Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Spreading innovative models - ÉCONOMUSÉE Pilot Initiative

Last week I was asked by Pascale Knoglinger of La Société de développement économique de la Colombie-Britannique to attend a meeting in Victoria where she was training people from the Western provinces on the ÉCONOMUSÉE model introduced in BC.

"ÉCONOMUSÉE British Columbia Artisans Concept is trademarked and recognized by UNESCO as a model for the preservation of intangible heritage. There are currently 53 ÉCONOMUSÉES in Canada (Atlantic Provinces and Quebec). In 2012, British Columbia joined the ÉCONOMUSÉE network by opening its first two pilot sites at Merridale Ciderworks in Cobble Hill, and at Hazelwood Herb Farm in Yellowpoint." (ÉCONOMUSÉE Pilot Initiative Evaluation Report, 2012).

I have had the good fortune to work with Pascale and her team on developing a model for evaluation of the economic impacts of the first two sites in BC. Throughout this journey, we are learning a lot about the uptake of an innovative new model in a new context. 

Embedded in the model from its earliest origins, is the notion of collaboration with academic institutions. This is the topic that Pascale wanted me to speak about on Thursday. I have never been asked to speak about how to collaborate successfully with academics and can only speak about my own experience and observations so it was an interesting assignment. Based on the feedback and discussion that developed, I thought it would be worthwhile sharing with others, should the messages resonate elsewhere.

Academics are an interesting group to say the least. There are all shapes, sizes, varieties and dispositions to this group so generalizations should be avoided (as with all groupings one could say). But in general, for others to work with academics, there needs to be a baseline understanding of the "realities of the other". Academics are often in situations where their rewards are based on performance indicators that have little or nothing to do with the needs of communities, organizations or government policies. Peer reviewed publications, conferences and funding are the "carrots" that motivate many.  Not all value or want to work on "applied projects" as they are deemed "off the side of the desk" activities or unrecognized pursuits by the academe. Add to this the rigidity of the semester system, the bureaucratic processes like ethical approval, and the tendency for 25%-50% admin fees for projects and it is easy to see how organizations or government have developed a view of academics as unwilling or difficult partners to collaborate with.

I heard a number of these expressed by those in the room last week and while not new to me, they reminded me of the work we need to do to address these barriers to engagement. I tried to share a few tips for those in the room last week to break through these barriers and develop long term relationships based on trust.  I suppose I could also develop a similar list for academics to learn how to more effectively link with communities, regions, and government policy makers (a future blog perhaps).

 I feel so fortunate in my position as a BC Regional Innovation Chair because in many ways, the design of the BCRIC's has addressed many of these issues. The BCRIC's were developed to respond to regional priorities and our reward system is not based on the same model as the traditional University structure. Building networks, responding to the needs of communities, organizations or government, identifying innovators and sharing them with others, and linking directly with policy makers are the expectations embedded in my work. And, because I believe all practice is linked to theory, there are ample opportunities to ponder, reflect and share my observations with academics.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Trails Roundtable in Kamloops

Last Friday I had the good fortune to attend a "Share the Trails" Roundtable discussion in Kamloops. Organized by Horse Council BC, the event included a variety of land managers such as BC Parks, Rec Sites and Trails and Private Forest Companies as well as a range of trail user groups like equestrians, ATV users and hikers.

The day was well organized and well attended. After hearing a panel of presenters talk about success stories where groups have shared trails well, the participants worked in small groups on a series of questions. I found it fascinating to hear the common themes among groups in the room and know there were a lot of take-aways for folks in the room.

I would imagine that the report will be available soon, and I will link it here when ready for those who want to learn more.  I am exploring the idea of writing a series of case studies on collaboration in trail development so that multiple user groups and land managers can learn from those that have had success. More to come!

Congratulations to Kelly Cook on winning the Queens Diamond Jubilee Award for her work on the China Ridge Trails - Photo above with her receiving the award from Minister of the Environment, Dr. Terry Lake.

BC Equestrian Trail Users Study

Rural areas are wise to pay attention to niche tourism markets that fit the types of experiences that are provided in their area.  This can help cut costs in terms of product development and infrastructure, and it can also ensure more positive relations between visitors and residents. 

In BC, one of the amenities in rural areas that are attractive to visiting markets are trails. Indeed, the provincial trails strategy is even embedded in the tourism strategy. The types of trails and trail users vary tremendously but they all share issues with access to trails.  Some communities in BC have been targeting niche markets like mountain bikers, who are one segment of trail users and others are focusing on motorized groups like ATV'ers.

I have been involved in conducting the BC Equestrian Trail Users Study in 2012, which was just released last week at the "Share the Trails" conference hosted by Horse Council BC in Kamloops.  We embedded some questions in the study on how much equestrian trail users travel with their horses. Travel related expenditures were the second highest annual expenditure for equestrian trail users averaging $1765.08 annually per household. The trail users were asked to indicate to what extent they combined trail use with overnights giving an indication of equestrian tourism related to trails. In total, 45.9% of the sample indicated that they combine trail activity with overnights, staying on average 12 nights away each year.

In terms of accommodation used for overnights, respondents were asked to indicate the percent of time they spent at a variety of alternatives. For example, 41% of overnights are spent at campsites that allow horses, followed by 32% wilderness camping. Similarly, 32% of nights away are spent at ride sites for events, and 20% are spent at friends and family accommodations. Commercial options account for the remainder of nights away, where Bed, Bale and Breakfasts are the accommodation of choice 9% of the time and Guest Ranches the remaining 7.5% of nights.

Of interest as well, when asked about satisfaction with the existing trail system in BC, the highest dissatisfaction (50% and 49%) were with infrastructure to travel to trails (rest stops, signage, etc) and with infrastructure at trail heads (turnarounds, parking, manure pits, corrals etc).

What some of this indicates to me is that there is a demand for trail related tourism among the niche market of equestrian tourists. This group is a good fit for many rural areas with existing trail systems. But to enhance their experience, collaboration needs to occur to develop the type of infrastructure that can support travel and accommodations. Similarly, the study showed that while trails exist, there needs to be more effort to promote the systems and provide maps and information on how to access them.

For more information on this niche market - see the full report at: BC Competitive Trail Riders' Association or Horse Council BC.