Kevin Weidlich about where he sees MSE fitting in. “I think EEDC is responsible for developing the Edmonton brand,” he said, “but we’re not the only ones.” Kevin was excited about the opportunity for MSE to continue on as a community-led initiative, supported by EEDC, and he sees volunteers as critical advocates for the adoption of the MSE brand in other organizations.

New Co-Chairs

MSE’s new co-chairs are John Mahon, former Executive Director of the Edmonton Arts Council, and Tegan Martin-Drysdale, former Co-Chair of Edmonton Next Gen. They take over from outgoing co-chairs Chris LaBossiere and Amy Shostak. Though her title still reads “interim”, Mary Sturgeon has moved to EEDC to remain as MSE’s Executive Director.

Both John and Tegan spoke eloquently at the event a few weeks ago, sharing some thoughts on how MSE fits into the bigger picture. Both stressed the importance of gathering feedback, and listened intently as everyone in attendance shared their viewpoints on what MSE should be focusing on next. They heard opinions on such things as whether to narrow the focus or whether to go after a broad range of Edmontonians, on whether a physical office was important or not, on how they should be engaging volunteers, and on how other local organizations could be encouraged to adopt the brand.

The big task ahead for John & Tegan is to establish the advisory or activation board, and to determine what structure the organization should take. It’s critical that they establish a plan for the next two years, in conjunction with Mary, so that they can bring the right people on board. I know they’re up to the task.

Anecdotes & Projects

While the MSE website remains operational, it hasn’t been updated as frequently as originally intended. One new feature called Anecdotes was added recently, however. With titles like “make something active” for the Edmonton Ski Club and “make something solid” for Waiward Steel, the stories are meant to both educate and inspire:

“Icons of Edmonton are big, small, strong, strange, strangely profitable, and increasingly global. There are thousands of examples of ideas that started here and grew into extraordinary events, social organizations, businesses, festivals, and community projects. Browse through these profiles and read about Edmontonians, their ideas, and what they’ve created. We’re building an inventory. If you have an example of Edmonton-ness in mind, get in touch and we’ll include it.”

There are nearly 20 anecdotes up on the website so far, and I expect we’ll see many more added in the weeks ahead. You may have seen some billboards around town highlighting some of these stories.

Projects continue to be added, and MSE actively promotes them via its Twitter and Facebook pages. At the moment there isn’t much incentive for a project creator to go back on to the website to update its progress, so that’s one area that the website’s functionality could be improved. I understand there was a laundry list of other improvements identified that have yet to come to fruition too.

Make Something Edmonton Launch 2013

Onward!

I was concerned last summer about where MSE would land, so I’m really happy that Make Something Edmonton will continue on as an initiative of EEDC. I think the direction that EEDC is headed is exciting, and I’m sure that MSE will benefit from the new energy and talent they have there. I’m also very happy to see John & Tegan step forward as MSE’s new co-chairs. Both have already given so much to Edmonton, and I know they will be great leaders for the initiative.

Clearly there’s a lot of work still to be done. MSE could reach more people, the essence of the brand could be adopted by more organizations, and project initiators and volunteers could be better and further engaged. I’m optimistic that with its future now certain, MSE can achieve all of that.